By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

“To thine own self be true” – Gisterland (Yesterland) by Imme Dros

Shakespeare is one of the most famous writers in the world. However, he has also inspired countless novels. Here's one by a Dutch author.

Did you know William Shakespeare hardly ever made up his own stories? Most of his plays were based on historical figures, myths, or folktales. Still, it’s his versions that are still performed all over the world, making him immortal. Everyone knows his plays, but we know next to nothing about the playwright himself. Imme Dros, a Dutch author, wrote a book about him and his wife, called Gisterland (translated as Yesterland) – but she also included many of her own experiences in it. Want to know what it’s about? Read on!

Gisterland is about Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. She tells us how she met Shakespeare when he was a young boy, eight years younger than she was, and how he eventually turned out to become the most sought-after playwright in London. While he is away writing his plays, Anne’s life, and their children’s, continues in his birth town, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Dros’s novel is a fictionalised account of the few facts we know about Shakespeare. We know when he bought his house, we know that his will said his wife would get the second-best bed, and we know that he was an actor and wrote plays, that he wanted to have a coat-of-arms, which was a sign of respectability, and that he had three children. Apart from that, nothing. He wrote no diaries, and only six of his autographs remain in his handwriting. Most of what’s in Gisterland, therefore, was made up by Dros.

Anne Hathaway is the narrator of Gisterland, which is a clever narrative device; everything we know about William Shakespeare is through the eyes of his wife. Anne has no idea what her husband is up to in London, apart from what he tells her – and Anne is fully aware that William loves making up stories. She doesn’t know, and neither do we, what really happened and what didn’t.

Like I said earlier, we don’t know much about William Shakespeare. We know even less about his wife, Anne Hathaway. We only know that she was eight years older than her husband, and that they had to get married because she was expecting a child. Apart from that, not much. Imme Dros, therefore, had to make everything up. She turned Anne Hathaway into something more than merely Shakespeare’s wife: she made her an independent, intelligent woman, who had a life before she met Shakespeare. In Gisterland, Anne is an important source for Shakespeare, and even adds some details to his plays whenever she is listening to him sharing his stories. It shows that Shakespeare always used his own experiences in his plays.

Gisterland reads like a novel about William Shakespeare, with bits and pieces of his plays scattered throughout it. But it’s also a tribute to him, by a Dutch author who, you might argue, would have little to add to the already enormous pile of books dedicated to the most famous playwright in the world. Furthermore, she included many of her own experiences in her novel, such as Anne saving a sheep (which Dros herself did when she was a young girl) and the man Anne was supposed to marry but who suffered from intense headaches and had to wear a box on his head to keep out most of the sunlight.

Actually, Dros wrote her novel in much the same way as Shakespeare himself wrote his plays; she took a story, took some facts, added some personal details, and turned it into her own version of what could have happened. Gisterland is a personal account of her love for William Shakespeare, and it doesn’t matter that we have no idea what really happened to him or what didn’t.

In the end, all that’s left is stories.

Have you ever read any novels about Shakespeare – such as Hamnet, or others? Which Shakespeare play is your favourite? Does it matter that we don’t know much about him? Please let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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