With The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare due out 1 June, this might be the time to relate the behind-the-scenes story of how the book got its title. My original choice was The Shakespeare Chronicles, and I loved it. To me, “chronicles” evokes a sweeping sense of history and legend, of heroism and valiant deeds, a fitting word to sum up my saga of Anne, Will and the writing of the greatest plays in the English language.
Unfortunately, the publisher did not agree. Women being the major buyers of historical fiction, the publisher wanted a title more targeted to female readers. The title also had to make it clear at a glance that the story was being told from Anne’s point of view.
There followed two weeks of intense brainstorming between me and my editor, and between me, my writers’ group and my husband and children. We played off words and phrases like “bard,” “mistress” and “the secret swan of Avon.” We tried twisting titles and quotes from the plays. We couldn’t use the obvious Shakespeare’s Wife–Germaine Greer had a recent book with that title–and I didn’t like it anyway. We also had to be sure it sounded like a novel and not a nonfiction book about Will.
One interesting complication was that even though Anne is almost invariably referred to, in any Shakespeare context, by her maiden name Hathaway, using that name in the title caused engine search confusion with the actress Anne Hathaway. So it had to be Anne Shakespeare, which is only right. It is the name she would have called herself from the date of her marriage until the day she died.
In the end, I still prefer The Shakespeare Chronicles, and I urge male readers not to be deterred by the feminized title. But I am glad if the revised title plays a small part in restoring Anne’s name. To strip her of “Shakespeare” follows the trend of belittling her as the shrewish wife. I say she deserves a better fame.