The writings illuminate the man; the man illuminates the writings
I got introduced to Jude Morgan through the very wonderful The Taste of Sorrow and was swept up by his ability to write what I suppose must be called ‘fictional biography’. In that earlier book, he clearly steeped himself intensely in the writings of the Brontë sisters, and in the known biography of their family, and he produced an astonishingly beautifully written, creative piece. This felt both true to their literature and what we know of their lives, but also expanded by a superb narrative and empathetic imagination. I felt my understanding of the books and the lives had been enriched.
In that earlier book, we were dealing with a more nearly modern world, where facts can be checked, less than 200 years ago. This time, Morgan has freer range with creative imagination, as the facts of Shakespeare’s life are far fewer, though the canon of work by which the man is also revealed, is much larger. And it seems to me that what Morgan has so clearly done is to say ‘by their works, you shall know them’, and has steeped himself in the work, to reveal an idea of Shakespeare the man. Which seems enormously right and proper.
For me, this was an utterly successful book. I spent some few days after reading the book and letting it settle, wishing I could meet Shakespeare, but realised, with a wry smile, that of course I can, by re-reading the works. Morgan, a beautiful writer, does well with these fictional biographies of other beautiful writers. Phrases from the plays and poems are scattered, very naturally, within the text.
He has even made an acute and creative leap to make a virtue out of the fact that we know very little of the man. Other more defined historical characters trot through the pages, Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd, Dekker et al – but it is Jonson, musing about his friendship with Will, who is given this thought
Shakespeare the actor; Shakespeare the writer. Both acts which if properly done, require a kind of negation of the self and the ego, so though invention must come from the actor or the writer’s sense of self, there must be a supreme and non-judgmental ability to get inside other – however virtuous or vicious that other – and inhabit them from within themselves, not from a sense of the actor or the writer commenting on their creation.
Magnificent book, Mr Morgan. Not least also for the literary criticism element – but from showing how Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe et al as people, give rise to who they are, as writers. Morgan illuminates the men by their writing, and it is the writing which illuminates the men. He (Morgan) has a brilliant, almost psychoanalytical understanding of human complexity, and how to allow each person to show their story.
And, not least, is the fleshing out of an even more shadowy figure, whom history has dealt with rather unkindly – Anne Hathaway. With no works to leave behind her, Morgan imagines just what might have made the creative luminary fall in love with the older woman, who was then left only his second best bed, in Shakespeare’s will. Or Will.