New Review of Geoffrey Craig's SHAKESPEARE'S YOUNGER SISTER

Review of Shakespeare's Younger Sister by Garner Simmons, PhD and Author of Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage

 

Geoffrey Craig’s Shakespeare’s Younger Sister, is a unique composite: part historical fiction, part fantasy and wholly original. Essentially, Mr. Craig presents an unvarnished snapshot of Elizabethan England, warts and all. From the sewerage in the streets to the crowded markets to the squalor of plague-riven 16th century London, he captures it all in well-researched detail. Then against such harsh reality, he introduces Constance, Shakespeare’s imaginary younger sister.

In truth, Shakespeare did have a real younger sister named Joan (1569-1646), who married a hatter named William Hart and had four children. Their descendants lived on in Stratford for some 200 years. Clearly Mr. Craig has something more intriguing in mind. His fictional Constance, who is 18 when we meet her in 1592, is both beautiful and intelligent. On the verge of womanhood, she has received a letter from her brother, Will, a struggling but self-impressed playwright, who needs her to join him in London to help maintain his household. Knowing their father would never approve, she sneaks off in the dead of night thus beginning what can properly be called a bildungsroman – a story of the psychological and moral growth of a young character (like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, for example).

To be accurate, Constance is a postmodern feminist, whom, like Zola’s Nana, uses her body but preserves her soul. The novel portrays Constance as bisexual, equally attracted to men and women (not unlike William Shakespeare, himself, whose sonnets are addressed to both a “Fair Youth” and a “Dark Lady”). But more critically, it is Constance’s literary gifts and feminine sensibilities that insinuate themselves into her brother’s work as she demonstrates her talent as a writer and becomes his silent partner. As the novel’s cover – an attractive young woman contemplating Yorick’s skull from Hamlet – implies: the question at the core of Shakespeare’s Younger Sister is truly Constance’s own personal self-realization: “To be or not to be…?”

Without question, this is a novel that demands suspension of disbelief. But if one is willing make that leap, Shakespeare’s Younger Sister is a rewarding read.