Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle
What would you do if you had a chance to travel back to the sixteenth century, live in the presence of an adolescent William Shakespeare, oh and, are given the task of seducing him so his great plays and poetry will not be lost forever? In Pamela Mingle’s, Kissing Shakespeare, readers are thrown into a world where religious turmoil, the question of women’s rights, and executions reign–much like present day. Mingle unravels her story in a manner that makes us wish we had the duty of seducing Shakespeare ourselves, creating overall realistic characters and a love story that is satisfactory, but do the social and political parallels she attempts work in complementing the plot?
Miranda Graham is a drama student (in the middle of a production of The Taming of the Shrew) when she gets whisked away by Stephen Langford, a time warden, whose current task is to help save and preserve the genius of William Shakespeare. He employs Miranda’s help because she is greatly knowledgeable in all that is Mr. Shakespeare seeing as how her parents are (conveniently) devoted Shakespearean actors. A reluctant Miranda must agree to Stephen’s plan if she wants to return home to Boston. The only thing is she has to sleep with William in order to deter his thoughts from the Catholic Church and the Jesuits that are trying to recruit him as one of their own. If not for Stephen and Miranda’s seduction scheme, Shakespeare will never become what we consider him now: the greatest writer that ever lived. Miranda is all game at first. Who wouldn’t want to sleep with the Bard? Soon however, a problem arises: she starts falling in love, but it’s not with Mr. Shakespeare. This aspect we see from a mile away. As soon as we meet Stephen we can already deduce a certain predictable romantic outcome.
There are many genre conventions adopted by this novel: the unattainable romantic interest; the female protagonist’s parents away in Europe; eventual graduation to maturity; and let’s not forget the character with the special powers (Stephen possesses an apparatus called the astroglabe that has the ability to time travel). The novel of course at times is melodramatic: “ ‘This cannot be,’ he said, breaking the kiss and resting his forehead against mine. ‘You will return to the…to your present, and my life will go on without you.’ He stepped resolutely away from me. ‘Please, Olivia, leave me now.’ I threw myself against him. ‘No. Don’t make me!’ Gently, he pushed me away. ‘Pray do as I ask’’ (Mingle 267). Even though we abruptly start off with a set-up that is quite unrealistic, the main characters in the story are, for the most part, believeable. Miranda is just another angsty teenager who is constantly battling her parents and life in general. Her wit and cleverness help save the lives of all the characters in the story (duh) and it’s done so in a way that makes readers wish they actually listened to social studies in elementary school. Stephen Langford’s dreaminess, although a tad over-the-top for present day, makes him a perfect main squeeze in the sixteenth century. William Shakespeare himself is a man that has yet to recognize his talents because he is at a crossroads in life. Mingle illustrates a lovely, well-spoken, and sexy young gentleman (because we would not accept otherwise, of course). What I appreciated most about the novel was the way in which Shakespeare was utilized. There were constant remarks from future plays, intriguing letters to Anne Hathaway, and all-in-all Mingle depicts a funny and cool Bard.
My main complaint of the novel derives from the aformentioned seduction mission. The whole premise Mingle lays out renders female readers powerless. There’s a clear and present objectification of women that is only countered when another solution has a higher success rate. Mingle tries to cover up the fact that she’s forcing a virgin in her story to sleep with practically a stranger (well, sort of) against her will, leaving the choice of forced seduction baffling. It seems a bit too ridiculous to claim that seducing Shakespeare is absolutely the only way to prevent him from seeing the ways of the church. This being said, it does make for a more edgy and sexy image of Shakespeare in readers’ minds, as the adolescent genius’s flirtations make you giggly, to say the least. Another risky aspect of the story lies in the way it deals with religion. In sixteenth century Britain, people were dealing with an excommunicated Queen and the tossing out of the Catholic religion replaced by a new Queen and Protestant beliefs. The author cleverly uses this issue to compare to the ones we face in the present day, like the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The theme of religion is integral to the plot and hovers prominently throughout the entire text. Consequently however, Miranda, Stephen, and Will battling the new Prostestant ways makes for a counterintuitive moralistic undertone that is somewhat contradictory of the premise.
If you like time travel stories and or Shakespeare, you are bound to enjoy this book. The main male protagonist, Stephen, is so sexy and alluring he puts Edward Cullen to shame-and in tights and a doublet, mind you. The world in which we are thrust into is credible as it incorporates historical and environmental accuracies. The prose starts off a little weak but once you delve more into the social and political issues in the middle and end of the novel it becomes stronger. The resolution challenges the norm of a “happy-ending,” but we don’t know if it’s done purposefully to leave room for a sequel or not. The cheesiness never reaches the level of Twilight (thank God), but there are many moments where Mingle’s ideas are not plausible. Then again, we are dealing with a story of time travel so we accept them. Her prose holds up well with a quick pace leaving the only major facet that hinders Kissing Shakespeare from being above-average to be its predictability, but hey, this is YA; we’re not exactly looking for above-average.