In this hilarious send-up of the Elizabethan era — or rather, the Elizabethan era as perceived by popular culture — Sir Francis Bacon is desperate to obtain a bed that Queen Elizabeth has slept in during one of her royal progresses. He wants it to be an heirloom for his family, as he knows the bed’s value will only increase through the years. Sir Walter Raleigh’s attention is divided between his new cloak, which he hopes will be the envy of everyone at Elizabeth’s court (especially that dandy, the Earl of Essex), and his upcoming introduction of the potato to England. Meanwhile, Sir Francis Drake is grumbling about the fact that he hasn’t been able to do any really good pirating in years; theater owner Philip Henslowe will do anything in his power to shut down his rival, Burbage; and Shakespeare is trying to work on a new play, Love’s Labour’s Wunne, but he keeps getting distracted by the problem of how to spell his own name. Add a little romance, an overly ambitious watchman, and some reminiscing about the glory days of the Armada, and the stage is set for high comedy with a few history lessons thrown in.
I didn’t know it until I read the introduction, but this book is actually part of the basis for the Academy Award-winning movie “Shakespeare in Love.” But while the movie focuses almost entirely on the romance between Shakespeare and the noble Lady Viola, in the book it’s just one of many plots involving the most famous figures of the Elizabethan age. If you know anything about the era or are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book! It’s pure farce, so there isn’t much “plot” to speak of, but the jokes are more than funny enough to make up for that! One of my favorites was an exchange between Shakespeare and Bacon about some plot element of Shakespeare’s play that Bacon didn’t like. Shakespeare responds with great indignation, “Master Bacon, do I write my plays or do you?” Then there’s this internal monologue from a Puritan who seeks to shut down the theater: “People had no right to enjoy themselves. He was going to stop them. His cause was a just one and he knew it. He was enjoying himself.” So if you like Shakespeare and don’t mind a little (or a lot of) silliness, you should definitely check out this book!