The Fool’s girl is Violetta, daughter of Viola from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, and Celia Rees has written a multi-layered and literary story involving William Shakespeare in Violetta’s quest to take back the casket and regain her dukedom.
Violetta and Feste, the fool of the title, are in London following Malvolio who has taken the casket containing the myrrh brought to the infant Jesus by the Magi, from the cathedral in Illyria after the bloodshed which saw the ending of Duke Orsin’s reign.
Feste and Violetta contrive a meeting with William Shakespeare hoping he will help them, but Shakespeare is preoccupied with other matters and it is only after the two reveal their story to him over time that he becomes convinced he should help them. Meanwhile Robert Cecil has recruited Shakespeare over fears of a Catholic plot and he decides this work will enable him to help Violetta as well. Feste had rescued Violetta following the battles but she was then captured by Malvolio who wanted the ‘shewstone’, a stone which reportedly showed the future, and in which Violetta had foreseen Viola’s fate. The reader will follow all these twists and turns in the same way that the audience follow the actions of the play on the stage, which is what makes this book so enthralling.
Although some knowledge of the plot of Twelfth Night would be useful, it is not necessary and may well lead the reader to explore the play, but Celia Rees cleverly uses the presence of a real historical figure in the midst of her fictional characters to weave a fascinating story.
The backdrop of Elizabethan England, the Globe theatre, the perceived constant threat to the throne by closet Catholics, and above all the portrait of William Shakespeare, not assured of his success, apart from his family in Stratford and being slowly drawn into Violetta’s story which would subsequently result in the writing of Twelfth Night, all are beautifully described, painting a world into which the reader is drawn.
It is so good to read a story not afraid to have literary references, as in Antonia Forest’s two books, The Player’s Boy (1970) and The Players and the Rebels (1971). Like these two titles, Celia Rees’ story assumes the reader will follow her into this world and those who do so will be enriched by it.