Over the summer, I recommended, Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead by Syril Levin Kline – a highly entertaining historical fiction novel – to my readers.
The action is entertaining and suspenseful with clever characterizations of some key players in the Shake-speare story, while the plot offers a plausible case for the Oxfordian authorship theory. Kline employs the Five-Act Structure, like a Shakespearean play, introducing each chapter as a scene with an epigraph relating to the action or mood of each chapter.
This weekend, Kline is attending the Chanticleer Authors Conference and Awards Banquet in a very chilly Bellingham, Washington, where she will proudly accept the
Chaucer First Place 2014 Award in the Elizabethan/Tudor category.
On Tuesday, Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead also has a strong chance of winning the Overall Chanticleer Reviews Grand Prize Award, giving Kline, her controversial book, and the Shakespeare Authorship Question, some well-deserved attention.
Over the summer, it was my pleasure to chat with Kline about her novel. Here I will share our discussion in this 2-part post.
Fade: What inspired you to write Shakespeare’s Changeling?
Kline: In 1990, my husband Peter and I were invited by one of his former Maret School students, Peter Kreeger, to visit his father, David Lloyd Kreeger. At the time, Peter and I were skeptics who believed (like most people are taught in school) that a commoner from Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the famous plays and sonnets, although my husband had his doubts since college.
That night, within a matter of hours, Mr. Kreeger convinced us with solid evidence that “Shake-speare” was actually the pseudonym for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) who had been forced for a variety of reasons to hide his identity as a public playwright.
Mr. Kreeger asked my husband how long he thought it would take to write a novel about Lord Oxford, and Peter said, “Oh, about a year.” Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way – it took me 22 years of writing thousands of pages, reading everything I could get my hands on, giving up, going back, and completing tons of edits to connect well-documented, biographical events of into a story line.
Sadly, David Lloyd Kreeger passed away a few months after our visit, but I’ve dedicated my book to him. His former home on Foxhall Road in Washington, D.C. is now the Kreeger Museum, which displays the works of famous artists from Monet to Kandinsky to Picasso, which Mr. Kreeger and his wife Carmen collected during their marriage.
And of course, since his father’s passing, Peter Kreeger continues to be a staunch supporter of my novel and my husband’s non-fiction book on the Shakespeare authorship.
Fade: What do you hope to achieve with this novel?
Kline: My first objective is to entertain. Shakespeare’s Changeling is a fast moving page turner that begins in 1616 as Ben Jonson races against time to edit Shakespeare’s First Folio as commanded by his patrons, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. The problem is that no one knows where the plays are, or whether any of them have survived!
On his quest to locate them, Jonson visits his old nemesis, Will Shaxper of Stratford, who offers readers a deathbed confession that reveals the secrets of the mysterious authorship.
By the way, history recognizes Montgomery’s wife as Susan de Vere, Lord Oxford’s youngest daughter, who like her father, is a familiar player in court masques. Coincidence? I think not.
This brings me to my second objective, which is to inform readers about the biographies of Will Shaxper and Lord Oxford so they themselves can form their own opinions about the real author, or whether or not there were collaborations among groups of playwrights, as some suspect.
For example, how could one person alone “crank out” astonishingly brilliant history plays one after another in close succession before the age of photocopiers, printers, computers, even typewriters and carbon paper? And why would anyone do it? Not even the most ingenious commoner could accomplish all that on his own!
And we know from prime source documents that Lord Oxford was well known as a writer, that he influenced others to write, and that he was a maker of court masques. Someone had to write for the players as the public theaters grew quickly in numbers, but this “lowly work” (which Shakespeare called “vile lucre”) was forbidden to high-ranking courtiers.
Interestingly, most people today don’t realize that it takes a long time to write a well-written book and that it doesn’t simply spring out of your head full blown.
Fade: I think many will be shocked to learn that the storyline of your book is closer to reality than the traditional story of Shakespeare, i.e. the man from Stratford.
What are a few of the resources you referenced for the historical data used in your novel?
Kline: My husband Peter and I have a 20-page bibliography on this subject that contains a large number of prime source materials as well as modern scholarly books on Shakespeare and Oxford. Peter completed his three-volume, non-fiction manuscript on the research I needed to write my novel.
Many books have been published since the comprehensive tome The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn. For example, Dr. Roger Stritmatter received his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for connecting verses in Lord Oxford’s Geneva Bible to lines in the Shakespeare plays.
On the Shaxper flipside, Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography augmented my understanding of the Stratford man’s life story and clarified for me why he could not have written the plays on his own.
In my novel, Will Shaxper is a man on his way up in the world, climbing the Elizabethan social ladder of success. He’s not stupid, illiterate or bungling, but is a willing conspirator in one of literature’s most complex conundrums. Without him, the plays may never have come to the public’s attention. Each man in his time plays many parts, as they say.
Fade: What were some of the challenges you faced while writing this novel?
Kline: Wow! In 22 years, you can imagine how it felt with a number of false starts, misguided early drafts, feedback by kind readers and by one not-so-kind editor. I began wondering what on earth made me ever think I could write anything more complicated than a shopping list!
A novelist must leave no stone in the plot unturned, and no loose ends for readers to trip on. It’s hard work leaving out scenes that you love and have labored over, but if they don’t move the plot, they’ve got to go. You have to make some sacrifices on the cutting room floor.
But thanks to computers, you can have enough material saved to rework and refine into a sequel, and that’s exactly what I’m working on right now.
~ End of Part 1 ~
Check back tomorrow for the continuation of my interview with Syril Levin Kline, author of the award-winning Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead.