Reviewer John Cowans: John was a University, College, and School English teacher for over 40 years, John Cowans now lives in retirement in Chester., Nova Scotia.
Author: Alexa Schnee
Author: Alexa Schnee
Any lover of Shakespeare’s plays has most likely been further fascinated by his poetry, especially his sonnets and the mysteries they contain, one of which is the subject of Alexa Schnee’s historical novel, Shakespeare’s Lady.
The ‘Lady’ of this story is , of course, the Bard’s ‘Dark Lady ’whose real name is thought to have been Emilia Bassano Lanier who became the mistress of Tudor courtier and cousin of Queen Elizabeth I , Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon . At the time of their affair, Lord Hunsdon was Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain and a patron of the arts and theatre. After Emilia was no longer at court and two years after her affair with Lord Hunsdon had ended, he became the patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the theatre company which performed the Shakespearean plays after 1594. Some have speculated that Lanier, an apparently striking woman, was Shakespeare's Dark Lady’. This identification was first proposed by A.L.R. Rowse who in 1973 published Shakespeare the Man, in which he claimed to have solved the identity of the Dark Lady from a close reading of the sonnets and also from the diaries of Simon Forman, an Elizabethan astrologer and herbalist. Rowse asserted from these studies that the Dark Lady must have been Emilia Lanier.
Schnee, who grew up in Kalispell and was homeschooled until she was
17, now attends Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Having written
Shakespeare’s Lady, her first published novel, during
her teenage years, and a second novel, based on Greek mythology
now in her agent’s hand; she is presently at work on a third
The mystery of the ‘Dark Lady’ contains the essential
ingredients of any good novel: excitement , danger, and an illicit
love affair all set in this instance amongst the glitter and intrigue
of the Elizabethan court, whose central player is the Queen herself,
Gloriana, a stern, despotic, conniving, aging monarch who is not
adverse to breaking her own rules of deportment. Into this setting is
thrown the beautiful and mysterious Emilia Bassano through whose eyes
we glimpse the lives and personalities of historical figures perhaps
read about only in the dry pages of history books. The reader of
historical fiction awaits with excitement descriptions of certain
expected set pieces - the court itself, the Queen at her daily round,
the great progressions through the country-side, the horror and
circus-atmosphere of a beheading. And then comes the great Bard,
William Shakespeare, and the Elizabethan theatre, the rollicking
audience, the players, the great Globe itself. Certainly no
paucity of literary opportunity here, and so it is disappointing that
Schnee’s treatment of these rich tapestries is so subdued and hence
rather one dimensional.
There is no doubt in my mind about Alexa Schnee’s ability as a writer, and I look forward to reading those novels that she will assuredly produce in the future for they will reveal a developing maturity of observation that is now lacking. There are those who feel that writers should not be published before their time; I am not one of those, but rather I feel that Shakespeare’s Lady should be read as a first novel by a young writer and enjoyed as such because it will serve as an encouragement not only to this author but also to other emerging writers to continue their efforts so that their growing public can continue to enjoy the stories they have to tell as they mature.
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