Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Last of Will and his Testament

Will by Christopher Rush


Biographies can often be terribly boring, academic tomes that find interest only to those fascinated by the subjects. Autobiographies can be terribly indulgent works that leave out anything negative about the person. In general, it is far more fun to read fiction. What makes this book different is that it is a fictional autobiography. What this means is Rush decided to get into the head and voice of the most famous writer of all time, William Shakespeare, and write a biographical piece with the narrator being none other than the Bard himself!

The premise here is that Shakespeare is on his deathbed and he is dictating his last will and testament to his lawyer, a Falstaff-like gentleman named Francis Collins. While our William isn’t very happy to be in the physical state he’s found himself in, he takes this opportunity to reflect on his life as a whole and tell Francis of all the events he experienced. We thereby get an account that begins with his parents, brothers and sisters and his own birth straight through to the ‘present’ when he’s nearing death.

There are certain drawbacks in such a work. For instance, the language here is very much in tune with the time of Shakespeare’s life and era. In this, we find that it to be both lyrical in the use of words and phrasing as well as using less than modern language. This may be tough going for many readers, but those who enjoy Shakespeare’s poetry and his creative word usage will find that it flows with an almost dreamlike quality. Personally, this was very attractive and had me transfixed from the opening.

Readers may also find that certain sections of this account are less than palatable. There are numerous accounts of how the plague, well… plagued the citizens of Britain throughout Shakespeare’s life. He even goes so far as to describe the horrendous pain and suffering of those afflicted before they succumb to the disease. Here too are some terribly unhappy accounts of the filth of London, concerning not only the sub-standard hygiene but also the personalities and types of characters that roamed the streets. However, Rush doesn’t bother to wax lyrical about Shakespeare’s own depravity as William tells Collins freely of his many adulterous actions. Some of these accounts are graphic, but thankfully fall just short of being pornographic, although many readers may find them to be on the heavy side.

One of the more fascinating parts of the book is where Shakespeare discusses the different political situations that he lived through. He lived to see the end of King Henry VIII’s rule, as well as the brief reigns of Edward IV and Mary I. William also lived through all of the reign of Elizabeth I, as well as the almost half of the rule of James I. What Shakespeare never revealed to the world during his lifetime, Rush also leaves as a mystery to the readers, and we don’t ever find out which side of the religious struggle he sympathized with. Of course, the explanation here is obvious – in order to remain employed, keeping your religion secret during these times was practically mandatory. Moreover, when Shakespeare talks about Christopher Marlowe, he brings up the conspiracy theory surrounding that mysterious death, and speculates how his atheism might have come into play.

Other intriguing sections of this book include tales of how Shakespeare began the Globe Theater, his own theory on why his plays became so popular and how he went from bordering on poverty to amassing a fortune and how it grew through his wise investments.

The part of this book that depends mostly on fiction covers Shakespeare’s “lost years” from 1585 (when he left Stratford-upon-Avon) through 1592 (when we know he was in London) where there is no consensus regarding his life. For this period Rush let his imagination run wild, but kept it from being farfetched by adhering to the theme of Shakespeare’s pursuit of the theater. All this ties in beautifully with William becoming a famous playwright and poet, which contributes to the general flow of the book. In fact, the meshing here of fiction and known fact is so well crafted here that you will truly get a feeling that this could have been the Bard himself recounting his life’s story. For those who have read Shakespeare’s works, you’ll recognize many quotes from his plays and poems added in for effect. What’s more, Rush also includes a first-person postmortem – which means we get to read Shakespeare’s words from beyond the grave. While this is a bit strange, it is forgivable since this is fiction.

All told, this book is an extremely creative way to learn about Shakespeare and his life, even if not all of it is factual. While earlier parts of the book are a bit hard going, if you get past the first drier bits, you may find yourself compelled to read through to the end. While this book is not for everyone (due to some of the language and more graphic sections), this book is highly recommended and deserves a solid four out of five stars.


"Will" by Christopher Rush is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. This is a version of my review that appears on Curious Book Fans and Dooyoo, which also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.