Please Welcome Charles Lovett!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lovett comes to novel-writing late in his career, having already established himself as an antiquarian bookseller and children’s playwright. He also lectures extensively on Lewis Carroll and has amassed a collection of artifacts related to the author.
The Bookman’s Tale
Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn't sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn't really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture's origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare's time, Peter communes with Amanda's spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.
What is it About Shakespeare?
I’ve had the good fortune to approach Shakespeare as an actor, an audience member, a playwright, and a novelist and in each case it has been a rewarding experience. I’ve played the lead (in Measure for Measure) and my favorite Shakespeare character (Feste in Twelfth Night); I’ve seen Shakespeare productions around the US and UK; I’ve written four plays for children based on or inspired by Shakespeare’s works; and William Shakespeare appears as a minor character in my new novel The Bookman’s Tale (in which a Shakespearean artifact plays a central role).
So, what attracts me to Shakespeare? First, that his works remain relevant after all this time. He can still make me laugh uproariously at the comedies, make me shiver in my seat with plays like Macbeth and Cymbeline, and make me cry at the universal characters and themes in the tragedies. Henry V’s speech on St. Crispin’s day makes me want to get up and fight. Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream can have me falling out of my chair laughing. That Shakespeare can do that after having been dead for nearly 400 years is remarkable. I think it’s something every writer aspires to—to have our works live on after we are gone. With Shakespeare it’s an especially powerful kind of immortality, because we experience these reactions and emotions not alone in a room reading a book, but as a community, a group of people responding in real time to his writing as transmitted through actors, directors, and designers.
Another thing I love about Shakespeare is that, inspite of the aforementioned setback of his having been dead for nearly 400 years, he is still the most important collaborator in the supremely collaborative experience of playmaking. As a playwright I loved the collaboration with director, actors, designers, and others. One of the greatest moments as a playwright is watching an actor deliver a line brilliantly and in a way that I never imagined. (If Shakespeare were still around he’d have this experience a lot). A great Shakespeare production shows that that collaboration can be just as vibrant when the playwright is no longer alive. Shakespeare plays do not direct themselves. I have been to a professional production of Macbeth that was so dull I walked out at intermission and another that was one of the most riveting pieces of theatre I have ever seen. It’s not easy, collaborating with the Bard, but it can be tremendously rewarding when you put in the time and the hard work and get it right.
As a novelist, I was rewarded by an aspect of Shakespeare that is an annoyance to many scholars—the simple fact that we don’t know much about him. In The Bookman’s Tale, my modern protagonist, Peter Byerly finds what may be a priceless Shakespearean artifact—a book that was a source for one of his plays and seems to have the Bard’s marginal notes on every page. Of course it may be a clever forgery, and it certainly puts Peter in danger as he tries to solve its mystery. In addition to telling Peter’s story, I also tell the story of this book, beginning in 1592 in a tavern in London. In this section of the novel, I was able to use many real people, including Shakespeare, as characters, and here’s where knowing so little about Shakespeare’s life came in handy. The fact is, we have no idea what sort of person William Shakespeare was—what it would be like to meet him. Was he friendly, arrogant, introverted, funny? We just don’t know. So, when Shakespeare himself entered onto the stage of my novel, I could make him anything I wanted without contradicting the historical record. (I should add, that I had done this before in my play Becoming Shakespeare, in which the teenage Will Shakespeare learns about human nature by watching the crazy characters at a local inn while he and his friends are doing summer theatre. In case you were wondering, my Will Shakespeare is a pretty obnoxious teenager—but then so were a lot of us).
And this is really the crux of what I love about Shakespeare—that his works are the most studied and familiar in the English-speaking world, cultural touchstones that we can still relate to and understand; yet the man is almost unknown, a mystery so profound that reasonable people believe he didn’t even write the plays published under his name. It’s a wonderful paradox, especially if you are a playwright or novelist willing to spend some time plumbing its depths.
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