Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life by Anthony Burgess
Reviewed by Kevin Farley, Collection Librarian for the Humanities
The private thoughts, dreams, and desires, the inner life, of the original Renaissance man, William Shakespeare — frequently claimed as the world's greatest playwright — escape us. Living in a time before autobiography became expected of writers — before we came to demand the truth about those who bewitch us with fictions — Shakespeare left no workaday record of the machinations of his imagination. How then, we are left to ask, did someone seemingly so ordinary, the son of a failed glove-maker in rural England, emerge with such undying depictions of the human condition? To the eminent Shakespearean scholar Samuel Schoenbaum, the poet's genius eludes explanation; yet several recent biographies — especially Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt — seek to flush out the scant biography with imaginative hypotheses about the Mind of the Bard. Perhaps it takes the license of fiction to truly reveal Shakespeare's secrets, and such is the aim of the British novelist Anthony Burgess (who evokes the rowdiness of Elizabethan English in ways similar to the criminal slang of A Clockwork Orange) in Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life. Shakespeare's stream-of- consciousness pours forth in Burgess' account of the poet's youth, as the vibrancy of the world, its beauties, sorrows, temptations, and triumphs, registers itself upon his imagination. We see the full complexity of what Shakespeare might very well have been like — more concerned at times with his own art than with the messy business of responsibilities. Burgess' Shakespeare is greedy for experience, willful, intent, daring, more than a bit selfish — but whose mysterious artistry takes in the world and returns it to us, transformed, renewed.