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An essay on the writing of this novel is posted on

Concentrating most of its entertaining span on the "apprenticeship" years of William Shakespeare, this novel is based both on fact and on the author's imagination. A few short chapters introduce William as a Stratford lad, then as an unhappily married young man. Soon he has arrived in London and begins to live the kaleidoscopic but poverty-stricken life of a struggling actor and playwright. Among his friends are the writers Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson. The city of London emerges as a character itself, a warren of brothels, bear-baiting arenas, gambling dens, churches, houses, shops, and stalls. Poetry, work, and friendship rule William's life in hectic measure until love makes a fool of him. First comes his love for Emilia, an Italian girl employed as a musician in the household of an aging lord. Next, William suffers a baffling love for his patron, the young Earl of Southhampton, to whom many of his sonnets are written. A love triangle between these three characters brings William to a hard-won maturity as both a writer and man.

"This illuminating historical novel from an expert at reconstructing the Elizabethan era is sure to find many readers among Shakespeare's latest generations of fans." - Library Journal

"Captures the readers imagination [in] the way Cowell envisions the bare bones facts of Shakespeare’s existence...The Players dreams up a glorious man called William Shakespeare...the Shakespeare in whom we want to believe - the thinker, the questioner, the sensitive soul and of the sixteenth century city in which he finds himself.” —The Chicago Tribune

THE PLAYERS was a pick of the month by the literary fiction editor