Ill Met By Moonlight
Reviewed: February 20, 2004
By: Sarah A. Hoyt
Publisher: Ace Books
298 pages, $8.99
One of the annoying things about Shakespeare is that we don’t
know a lot about him. This has led to the perennial debate about who wrote
the plays, with half a dozen different candidates proposed as the real pens
behind the glover’s son who hardly used the same signature twice and left
his wife his second best bed when he died.
Sarah Hoyt skips by all that. Will was Will, not some dandy nobleman
trying to hide his disreputable hobby behind a false face. No, William was
the Stratford boy, not the Oxford nobleman, and before he sensed the lure
of fame and fortune with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in London, he was a confused
young fellow trying almost vainly to keep body and soul together for himself,
his somewhat older wife and their child by doing what he could do with the
education he’d received at Stratford’s grammar school.
Hoyt assumes that William became a junior schoolmaster in a nearby
village, somewhere within reasonable walking distance each day, somewhere
that took him through a mysterious forest when going and coming.
Hoyt assumes that John Shakespeare’s decline in fortune from
the equivalent of town councillor to a much lower status made the family
home a less than happy place. She provides a sinister reason for this otehrwise
unexplained fall from grace. She also postulates a real love between young
Will (19) and Anne Hathaway (mid 20s), whom she calls Nan in this tale of
his “lost years”.
So where did the inspiration for the plays and poems come from?
Hoyt has quite a few of them springing out of events transpiring in the faerie
realm within the Woods of Arden, nearby. Here, in a plot reminiscent of “Hamlet”,
an elf prince named Quicksilver has been displaced in his inheritance by
a relative whom he suspects of having done away with his parents. And that
King, Sylvanus by name, with a yen for mortal women, has decided upon Nan
to share his bed, so in enchantments like something out of “A Midsummer Night’s
Dream”, he has stolen her away while Will was off with his students.
But the theft was badly done, and the imperfect simulcrum left
behind reverted to the stick it was before even Will came home, leaving him
to know that something has gone wrong, to seek out his wife, and to see her,
as in a vision, transformed by a glamour in a world enough out of step with
ours that he can see it, but not touch it.
Nor can she, though she tries, make her way back into our existence;
though she can see it clearly, she is without substance in our grosser reality.
So is Quicksilver, a being of two aspects, moved to seduce Will
into helping him take revenge on Sylvanus. Seduction enters into it, for
his female aspect is that of the “dark lady”, that sexually ambiguous creature
who haunts so many of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Will does not know of Quicksilver’s
two natures for most of the story, and is entranced by the faerie glamour
of their encounters, himself made more susceptible by what he believes to
be Nan’s defection.
Thus Hoyt plays with many of Shakespeare’s themes: star crossed
lovers, boys/girls who are not what they seem, purposes mistaken which fall
on the inventor’s heads, accidental deaths, and power struggles within the
realms of the nobility.
As I seem to have done in this review, Hoyt falls into an almost
Shakespearean cadence as she writes, ending up with a style that allows her
to insert lines and phrases which are familiar to anyone who passed through
the basic English courses in our high school system. We see Will experience
things that he will later shape into his plays, and become acquainted with
levels of social conduct far above that of his youth.
The end result of all this speculation is a book that I’m sure
you can tell I enjoyed, and I’m even happier to report that it’s the first
of a trilogy, with both of the others already completed. The second, All
Night Awake, is already in paperback and the third, Any Man So Daring,
is out in hardcover.