We all learnt at school the basic details of Shakespeare’s life – he lived in Stratford, worked in London, had three children of whom two survived, had a wife he left his second-best bed to – but what a tense living situation this would be when you think about it! Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith tells the story of Shakespeare’s daughter Judith, and provides a fresh and uncompromising account of the most venerated writer in history, and his family.
Judith Shakespeare, living in the boring country town of Stratford-upon-Avon, jumps at the chance to see London when invited by her friend, the boisterous vintner Thomas Quincey. She goes to visit her father Will, whom she discovers is not as virtuous as she once imagined. Will’s revaluations, and Judith’s blossoming romance with a boy her parents disapprove of, lead, in true Shakespearean fashion, to some tragic consequences.
Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith is framed as the older Judith, bitter but no less brash, telling the story of her life. This gives the whole story a rich dramatic irony – even during the happier moments of Judith’s life, her older self, a constant reminder of her fair, looms large. The play is not dazzled by the legacy of its most famous figure – here Shakespeare is not a legend but a working man easily led by carnal desire, quick to anger, and full of hypocrisy and contradictions.
Judith is a very likeable protagonist, romantic as Juliet, playful as Beatrice and sharp-tongued as Katherina, which makes her tragedy all the more painful and the piece more thematically rich. The play through Judith explores the experience of a lower-class woman in Elizabethan England. She is a woman at odds with her own time, who just wants to live her life and love whomever she wants, but not even the great Bard ever truly understands her.
Writing about a great writer is difficult because it inevitable draws comparisons to their work, but Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith is a play worthy of the great man. Gripping and impeccably acted, Upstart is a fascinating look at the woman whose legacy was already sealed as ‘Shakespeare’s daughter’.