Today I would like to welcome author Andrea Chapin to the blog to tell us about her research for her new novel about William Shakespeare, The Tutor.
A wonderful and unexpected alchemy took hold while I wrote my novel about a year in the life of Shakespeare.
When I traveled from New York to England to do research for The Tutor, one of my first stops was Hoghton Tower, a remarkable fortified manor house that sits high on a ridge between Preston and Blackburn in Lancashire. I’d scheduled an interview with Sir Richard Bernard Cuthbert de Hoghton, 14th Baronet, and was delighted when I met him that he looked the part–light hair, brilliant blue eyes, tweed jacket and gold signet pinky ring that I imagined dated back to William the Conqueror. Indeed, for over nine hundred years Sir Bernard’s family has owned the land where the current Hoghton Tower, circa 1565, stands.
Sir Bernard’s ancestor, Alexander Hoghton, Esq. wrote a will in 1581 that mentions a “William Shakeshafte,” who, by the context of the reference, might have worked at Hoghton Tower as an actor-musician. Spelling of proper names, or words in general, were not standardized in the sixteenth century; the Shakespeare family name appears in documents in various forms including Shakstaff and Shakeschafte. At that time, Shakespeare would have been, perhaps, a year or two out of Stratford Grammar School, where John Cottom, who was from a town near Preston, was the schoolmaster.
Much of Shakespeare’s life is undocumented. Where was he before his marriage at eighteen in 1582? Was he employed at Hoghton Tower? And what was he up to between twenty-one, when he was living in Stratford with three children, and twenty-eight, when he emerged as an actor, playwright and poet in London? The speculation as to what he was doing during those “lost years” includes: deer poacher in Stratford, horse handler for theaters in London, soldier, sailor, actor, and schoolmaster in the country.
Sir Bernard recounted stories and anecdotes about his ancestors and shared his boundless knowledge of Lancashire and the Catholics during the Elizabethan era. All of which was very helpful because the story I was creating involved a recusant Catholic family in 1590 in Lancashire and William Shakespeare, who arrives to tutor the children and to finish his first poem. I hadn’t told Sir Bernard anything about my novel, other than I was interested in the theories about Shakespeare’s “lost years.” At one point, I asked Sir Bernard if his family kept books in the late 16th century, and he replied yes they did and that they had a great library. He then said that in the 1600s a Catharine de Hoghton asked her father, Sir Gilbert, for a hundred books for her dowry.
My protagonist was named Katharine, and in the hundred pages I had already written, she loved books and enjoyed her uncle’s vast library. Here was Sir Bernard recounting his ancestor with the same name and the same love of books. A chill ran down my spine. As I continued to research and to write The Tutor, there were other instances when I felt this sort magic sweep over me, where fact and fiction, history and inspiration, co-mingled in a surprising and thrilling way.
Andrea Chapin’s novel, The Tutor, was published last week by Penguin Random House UK.