Local authors’ longtime love of Shakespeare leads to the creation of the novel, “Good Will.”
Featured photo courtesy Wiggins family
Shakespeare isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, for Barbara and Art Wiggins, the man and his work have fascinated them for decades.
“How did a glover’s son with a grammar school education become the world’s greatest playwright?” they asked themselves 25 years ago. Since then, the Bloomfield Township couple has been looking for answers in libraries and at Shakespearean festivals in three countries.
Barbara, a retired English teacher, and Art, a retired aerospace engineer and physics professor, both remember reading Shakespeare in high school.
“It was kind of a chore, but then we put on a (Shakespearean) play and it changed my mind totally. I thought ‘These words sound really good,’” Art says.
Barbara shared his interest and, in 1992, they began thinking about a novel to bring Shakespeare to life as an actual person of Elizabethan times. They found most of the books about Shakespeare were about his writing.
Over a period of years, they saw all 37 of his plays — either in theaters, including the Stratford Festival, or on video. “We felt we were getting to know him better,” Barbara says. Then they began extensive research in English and American libraries, especially the Folger Library in Washington, D.C., which has some of Shakespeare’s earliest manuscripts.
In 1995, the couple took a bike ride along Shakespeare’s route between his hometown of Stratford and London. As they studied his life and the people around him, they learned that Shakespeare “did everything” in the theater — not only writing plays but handling sets and taking tickets.
They wrote an initial draft, but they were both working full-time and Art was also writing science-related nonfiction books, so they put the book aside. After Barbara retired, “we returned to it seriously in June 2018. We kept working on it and changed it a lot. It was fun rewriting it,” she says.
While Good Will: Shakespeare’s Novel Life is based on careful research and is “90 percent accurate,” it does include some fictionalized accounts of Shakespeare’s life, which Art refers to as the book’s “whoppers.” One of these was how Shakespeare met his wife, Anne Hathaway. According to Art, there isn’t a written record so they created an accidental encounter between Shakespeare and Hathaway while she was bathing in a stream, which was common during Elizabethan times.
Another imagined incident was the couple’s presence at the Globe Theater when it was destroyed by fire in 1613. Art says there is no written account of Anne actually visiting London.
One of Shakespeare’s famous characters is Jewish — Shylock, the money lender in The Merchant of Venice. The pair believe Shakespeare depicted Shylock through such famous lines as “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh?” so theater audiences could identify with him. Jews had been expelled from England several hundred years earlier and most written descriptions of them were very pejorative.
The couple discussed Shakespeare with the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine when they were members of the Birmingham Temple. Wine described Shakespeare as “a humanist.”
Since it came out last year, the self-published book has garnered good reviews, Barbara says.
“We wanted to make Shakespeare into a human being to help people understand him and have a different view of the plays,” she says.