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Masterplayer: Shakespeare and Elizabeth

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Not for me 😔

Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I receive another historical fiction treatment but ultimately fails in its execution.

In the final years of the 16th century in which England fought a war with Spain on the seas and was putting the final touches to their conquest of Ireland, the famous Globe Theatre was constructed in London by Shakespeare’s playing company. Deciding how to construct her line of succession during this time, Queen Elizabeth I was at odds in choosing her cocky son-figure, Robert Devereux (Essex), or not. And this is where Edmund Topher begins his historical fiction novel, Masterplayer: Shakespeare and Elizabeth.


As indicated in the beginning of the novel, Topher liberally lifts from English history in order to create an interesting tale interweaving the lives of Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare, and the intrigues of both court and theater life. In short, Shakespeare plays a part in working secretly for monarchical powers and finding out the deadly twists of the political secrets beneath the surface. Historical fiction regularly returns to these topics, but usually does not go so far as to blend together the oil and water of separate densities of Shakespeare and Tudor.


While ambitious in this approach, Masterplayer does not work in its execution. The plot is messy geographically. The characterizations are either flat or nonexistent: Essex is the stereotypically entitled monarch-to-be that is predictably cruel (think generic Game of Thrones Joffrey but in his thirties) while Shakespeare is the witty and good-hearted poet always exhibiting the correct ironic gesture. In other words, it is too obvious who is good and bad with no gray areas to test the characters under pressure over time. Furthermore, the dialogue is usually always on the nose and the descriptions of the setting was unimaginative and trite in its choice of adjectives and verbs. For instance, far too many natural objects “danced” or were “dancing,” sometimes several on the same page. Also, an editor ought to pass through the text again to clean up the grammar and punctuation.


Although there is certainly an audience our current Hilary Mantel literary-era for 16th century English historical fiction, I am not sure Masterplayer will work for others not versed in this history. For this reason, I would not recommend this book to anyone outside the lore of Shakespeare or English court-life intrigues. For those inside this group, this text provides another easy-to-read fan fiction about several of their favorite historical figures.

Reviewed by

I've been writing for my personal multimedia blog for years now, which started as and continues to be a passion project. I also use Goodreads and you can follow me there! Currently living in Munich, Germany.

August 1588

About the author

Writing has grown from a hobby to a passion, whether that is fantasy, history, screenplays or novels. Now it has developed into a business helping other writers. view profile

Published on December 20, 2020

90000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Fiction

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