Love's Labour's Won

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare

Fiction - Historical - Personage
524 Pages
Reviewed on 11/23/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

The year is 1660 and Lady Elizabeth is once again bound to resurrect some secret treasures of her late grandfather’s writing, most particularly a memoir that could rock the security of Lady Elizabeth’s world and that of her family. You see, her grandfather was none other than the famous William Shakespeare. And the memoir was his last words to the world he had once regaled with dramatic plays and sentimental sonnets. Who was this man that time no longer honored? Would the current political and cultural circles understand and accept what secrets this long-dead playwright might reveal in his final words and testament? When her husband dictates that the manuscript must be destroyed, Lady Elizabeth must come up with a creative way to hide her grandfather’s secrets from the world, at least for her time and perhaps well into the future.

William Gray’s novel, Love’s Labour’s Won: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, is, to put it simply, brilliant. The author has resurrected the voice of a centuries-old literary giant and opened up new avenues of possibilities. There are so many things we don’t know about Shakespeare. But, using what we do know, William presented some very plausible possibilities. The story begins and ends with Lady Elizabeth’s memories of her grandfather and the precious manuscript that is the playwright’s secret memoir. She knows what the memoir contains, but she reads it again anyway. The middle part is the memoir, written presumably in Shakespeare’s recognizable script. It begins with his birth, his family, and the events that led to his passion for writing and particularly for the theater. Some of the playwright’s profound words are used to develop the plot. The writing is so believable, the reader is bound to think this might actually be an undiscovered gem written by the Bard himself. As I said, this is brilliant. And what’s the secret that is so dangerous? Read it and find out.

K.C. Finn

Love's Labour's Won: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare is a work of fiction in the historical fiction, interpersonal drama, and fictional autobiographical sub-genres, and was penned by author William Gray. Written with much mirth, supposition, and speculation in mind, the author takes the life of one of the most famous playwrights the world has ever known and fills in the blanks with a rich and immersive narrative of his life and works. Taking characters, situations, and historical facts from the real records, this unique dramatization supposes the day to day living of the famous bard, the colorful characters who shaped and influenced him along the way, and the charm and success of the man himself.

Author William Gray has crafted a really celebratory work that will quickly become an essential piece for any and all hardcore Shakespeare fans to own and treasure. As a huge Shakespeare fan myself, I was delighted to see such a varied representation of the major players in the playwright’s own life, and the novelized characterization of these figures brings them to life with the atmospheric depiction, dynamic dialogue, and plenty of laughs. I also really appreciated the many references to his works and how these may have been linked to his real-life experiences, which added another layer of richness and poetry to the work itself. Gray does a fantastic job at mingling real facts with credible fiction, and the back matter alone evidences the huge amounts of research that have gone into the work. Overall, I would certainly recommend Love's Labour's Won for history and theater fans everywhere.

Vincent Dublado

Love’s Labour’s Won: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by William Gray is an up-close and personal look at the esteemed English poet and playwright. As the most celebrated man of letters in the English language, Shakespeare has been the subject of scrutiny through the ages. Gray pools biographical resources to describe the life and times of the Bard that many people know little about. With objectivity in mind, Gray sorts through Shakespeare’s failures and triumphs to reveal more about this esteemed artist. Beginning from his childhood where he was his parents’ first child to survive infancy, his marriage to Anne Hathaway and the birth of their three children, up to the literary legacy he left behind, the book separates fact from fiction as far as circumstantial evidence supports all facts pertaining to Shakespeare.

Love’s Labour’s Won celebrates Shakespeare as a literary genius whose contribution to the world of literature will carry on forever. The Shakespeare in this book feels like a man that we are unraveling for the first time. Under Gray’s gift for storytelling, you will cut through the common misconceptions surrounding the Bard as you get to the core of what matters most: his life as a man who lived and loved and met joys and heartaches along the way. Gray wears his knowledge of the subject with aplomb and gives an exploration of the political and cultural aspects of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean ages. While there is still much that we will never know about Shakespeare’s life, this hugely readable material at least helps us to get to the meatier parts of what makes up Shakespeare’s life and times.

Saifunnissa Hassam

William Gray's Love's Labour's Won: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare is a fictional biography of the exceptionally gifted English playwright, poet, and actor, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The novel includes an extensive Afterword, with an excellent section, "Separating Fact From Fiction," which sheds light on what is known of Shakespeare's life. The novel follows his life as a schoolboy and young man in Stratford, his very successful professional years in London, and his final return to Stratford. As a young boy, Shakespeare showed a keen mind and aptitude for drama. In 1582 he married Anne Hathaway. A few years after their three children were born, Shakespeare joined the renowned James Burbage and his acting company as an apprentice in London. He became an acclaimed actor, playwright, and poet in the leading theater company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King's Men.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading William Gray's Love's Labour's Won. The fictional biography captures vividly Shakespeare's literary genius, personality, and spirit with rich evocative detail. I loved the innumerable allusions to his plays and poems interwoven into every chapter. Although nothing is known with certainty about Shakespeare's religious beliefs, I liked his character development as a Catholic in the novel. Living in a period of intense Catholic persecution, he is pragmatic and courageous, keeping his beliefs and the practice of his faith secret. To avoid charges of treason and disloyalty, he writes plays and poems with multiple layers of interpretation, imagery, and symbolism. I loved his dramatic personal audience with Queen Elizabeth! The novel acquires depth with real historical figures who were part of Shakespeare's literary life and close friends: Dick Tarlton, Richard Burbage, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson. I enjoyed the final chapters for their focus on Shakespeare's family. A well-crafted, fascinating, and delightful fictional biography of Shakespeare!

Rabia Tanveer

Love's Labour's Won: The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by William Gray is the story of the most celebrated playwright in the history of literature. The book follows the life of young Will from his adolescence to his adulthood, starting from Stratford where the young Shakespeare was the eldest in his family and learned the ways of life. From there, the author takes readers to Shakespeare's years in London where he rises to fame with his talent for writing plays and poetry, builds a family, and makes a name for himself. After that, the author concludes by sharing the final years of the playwright's life when Shakespeare was beset by scandal and trying to cling to his better past.

Granted that this is a biography with fiction at its base, Love's Labour's Won is a great source of entertainment for Shakespeare junkies who want something new. Being a literature student, I have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare. Reading this book proved to be far more entertaining than I anticipated. The first-person narrative might not be for everyone, but the author makes sure the reader is never left feeling dissatisfied. Author William Gray touches upon some controversial years in Shakespeare’s life and gives an up-close look at it. I love how the author effortlessly incorporates Shakespeare’s original work into the book and ties everything together neatly. It also proves to be a good lesson in history as the author extensively touches upon the Jacobean and the Tudor eras. While the sheer number of characters may intimidate a few readers, they are important because, without them, you cannot do Shakespeare justice. I will highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Shakespeare. Enlightening and surprisingly concise.