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Anthony Burgess: Nothing like the Sun

his is Burgess’ homage to Shakespeare, portraying Shakespeare as a likely lad, interested as much in wenching and boozing as writing his plays and poetry. We follow his adventures from being an apprentice glove-maker through his literary success to his death. He starts off with a fling with a local lass but then marries Anne Hathaway when she is pregnant. Though they have three children (two twins), they seem to spend little time together as Shakespeare goes off to London on his own, leaving his wife and children behind. He rarely returns. When he is called back when his son, Hamnet, is dying, he hesitates and then arrives back too late. Much of his time is spent chasing other women including, in particular, the woman he is particularly attached to (called Fatimah in this book), clearly meant to be the unidentified Dark Lady of the Sonnets, whom Burgess mocks and who gives Shakespeare syphilis (also unproven). Eventually he buys New Place, one of the most sumptuous houses in Stratford, but stays in London for some time to come.

Burgess is primarily concerned with Shakespeare the man and his lusty life, as the cover of my copy of the book so aptly puts it. However, he does offer glimpses of the how and why of various scenes and characters of the plays and poems as well as contemporary reactions. Being Burgess, he also plays around with language, using – not very successfully in my opinion – his idea of Shakespearean language throughout the book. It is a fun book but is this really Shakespeare or just Burgess?

Publishing history

First published 1964 by Heinemann