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The Spy of Venice: A William Shakespeare Novel- Review


Book: The Spy of Venice: A William Shakespeare Novel

Author: Benet Brandreth

Publisher: Twenty7

Pages: 434

Price: 399

Anyone who knows of William Shakespeare’s life would know about the seven-year gap that is completely unaccounted for, even after all these centuries. This seven-year itch has been scratched, repeatedly, by historians and literature enthusiasts alike.

Benet Brandreth has utilized these seven years to turn our beloved bard into a swashbuckling Elizabethan spy. Brandreth’s debut novel, that comes after 400 years since the bard’s death, might come under the genre of historical escapist fiction — but it is pure Shakespeare in essence.

It has romance, tragedy, greed, passion, comedy — all the ingredients that Shakespeare himself had used in his creations. And William Shakespeare is at the centre of it all. Only difference is, this William is a stage-/play-loving 20-year-old married man whose mother believes his ‘desires’ would land him in a quandary. Which they do.

The passion for the bard’s work shows in the Brandreth’s debut fiction. Drawing from his own profession as an intellectual property ‘barrister’ and a ‘rhetoric coach’, Brandreth is able to weave Shakespearean tempo into his escapist — albeit rife with actual events — plot.

On his website, Benet Brandreth calls himself an authority on Shakespeare. This claim is proven without doubt in The Spy of Venice. Brandreth has taken ‘Shakespeare’s Lost Years’ and transformed them into an alternative lesson in England’s turbulent history. Throughout the book, the author has taken liberal inspirations from the life of Shakespeare, his own knowledge of Shakespeare’s use of language, and his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The Spy of Venice begins with the humble origins of William Shakespeare. It is 1585, William is married to Anne, has three children and lives a boring life in Stratford-upon-Avon; his father is a glover, and his mother worries about him. Then William gets into a battle of wits with a local politician, which our protagonist promptly loses.  His parents now believe that it would be better if William leaves for London to eke out a living while they take care of the aftermath of William’s recklessness.

William meets again with a roaming group of actors, whom he had earlier introduced himself to at a staging in Stratford. This is the beginning of his exciting life as a stand-in actor. Several situations later, he meets the English ambassador to Venice, who is quite taken by this actor. Thus begins William’s initiation into spying. Bollywood potboiler, anyone?

Flippancy aside, Brandreth has turned this Venetian adventure into something that can be enjoyed by anyone who knows Shakespeare’s tales. And even by those who don’t. There are numerous references to the bard’s plays, which the author has woven into the plot brilliantly through his personal gift for authentic Shakespearean language. Brandreth has paid tribute to the bard throughout the play. He has structured the novel like a play: He gives out a cast list at the beginning; there are five acts to the plot; he has even provided a prologue, an epilogue and several interludes.

What jumps out after each passing chapter is that the author has pictured William Shakespeare a restless man trying to break the restrictive confines of boring domesticity in a dead-end life. At times, this seems like as much a thriller as it is a coming-of-age novel of a young man, whose enterprising nature helps him become a better person, and a better spy — especially in a land and age sieged by religious and political turbulence.

Brandreth has used Shakespearean dramatic penchant to improve his already entertaining ‘romp’. This Venetian caper, according to Brandreth, is set in this City of Bridges — from which William falls after being stabbed with a knife in the prologue — because thirteen of the bard’s plays are set in Italy and there might be some truth to the rumours that Shakespeare might have lived in Italy in some point in his life, and spoke the language.

The Spy of Venice, is in a nutshell, an apt book to curl up with, especially to escape from our boring everyday life into the world of Elizabethan drama.

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