Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Review: Many Kinds of Silence

Second book of 2015! This historical novel imagines what William Shakespeare might have been up to during those lost years in the 1580's. Suspenseful tension makes this a real page turner, or screen turner in my case, since I read it on my Kindle. Ashworth creates a world filled with such intrigue and deception that it leads William Shakespeare to lose his faith in God and Ferdinando Stanley to lose his life.

The book begins with Shakespeare leaving Stratford to study and travel with Father Edmund Campion, with the eventual goal of leaving England to study for the priesthood. Ashworth also introduces a second main character, Ferdinando Stanley Lord Strange, son and heir of Henry Stanley, the 4th Earl of Derby, who also has a claim to royal succession through his mother. Ferdinand's father and mother are estranged: she is under house arrest by Elizabeth I and is a faithful Catholic--and the Earl of Derby does not strictly enforce the recusancy laws in Lancashire (he has a mistress and several children by her).

The arrest and execution of Father Campion makes Shakespeare question his vocation because of the hatred he bears the authorities. He was always torn as he accompanied Father Campion, because what he really loved was not God and religion, but reading and writing, playacting and singing. On a visit home, he and Anne Hathaway consummate their relationship without benefit of marriage and then he marries her when she becomes pregnant. He continues to live away from home, however, to pursue his employment as a player and playwright, eventually serving Lord Strange and writing Richard III to remind Elizabeth that the Stanley family played a crucial role in bringing the Tudor dynasty to the throne, as Henry VII was crowned by Thomas Stanley, the 1st Earl of Derby (Henry's stepfather) with the coronet fallen off Richard's head at Bosworth Field.

Lord Strange is also most interested in becoming the King of England and in studying the natural sciences, creating or believing there is a conflict between religious faith and scientific knowledge. He loves his wife and is loyal to both of his estranged parents, but he thinks that by betraying a man he can gain Elizabeth I's favor and acknowledgement. He also hopes to keep his brother William from inheriting the title and the family name, but -- I won't spoil that plot line.

Both men become more and more entangled with the plots and schemes of the Court and of the Catholics who hope to bring a Catholic monarch to the throne, especially after the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. I believed the situations these two men found themselves in as they pursue their goals and find the web of deception tightening around them and face greater and greater danger, moral and mortal.

I did find some of the historical inaccuracies about St. Edmund Campion's martyrdom irritating, however. His disputation with the Anglican divines in the Tower of London are not even mentioned, and his companions, St. Ralph Sherwin and St. Alexander Briant, also go unmentioned, while Blessed Thomas Cottam is reported to have died with him. The latter was tried with him but not executed for several months--Campion, Sherwin, and Bryant suffered on December 1, 1581 and Cottam not until May 30, 1582, with three other priests. Perhaps the author just wanted to tie up loose ends and not delay the resolution of the case. Ashworth also places Lord Strange at Campion's execution and drops of the martyr's blood fall on him as they did on St. Henry Walpole, but without the same effect. There were a few typos and one time when two similar names were confused (Hesketh and Hoghton), but those are small matters.

Each numbered chapter begins with a quotation from Shakespeare about silence. Many Kinds of Silence is an effective and imaginative story about the atmosphere of spying and watching in Elizabeth I's reign.

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