Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Do you believe that Shakespeare was the true author of his plays?
- It's ironic that Robert Greene's most immortal words are those deriding Shakespeare as "an upstart Crow" (p. 31). Can you think of any other writers who were belittled by their contemporaries but went on to achieve greater and more enduring fame?
- Consider Dr. Strayer's "typed list of things [Peter] needed to do in order to move on with his life" (p. 7) after Amanda's death. Can following such a list help someone recover from grief?
- Peter's first visit to the Conservation Department at Ridgefield University transforms the way he regards books, "He had thought of books before only as his shield, but now they seemed to be taking on lives of their own, not so much as works of literature or history or poetry but as objects, collections of paper and thread and cloth and glue and leather and ink" (p. 15). Have you ever experienced a similar epiphany?
- As Harbottle watches a performance of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, he takes some offense at the character of Autolycus. "Was knavery really Bartholomew's profession? Surely the proudest moments of his career did not drip with honesty, but Bartholomew did not believe he had ever done anyone real harm" (p. 64). Are Harbottle's crimesas he believesmostly harmless?
- When Bartholomew Harbottle offers Robert Cotton the opportunity to purchase Shakespeare's manuscripts, the latter is reluctant because he "doesn't collect contemporary literature" (p. 67). Are there any writers at work today who you feel might attain literary immortality? Why?
- At one point, Peter contemplates how he would feel if he were asked to change his name from Byerly to Ridgefield in order to preserve Amanda's family name. Since he always felt estranged from his parents, why might this be difficult for him? How would you feel in his position?
- Philip Gardner spurns the woman he loves and his own child in order to keep his affair a secret from his wife. Does he do so for his own comfort or for the preservation of his family estate?
- Was Peter justified in hiding from his own Amanda the letter in which Amanda Devereaux writes about her desire to have a child?
- Is Peter really visited by Amanda's spirit or is she a figment of his imagination?
- Are high-quality forgeries themselves works of art?
- There are many unacknowledged children in The Bookman's Tale: Robert Greene's son, Fortunato; Bartholomew Harbottle's son, Matthew; and Phillip Gardner's son, Phillip Devereux. Why do you think this might be?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.