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Shakespeare: The Biography

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Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, th Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, the animals, even the flowers–that would appear in Shakespeare’s plays. He takes us through Shakespeare’s London neighborhood and the fertile, competitive theater world where he worked as actor and writer. He shows us Shakespeare as a businessman, and as a constant reviser of his writing. In joining these intimate details with profound intuitions about the playwright and his work, Ackroyd has produced an altogether engaging masterpiece.


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Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, th Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, the animals, even the flowers–that would appear in Shakespeare’s plays. He takes us through Shakespeare’s London neighborhood and the fertile, competitive theater world where he worked as actor and writer. He shows us Shakespeare as a businessman, and as a constant reviser of his writing. In joining these intimate details with profound intuitions about the playwright and his work, Ackroyd has produced an altogether engaging masterpiece.

30 review for Shakespeare: The Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    “Shakespeare is the only biographer of Shakespeare. So far from Shakespeare’s being the least known, he is the one person in all modern history fully known to us.” ~ Emerson The Obscure & The Elusive This ‘biography’ that Ackroyd strings together is mostly tedious, though it has a few really good moments and it has to be admitted that it presents most of the facts that is known of the great Bard. In spite of this, I think it is a mistake to pick up this bio unless one is familiar with ALL the p “Shakespeare is the only biographer of Shakespeare. So far from Shakespeare’s being the least known, he is the one person in all modern history fully known to us.” ~ Emerson The Obscure & The Elusive This ‘biography’ that Ackroyd strings together is mostly tedious, though it has a few really good moments and it has to be admitted that it presents most of the facts that is known of the great Bard. In spite of this, I think it is a mistake to pick up this bio unless one is familiar with ALL the plays of Shakespeare, including the controversially attributed ones - since Ackroyd constructs the bio mostly through the plays and the lines and extrapolating form them, tying together with some skill the fragmentary traces Shakespeare left in the world outside the stage. The fact that whatever is pieced together from outside plays is from the patchy legal records of Shakespeare’s land dealings, taxes paid, borrowings/lendings, cases filed, and so on, should give an idea of the tedium involved. The saving grace is when Shakespeare’s contemporary critics step in to spice it up by naive statements that posterity was destined to have hearty laughs at. Also, Ackroyd tries to do it both ways - understand the life through the plays and then understand the plays through the life. Which makes a bit of a mess in figuring out where the circle closes. Also, Ackroyd seems to lean towards reading the life into the work when the life can be read out of the work. Maybe, much of Shakespeare’s existence was the very construction of his plays, and these in turn might tell us more about him than can the set of random anecdotes that have escaped the distortions of history and Shakespeare’s own efforts to maintain a private life, that Ackroyd tires so hard to dig out. If Ackroyd had stuck to a consistent plan either way, we might have had a much more coherent work. In the end, the ‘bio’ is definitely useful in understanding Shakespeare’s London (which included the audiences, stage, limitations of the stage, audience expectations), what is known of his life (with shadings of childhood influences, dramatic/poetic progress, worldly progress, family troubles/tragedies/ambitions), and the London Stage itself (including economic conditions and preoccupations, major rivals, the dramatic scene of the time, the actors, the interaction b/w actors and characters). This is all very admirable, but the question is how much of all this information is needed for understanding his plays - especially when his greatest genius was apparently in being conspicuous by his absence in his works! Ackroyd asserts this himself and thus nullifies his entire effort, in one fell swoop. (if you detect a contradiction in the review here, it is intended to show the same contradiction apparent in the book) In addition Ackroyd is known to present speculation as concluded fact and reader has to keep his guard up throughout the book, which is very tiring to be honest, and not quite worth the effort.

  2. 5 out of 5

    booklady

    Very worthwhile book on Shakespeare! Although he is still ‘the mystery man’, the author has researched the era, his family, theatre life, religious differences and the locales of London and Stratford and presents the known facts—as well as the gaping holes—as Shakespeare’s life unfolds. It is not difficult to see, thanks to Ackroyd’s explanations, why Shakespeare remains such an elusive figure. There are reasons. It was a dangerous time for one, especially with respect to which side of the relig Very worthwhile book on Shakespeare! Although he is still ‘the mystery man’, the author has researched the era, his family, theatre life, religious differences and the locales of London and Stratford and presents the known facts—as well as the gaping holes—as Shakespeare’s life unfolds. It is not difficult to see, thanks to Ackroyd’s explanations, why Shakespeare remains such an elusive figure. There are reasons. It was a dangerous time for one, especially with respect to which side of the religious street you happened to be standing on when. England went back and forth between Catholic, Protestant, back to Catholic and then finally to remain Protestant all in less than 50 years—the span of one man’s lifetime. Who knew if that might change again? Shakespeare’s own father suffered most of his life for his determination to hang on to the ‘Old Faith’—something which could have made his son more cautious in allowing himself private beliefs and thoughts much less being forthright about them. Ackroyd also gave the ins and outs of the dangers inherent in theatre life, something still novel in late 16th, early 17th Century Britain. The risks were greatest for playwrights, who might write something heretical or treasonous, intentionally or no. Shakespeare’s contemporary and competitor, Christopher Marlowe, died at 29 (stabbed to death) under mysterious circumstances, something which no doubt would have affected WS. Shakespeare’s own death at 53 in Stratford-on-Avon was unremarkable and unattended except for family and some friends. Even his cause of death remains a mystery. For such a great man, so much remains conjecture. And yet, we love his words and it is those we know so well! Ackroyd focuses on the plays, characters, and memorable dialogue throughout, something akin to a tour through a bakery. Let me out of here or let me eat one of everything! At least…! Most enjoyable and most frustrating! Bring on those plays…! ============================================== October 1, 2017: We are almost finished! One CD (out of 16) left. Normally audiobooks don’t take us so long. This one has taken longer, no doubt because of our frequent breaks for discussion. Dear husband has no familiarity with Shakespeare which has led to many interesting conversations. Also, the CDs are very long so we are reluctant to start another unless early in evening. August 18, 2017: I am a fan of Ackroyd bios... Have been wanting to read this one on the Bard for a long time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Terry Bonner

    At predictable intervals over the course of the last four centuries, some cynical iconoclast has suggested that William Shakespeare was a simple-minded actor from the hinterlands who was hired by an Oxford-educated aristocrat to serve as the public face for his plays. The latest incarnation of this hackneyed libel against Shakespeare is last year's box office bomb ANONYMOUS, which rather shamelessly attributes Shakespeare's canon to the Earl of Oxford. These Anti-Stratfordists are, of course, th At predictable intervals over the course of the last four centuries, some cynical iconoclast has suggested that William Shakespeare was a simple-minded actor from the hinterlands who was hired by an Oxford-educated aristocrat to serve as the public face for his plays. The latest incarnation of this hackneyed libel against Shakespeare is last year's box office bomb ANONYMOUS, which rather shamelessly attributes Shakespeare's canon to the Earl of Oxford. These Anti-Stratfordists are, of course, the very worst sort of intellectual elitists who indulge themselves in the most juvenile sort of contempt for history and historical method. But they almost always get noticed by the popular press and their claptrap is usually successful at muddying the waters and undermining the reputation of England's greatest literary figure. Ackroyd, like Schoenbaum a generation ago, goes to great lengths to present the wealth of records extant from Shakespeare's life. William Shakespeare left a rather substantial historical footprint. He was not some bucolic rube from a provincial backwater, but instead was the well-educated, bourgeois firstborn son of the Mayor of Stratford-Upon-Avon. Shakespeare's father John, as well as his mother Mary Arden, left a rather huge footprint in the records of their time. The same is true for John Shakespeare's neighbors, brothers and business associates. These were serious and substantial people. The fact that they were Recusivists (Catholic stalwarts during the time of emergent Anglicanism) insured that that their footprints would be subtle, but they were undeniable. Shakespeare himself appears to have been indifferent to religion. His familiarity with the ritual of the mass, as well as his acquaintance with the cycle of medieval morality plays and his contacts in the Recusivist underground, gave him access to the nascent world of the Elizabethan stage. Ironically, Shakespeare was very much like the way Joseph Finnes portrayed him in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. He was very young (22), extremely good looking and thoroughly competent as both a player and a playwright. He intuitively understood how to please huge crowds in this egalitarian new medium, and the convergence of his personal talent with the times, the technology and the emerging industry of mass entertainment combined into a synergy of genius. Unlike his friends and rivals. most notably Jonson and Marlowe, Shakespeare never aspired to be England's preeminent playwright. His obsession appears to have been with becoming a "gentleman". To this end, he was meticulous about his investments, and he was purposeful and deliberate in his associations. When he died of typhoid fever in 1616, he was one of the best known celebrities in England and was the wealthiest landowner in Warwickshire. He was also, by the standards of the day, an old man -- having reached the age of 52 in an era when 40 was considered old. Ackroyd goes to great lengths to provide evidence for the provenance of each and every word attributed to Shakespeare. While the contemporaneous citations of his works are abundant and conclusive, the real bona fides for the Shakespearean corpus lies in the words themselves. Shakespeare's language is the dialect of his native Warckickshire, a fact now lost to modern audiences simply because of Shakespeare's success. His provincial patois became the standard for modern English, but it is an easy leap to recover the lyrical west county lilt in his elegant iambs. This biography is well worth your time. You will walk away from it with a better appreciation for the role individuals have played in the epic history of the world. This winsome youth with a pleasing accent, by dogged persistence in his trade, created something wonderful and rare. Along the way, he unintentionally earned a place beside Homer, Vergil and Dante as the one of the great poets of mankind. The closest I personally have ever come to a mystical experience was when, as very earnest and guileless twenty-two year old, I first knelt alone and in silence at the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I remember feeling subsumed in an almost dissociative reaction to the overwhelming humanity and dignity of this eternal place. It was so simple, so pure, so unassuming. In short, it was so very human, a timeless reminder of everything awesome and miraculous about just being human. That, in the end, is the essence of Shakespeare's greatness. He spent his entire life trying to become an English gentleman. Quite by accident, he became one of the immortal voices of mankind. That is a magic you cannot learn at Oxford.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brooklyn Tayla

    Hands down, one of the best biographies I've ever read. So engaging and enthralling; I learnt SO much and couldn't put it down. Definitely recommend for fans of The Bard & his works.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    You'd think by now there'd be nothing new to say on Shakespeare, no more interesting insights to make, no way to take what little we know of him and make it justify yet another biography - and yet this book succeeds marvellously. Peter Ackroyd is a wonderful biographer - his biography of London is a triumph - and he always manages to make his material come alive, which to be fair is not hard when you're dealing with the words of Master Shakespeare. I think I've yet to read a bad biography of Shak You'd think by now there'd be nothing new to say on Shakespeare, no more interesting insights to make, no way to take what little we know of him and make it justify yet another biography - and yet this book succeeds marvellously. Peter Ackroyd is a wonderful biographer - his biography of London is a triumph - and he always manages to make his material come alive, which to be fair is not hard when you're dealing with the words of Master Shakespeare. I think I've yet to read a bad biography of Shakespeare - and there's a reason for that. Any biography of Shakespeare is as much as biography of the plays as it is the man himself, and with such material to work with how can you go wrong? It's partly why I've...to say I've not been interested is the wrong word, because if it's Shakespeare of course I'm interested...let's say I've been somewhat aloof from the arguments that continue to rage about whether Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare. As the man himself said, 'the play's the thing'. Someone wrote these plays and we might as well call that someone Shakespeare for lack of anything else. Because material on Shakespeare himself is so scarce, so much of this biography is populated with information about the era, the politics, the fashions, the fads, the personalities at Court and in the streets, Shakespeare's friends and his rivals, and all of that is just as interesting as Shakespeare, perhaps if I dare say even more so. Perhaps the reason there is so little information on Shakespeare is because Shakespeare was not all that interesting as a person? After all, we assume that geniuses must be towering figures, but perhaps he was just a small ordinary man with an extraordinary gift. We should treasure the fact we have the pleasure of that gift and not bemoan the lack of the man himself.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Harry Rutherford

    The definite article in the title seems a little hubristic. I don't know if this is the definitive biography of Shakespeare — haven't read any of the hundreds of others — but I certainly enjoyed it. I don't know if I completely trust Ackroyd as a historian; it's probably unfair, but I just get a nagging sense sometimes that he's a bit too fond of a good story. He has clearly done a ton of research, though, and as you'd expect he's very good at providing historical context. And he writes well. Ther The definite article in the title seems a little hubristic. I don't know if this is the definitive biography of Shakespeare — haven't read any of the hundreds of others — but I certainly enjoyed it. I don't know if I completely trust Ackroyd as a historian; it's probably unfair, but I just get a nagging sense sometimes that he's a bit too fond of a good story. He has clearly done a ton of research, though, and as you'd expect he's very good at providing historical context. And he writes well. There's a perception, perhaps, that we have very little historical record of Shakespeare other than the plays themselves, so if anything I was surprised by how much material there was: legal stuff, references to him in other people's writing and so on. Certainly there's enough to build up a broad-brush picture of his life. What there isn't is much that is truly personal: no letters back and forth between London and Stratford, no learned essays on theatrical technique, no gossipy personal journal. So instead of the common pattern of literary biographies, where the biographer tries to use the details of the life to shed light on the work, here it's more often the other way round: trying to mine the plays and poems for details that might tell us something about his life. It's all hints and scraps, and any conclusions are tentative and contingent, but it's all quite interesting even so. In the end, I think Shakespeare remains elusive: but then, if we knew every moment of his life, I suspect it would only serve to emphasise the fundamental mysteriousness of genius. What biographical detail could possibly be adequate as an explanation?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    I find the writings of Peter Ackroyd to be veritable delights. I have read 'London-The Biography' as well as 'Thames:Sacred River' and this author simply oozes with a profound knowledge of 'the smoke', it's environs and it's populace. Although these books are quite hefty volumes, his writing is extremely erudite and set out in short chapters that make his tomes hard to put down. 'Shakespeare-The Biography' takes bardolatry up to a whole new level. In view of the fact that personal records of Will I find the writings of Peter Ackroyd to be veritable delights. I have read 'London-The Biography' as well as 'Thames:Sacred River' and this author simply oozes with a profound knowledge of 'the smoke', it's environs and it's populace. Although these books are quite hefty volumes, his writing is extremely erudite and set out in short chapters that make his tomes hard to put down. 'Shakespeare-The Biography' takes bardolatry up to a whole new level. In view of the fact that personal records of Will o' the wisp are like gold dust and that even the dramatists works provoke debates regarding authenticity, any biography at all seems beyond reach, or as Ackroyd so eloquently puts it, 'lost in the voracious maw of time and forgetfulness'. Yet, such is the unique expertise of Ackroyd's grasp of Elizabethan London, coupled with a professorial perception of the Shakespearian canon, the mists of four hundred years are lifted to produce a portrait of fantastic clarity. Certainly this work on the Bard of Avon has been produced by some imaginative reading between the lines, with many anomalous or intuitive perceptions that side step the ambiguous and scant records. None the less, I was transported back in time in a Wellsian machine, and any thoughts of disputed authorship with Kyd, Marlowe, Wriothesley, deVere etc., can be discounted.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    It is O'dark thirty in the morning and I have just finished this Marvelous Book. You'll note I used capitals which I did on purpose because this book is something very special. It is hard to find non-fiction which reads lyrically like poetry. Some very fine authors, most of them British, do manage this feat and Peter Ackroyd has done it here. Perhaps he was inspired by his great subject matter. For a brief disclaimer I'll admit up front that I worship every syllable Shakespeare ever wrote. I hav It is O'dark thirty in the morning and I have just finished this Marvelous Book. You'll note I used capitals which I did on purpose because this book is something very special. It is hard to find non-fiction which reads lyrically like poetry. Some very fine authors, most of them British, do manage this feat and Peter Ackroyd has done it here. Perhaps he was inspired by his great subject matter. For a brief disclaimer I'll admit up front that I worship every syllable Shakespeare ever wrote. I have been privileged in the past to enact some of his plays and there is no magic quite like that. When the lines begin to flow, I'll swear you can SEE the energy flowing from stage to audience and back. It's SSOOOOO good! Some of that energy seems to have osmosed into Ackroyd's high-spirited bio. He deals evocatively with Shakespeare's youth, of his apparent love of nature and the countryside, of the possible ways he spent the so-called lost years, of his family etc, etc. He deftly presents issues that have been debated for hundreds of years, such as was Shakespeare a crypto-Catholic? Did he have marital troubles? How did he think and feel about his writings? Which plays were written when? Ackroyd addresses them all with style and gusto. I'm so impressed with amount of research he had to have done to write this; his bibliography is eleven pages long. Whoo dogies! That's a lot of reading! Along the way somewhere he seems to have absorbed ton of data about the Elizabethan world in much the way Shakespeare himself seems to have done. There are juicy bits about legal matters, courts, deeds, fines and the training of lawyers. There is herb-craft and other medicine, music and dance, daily manners and courtly behavior, and a funny bit with a dog. (OK, I stole that last bit, but so did Shakespeare and Jonson and Marlowe and Kyd!) And did you know that at one time Will lodged at the corner of Silver and Muggle streets? Ya gotta love it! Coming in at a hefty 518 pages, there's a lot to love here. This wonderful bio will appeal to those who love Tudor and Stuart England as well as to lovers of the Bard and literature in general.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Wayland Smith

    Peter Ackroyd is a wordy writer. He's the same way as a biographer, as well. But he does a lot of research and provided a very detailed telling of the life of Shakespeare, or at least, as much as is known. It's a bit dry at times, and there's a lot of speculation, but then, there's a lot we don't know about Shakespeare's actual life. There are some really interesting facts along the way, like a young woman in his town who fell into a river and drowned... unless it was suicide... and her family n Peter Ackroyd is a wordy writer. He's the same way as a biographer, as well. But he does a lot of research and provided a very detailed telling of the life of Shakespeare, or at least, as much as is known. It's a bit dry at times, and there's a lot of speculation, but then, there's a lot we don't know about Shakespeare's actual life. There are some really interesting facts along the way, like a young woman in his town who fell into a river and drowned... unless it was suicide... and her family name was Hamlet. There is also a lot of detail about the events happening around Shakespeare put into historical perspective, like the persecution of Catholics at the time, or recurring outbreaks of plague forcing theaters to close. Recommended to big fans of Shakespeare or history of that time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I am so sick of reading "biographies" that are basically glorified fiction. The amount of factual information that scholars know about Shakespeare from Statford on Avon could fit into this review box! The other 588 pages of this '"biography" is filler: guesses, conjectures and basic bs. The author himself says that many biographers will assume Shakespeare was a sailor because he uses so many technical sailing terms in his works, but the author decides instead that Shakespeare came from a farming I am so sick of reading "biographies" that are basically glorified fiction. The amount of factual information that scholars know about Shakespeare from Statford on Avon could fit into this review box! The other 588 pages of this '"biography" is filler: guesses, conjectures and basic bs. The author himself says that many biographers will assume Shakespeare was a sailor because he uses so many technical sailing terms in his works, but the author decides instead that Shakespeare came from a farming background, based on his use of so many technical farming terms in his works. Seriously? You use the same basic litmus test to decide he's a farmer that you used to bash anyone who thought he was a sailor? That's when I gave up. Forget that the author doesn't even stop to mention that the Shakespeare he's biographing up to this point, the Shakespeare from Stratford on Avon, may not even be the same guy that wrote all the plays and poems. He doesn't mention that there are all of five actual examples of this Shakespeare's handwriting and that ~none~ of them match the handwriting we have of bard's plays or poems or various other works. This is just lazy fiction disguised as fact.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katheryn Thompson

    This just feels like the definitive book on Shakespeare. Ackroyd moves chronologically through Shakespeare's life, from birth to death, breaking the book into short chapters (which make reading easier), and tying together what is known about Shakespeare from his plays and from the world beyond the stage. It's a fascinating book, which immerses the reader in Shakespeare's world, although it might be worth noting that this biography is probably best enjoyed by a reader with a reasonable knowledge o This just feels like the definitive book on Shakespeare. Ackroyd moves chronologically through Shakespeare's life, from birth to death, breaking the book into short chapters (which make reading easier), and tying together what is known about Shakespeare from his plays and from the world beyond the stage. It's a fascinating book, which immerses the reader in Shakespeare's world, although it might be worth noting that this biography is probably best enjoyed by a reader with a reasonable knowledge of Shakespeare's plays.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I have read many books about Shakespeare and his times, but none have provoked a more ambivalent and varying reaction in me than Peter Ackroyd's "Shakespeare the Biography". There are some nice strengths to this text, and there are some great weaknesses. I gave this text a 4 star rating merely for the output of writing and research, but quality wise I would rate it 3 or 3.5 stars. There are too may dull and/ or redundant sections in the text for it to rate as one of the best books on Shakespeare I have read many books about Shakespeare and his times, but none have provoked a more ambivalent and varying reaction in me than Peter Ackroyd's "Shakespeare the Biography". There are some nice strengths to this text, and there are some great weaknesses. I gave this text a 4 star rating merely for the output of writing and research, but quality wise I would rate it 3 or 3.5 stars. There are too may dull and/ or redundant sections in the text for it to rate as one of the best books on Shakespeare. There are much more engaging and interesting biographies of the Bard out there than this one. One strength of the text is that, unlike many Shakespeare biographies, Ackroyd goes into great depth about Shakespeare's ancestors and his early life in Stratford, more than any other writer I have yet encountered. It is interesting and well done, and he makes some compelling arguments about how Shakespeare's childhood shaped the man he became. Another very good section of the book is chapter 45, where Ackroyd spends a bit of time insightfully discussing Shakespearian characterization. This might not be interesting for readers who don't like analyzing characters, but I do, and found it intriguing and thoughtful. A huge annoyance for me is Ackroyd's insistence on using the original Elizabethan spellings and grammar when quoting from primary sources of the period, including Shakespeare's plays. This adds unneeded confusion and difficulty to the text, and serves no purpose other than to create hindrances for the reader. Making the words more difficult to decipher does not change their meaning, it just gives the reader a reason to put the book down. Why would a writer do that? This text is also highly speculative, as any book on Shakespeare's life must be, but Ackroyd goes to great lengths to say that this or that idea is not worth speculating about... and then he does just that. Speculate away sir, give us reasons for your insights and thoughts and lets us decide for ourselves. But don't pretend that you are not doing it. It is a cloying device and detracts from the work. Added drama seems appropriate to a biography of Shakespeare. Embrace it. In an idea that he surely lifted from Harold Bloom Mr. Ackroyd writes, "It could be said that Shakespeare was present at the invention of human motive and human purpose in English history." One only need read Shakespeare to see how accurate a statement this is, and in this text's better moments it shows how Shakespeare did just that in his life's writings.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Budd

    There is a lot that has been said about William Shakespeare. Everyone has an opinion on who he was, who he was not, what he wrote etc. The debate goes on, even after 400 years of his passing in 1616. Therein lies the true brilliance of literature – the compelling force to continue the conversation. Goodreads is celebrating Shakespeare Week (August 18 – 23, 2016), which includes quizzes, book lists and an invitation to write a “deleted scene” from one of the Bard’s plays. Shakespeare would be plea There is a lot that has been said about William Shakespeare. Everyone has an opinion on who he was, who he was not, what he wrote etc. The debate goes on, even after 400 years of his passing in 1616. Therein lies the true brilliance of literature – the compelling force to continue the conversation. Goodreads is celebrating Shakespeare Week (August 18 – 23, 2016), which includes quizzes, book lists and an invitation to write a “deleted scene” from one of the Bard’s plays. Shakespeare would be pleased, no doubt. I first met Shakespeare when I read Macbeth and confess that I had a partiality to the unfortunate Lady Macbeth. “But screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth Then came The Taming of the Shrew (wasn’t Elizabeth Taylor magnificent): “Sit by my side, and let the world slip: we shall ne’er be younger.” William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew Followed thereafter by Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Twelve Night, King Lear, Julius Caesar, and Henry V: “We few. We happy few. We band of brothers, for he today That sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.” William Shakespeare, Henry V Peter Ackroyd’s, Shakespeare, the Biography brought it all together for me. This is not an easy read, by any stretch of the imagination, but after all, he is writing about William Shakespeare. My husband, my son and I listened to the audio-book version while driving in the car, which allowed us to integrate knowledge incrementally. We were taken back to the sixteen century and imagined that we were part of the audience. Even more exciting, we followed William from his childhood to his final night, when he met with friends for the last celebration before the curtain closed on a life well-lived. This last quote is one that I embrace as I move forward in my timeline… “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice https://ontheroadbookclub.com/2016/04...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A fascinating, masterful, and detailed look into the life of the greatest figure in English literature. Any such biographical endeavor would be a daunting task, but Ackroyd handles it beautifully and, surprisingly, more than adeptly. Despite its length, taking the reader from the playwright's birth in Stratford-upon-Avon (even going backward and glancing into a brief history of his parents) to his childhood, and then his rich adulthood, it is a very satisfying read. Ackroyd very creatively takes A fascinating, masterful, and detailed look into the life of the greatest figure in English literature. Any such biographical endeavor would be a daunting task, but Ackroyd handles it beautifully and, surprisingly, more than adeptly. Despite its length, taking the reader from the playwright's birth in Stratford-upon-Avon (even going backward and glancing into a brief history of his parents) to his childhood, and then his rich adulthood, it is a very satisfying read. Ackroyd very creatively takes a line here and there from Shakespeare's plays and applies it to a particular instance in the man's life; each play, in fact, gets its own bit of time in the limelight. I think, more important than anything else, Ackroyd recognized the RESPONSIBILITY that came with taking on a book of this magnitude and of this subject--and he doesn't let us down, doesn't disappoint by any means.

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Hartley

    Reading through what other reviewers have said summarises what my own thoughts on this one. Worth reading for the background to Shakespeare and his life but as infuriating and grasping as most biographies of the bard when trying to pin down the details. Calling any book a biography of Shakespeare should be a violation of the Trades Description Act as theres simply not much to know about him: scholars have even picked to bits the first so-called biographies written only a generation after he live Reading through what other reviewers have said summarises what my own thoughts on this one. Worth reading for the background to Shakespeare and his life but as infuriating and grasping as most biographies of the bard when trying to pin down the details. Calling any book a biography of Shakespeare should be a violation of the Trades Description Act as there´s simply not much to know about him: scholars have even picked to bits the first so-called biographies written only a generation after he lived. Having said this, though, this book - and all the others - do provide colour and context and interesting information to anyone interested in Shakespeare, the times or the plays. As far as a good reading experience goes, this one is rather uneven. Felt a wee bit of a chore at times.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    not bad...my one complaint would be there doesn't seem to be a lot of original work here... ackroyd basically took all the bios that were written in the past decade or so and aggregated them into one volume...i read greenblatt's 'will in the world' a few years back and could readily pick out passages that were re-produced here almost verbatim...his photographs were also culled from other recent texts...not a big problem, but there it is... if you haven't read any of the the other recent works then not bad...my one complaint would be there doesn't seem to be a lot of original work here... ackroyd basically took all the bios that were written in the past decade or so and aggregated them into one volume...i read greenblatt's 'will in the world' a few years back and could readily pick out passages that were re-produced here almost verbatim...his photographs were also culled from other recent texts...not a big problem, but there it is... if you haven't read any of the the other recent works then by all means pick this up...it's engaging and erudite... Just read it again. I don't really know why. I really like the cover.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I only gave this 3 stars because for as interesting it was, it could also be boring. I shamefully admit this book took me months and months to read. It was very informative and I actually learned a lot, but it was no I've just got to pick it up and read it either. Perhaps the author got a bit too detailed with every moment of Shaespeare's life. It's hard to explain because I did really like it, just was soooo glad when it was over too.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    Need to re-read this baby at some point and next time around, make some blinking notes!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    It's not too bold to suggest that the man or woman who approaches writing the biography of William Shakespeare begins with a target on their head. Shakespeare IS the Western Canon of literature, and the vagaries of records that do exist about this individual who has shaped the world so dramatically makes attempts at biography seem like a fool's melody. And yet Peter Ackroyd accomplishes something incredible for, by the end of this book, I felt as if I knew at least something of the nature and es It's not too bold to suggest that the man or woman who approaches writing the biography of William Shakespeare begins with a target on their head. Shakespeare IS the Western Canon of literature, and the vagaries of records that do exist about this individual who has shaped the world so dramatically makes attempts at biography seem like a fool's melody. And yet Peter Ackroyd accomplishes something incredible for, by the end of this book, I felt as if I knew at least something of the nature and essence of the man who has come to mean so much to me. This is not to say that Ackroyd completely succeeds. One of the 5 Rules of the biography as a genre Christopher Hitchens wrote so beautifully is that: 4) That the private person be allowed to appear in all his idiosyncrasy, and not as a mere reflection of the correspondence or reminiscences of others, or as a subjective projection of the mind of the biographer. Ackroyd does succeed much in this endeavor, but I believe the reader should offer the man some forgiveness. Shakespeare is an enigma largely because there are so few records of the man, and those that are are few and far between. Still despite this absence of material Ackroyd manages to make Shakespeare into a human being with dreams and aspirations, and a figure who achieved a great body of work. Ackroyd's biography is, above all else, an approachable volume that makes Shakespeare feel like something that is not only relevant, but easy and open to all. Reading this biography I felt inspired to read more about the man and his world, and I suppose it didn't;'t help that most of the chapters in this time were at most, six or seven pages long. The reader who has no interest in Shakespeare, or perhaps at least a small revulsion of this work, will find in this wonderful book an ease of step and by the end they will find they have learned so much. Ackroyd had performed a service to Shakespeare studies, but to readers everywhere by making one of the most difficult and mysterious subjects something easily acceptable. Shakespeare lives on, and those of us who choose to read about his life and work are better for having a biography like this on our shelves.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Christian

    Although at times tedious and dry, Ackroyd does an admirable job of piecing together the surviving documents of Shakespeare's life and shows that despite popular perception, quite a few documents exist of the Bard. This work is not for the novice Shakespeare reader or scholar as it presumes quite a bit of knowledge of Elizabethan England, London, theatre history, and Shakespeare's plays. It is also not a work for the Anti-Stratfordians who all too often proclaim that the provincial son of a glov Although at times tedious and dry, Ackroyd does an admirable job of piecing together the surviving documents of Shakespeare's life and shows that despite popular perception, quite a few documents exist of the Bard. This work is not for the novice Shakespeare reader or scholar as it presumes quite a bit of knowledge of Elizabethan England, London, theatre history, and Shakespeare's plays. It is also not a work for the Anti-Stratfordians who all too often proclaim that the provincial son of a glove-maker could not possibly have written the greatest works of literature in the English language. However, it should not be said that Ackroyd is fawning. No indeed. He takes the meticulous approach of a scholar, at times a legalistic approach examining land and other legal transactions to trace the movements of the Shakespeare family. He is methodical, and because of his attention to detail and methodology his argument (if there is an argument) is strong. Although it could be said that Ackroyd purpose seems at times to dispell the Anti-Stratfordians' promotion of Oxford or Bacon or whomever is the front-running these days in the authorship question, his approach is subtle enough to suggest that he simply seeks an examination of Shakespeare's life and times. And indeed, regardless of any bias, Ackroyd succeeds. His evidence is convincing (though, for me, at least it is a bit like preaching to the choir). I will never and can never take the Anti-Stratfordians seriously. It smacks too much of snobbery - that a man from the artisan classes could rise to be the greatest writer in the English language - the umbrage! But no, Ackroyd shows, quite adroitly, that Shakespeare's background was never so provincial. He was the son of the mayor of Stratford upon Avon and educated at the Stratford Grammar School, a more than adequate institution for its time. He would have learned basic Latin and the Classics and all the allusions to mythology so apparent in his later works. If anything, Ackroyd shows that the Shakespeare's family constant striving for gentility showed a tenacity to gain knowledge and favour whenever the opportunity presented. Shakespeare's ambition is rooted here. As another reviewer cited on Goodreads, his greatest ambition as not to be the best English playwright, though it may have been a point of pride, but to enter the ranks of the gentility. Ackroyd's work is strongest when she allows the playwright to speak for himself, as well as drawing points of views from his contemporaries and critics. He is most alive here, most real - beyond the icon literary history and cultural history have built him to be. Shakespeare's plays provide so many clues to his background and his life, rather like the historical footprints provided by legal documents such as landholdings and theatre billings, and the Stationer's Register, his imagery, his word choice, and his dialect shine though. The Catholic sympathies of the Stratford Grammar School led to so many headmasters' dismissal, the suspected Recusancy (that is, adherents to the Catholic faith despite Elizabeth I's edicts) of neighbours and family provide the foundation for Shakespeare later vivid Catholic imagery of the mass - the Pieta-like imagery of Lear and Cordelia, the messianic Henry V and Hamlet, the blood sacrifice of Hamlet, the majesty of Richard II in defeat recalls Christ on Calvary. All this belongs to the Mass - which was (and is still) pageantry. And of course the Catholic Passion Plays which drifted through his Stratford boyhood and first exposed him to the theatrical world. Whether or not Shakespeare was ever a practicing Catholic is moot, his was evidently strongly influenced by the cultural Catholicism of his surroundings. And, of course, maybe his most lasting and revolutionary aspect of cultural impact came through his very dialect. Shakespeare's language was not the language of London nor the aristocracy. His was the slang, and lilting West Midlands, provincial Warwickshire - yet it became the standard for modern elegant English. For anyone interested in Shakespearean studies, theatre history, or Tudor England, I highly recommend this work. I know that I will be checking out Ackroyd's other works.

  21. 5 out of 5

    LeAnn

    Emerson said, according to Peter Ackroyd, that "Shakspeare is the only biographer of Shaksepeare." Ackroyd himself said this about Shakespeare: He is one of those rare cases of a writer whose work is singularly important and influential, yet whose personality was not considered to be of any interest at all. He is obscure and elusive precisely to the extent that nobody bothered to write about him." Throughout Ackroyd's biography, however, runs the theme of Shakespeare's intensely private nature. Un Emerson said, according to Peter Ackroyd, that "Shakspeare is the only biographer of Shaksepeare." Ackroyd himself said this about Shakespeare: He is one of those rare cases of a writer whose work is singularly important and influential, yet whose personality was not considered to be of any interest at all. He is obscure and elusive precisely to the extent that nobody bothered to write about him." Throughout Ackroyd's biography, however, runs the theme of Shakespeare's intensely private nature. Unlike other playwrights and poets of his day, Shakespeare left behind no other writings beyond his sonnets, his plays, and a few legal documents. When I read the above quote in the biography, I couldn't help think about my own situation as a novelist promoting my book through social media. How would Shakespeare fare in the current climate of Twitter/Facebook/blogging? He was by all accounts a charming and pragmatic man -- as well as driven and ambitious -- so I believe that he'd manage to use all the current tools to promote himself. But I very much doubt we'd know any more about him, no matter how obsessive his readers would be. Writing in short segments, Ackroyd slowly layers up the known facts about Shakespeare's life and milieu like a painter dabbing oil onto a canvas. While there can never be more than a thin outline filled in with broad strokes and only a few details, nevertheless Ackroyd's instincts as a novelist and as an historian of London and the era in which Shakespeare lived create a reasonably interesting portrait of the man. Readers looking for something definitive, a narrative, or a discussion of whether Shakespeare actually lived as opposed to being a persona adopted by any number of other Elizabethans should look elsewhere. Those looking for an intriguing look at the life of the greatest English writer who ever lived should read Ackroyd's biography.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eric Ruark

    This was one of those books that I wish I had 11 stars for. (Remember the scene in Spinal Tap?) Years ago when the world was young, I majored in 17th Century British Literature at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and one of my long remembered delights was to have taken a course in Shakespeare under Dr. Nancy Tatum. (Dr. Tatum has since passed away, but I can still remember her love for the topic and the encyclopaedic depth of her knowledge. Later when I dabbled in acting, I had severa This was one of those books that I wish I had 11 stars for. (Remember the scene in Spinal Tap?) Years ago when the world was young, I majored in 17th Century British Literature at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and one of my long remembered delights was to have taken a course in Shakespeare under Dr. Nancy Tatum. (Dr. Tatum has since passed away, but I can still remember her love for the topic and the encyclopaedic depth of her knowledge. Later when I dabbled in acting, I had several juicy roles in the Bard's plays. Once I even play both the Ghost and the King in Hamlet as twin brothers. And I have been following all the "who wrote Shakespeare" books that have hit the shelves over the years. This book should put all of the controversy to rest. Peter Ackroyd has done a magnificent job constructing a biography out of a character that has seemingly remained invisible over the course of the centuries. Ackroyd has found the Bard in non-traditional sources such as the wills and land transactions of the people around Shakespeare and has been able to paint a glorious panorama of life in the 16th and 17th Centuries against which the shadowy figure of Shakespeare moves. To quote Robt. Burns "O wad some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us..." Peter Ackroyd has found where others have seen, interacted, and acted with the man William Shakespeare and brings us a riveting view of Shakespeare and his friends and how they interacted with their world.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tim Wilhelm

    A hefty read, but an engaging and thoroughly entertaining look at one of the most landmark figures in history. I had read his plays, and I therefore had a reasonable knowledge of Shakespeare the playwright and a number of facts about his life. But who was Shakespeare the man? What did he do? What made him the figure we know five hundred years later? From his childhood and education, through his active and accomplished adult life, to his death, this masterpiece chronicles Shakespeare's life in co A hefty read, but an engaging and thoroughly entertaining look at one of the most landmark figures in history. I had read his plays, and I therefore had a reasonable knowledge of Shakespeare the playwright and a number of facts about his life. But who was Shakespeare the man? What did he do? What made him the figure we know five hundred years later? From his childhood and education, through his active and accomplished adult life, to his death, this masterpiece chronicles Shakespeare's life in context with his plays, his everlasting contribution to the world. Learning why he wrote what he did, how it fit into his life at the time or in his past, and understanding his subject matter, I closed this volume more educated, enlightened, and appreciative than when I began it. Fabulous, easily the most authoritative work of the life of the world's greatest playwright.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I have read this book in order to commit to memory the historical details I have learnt in the MOOC "Shakespeare and his world" offered by FutureLearn and Jonathan Bate together with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. For this, it has been good, and Ackroyd is strong in creating the Catholic milieu of Stratford and the pressures they lived under while Elizabeth I was in the throne. However, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of inflated praises of "the Bard", Ackroyd never really comes ac I have read this book in order to commit to memory the historical details I have learnt in the MOOC "Shakespeare and his world" offered by FutureLearn and Jonathan Bate together with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. For this, it has been good, and Ackroyd is strong in creating the Catholic milieu of Stratford and the pressures they lived under while Elizabeth I was in the throne. However, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of inflated praises of "the Bard", Ackroyd never really comes across as a true Shakespeare lover: what do the plays mean for him?, what are his personal favourites? It is a very cold, neutral biography, it feels as if it had simply come to Shakespeare's turn in the long list of Ackroyd's possible biographical subjects. But I have never read any of Ackroyd's biographies before: maybe this is his style.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This is not a biography in the traditional sense. Pecious little is known about Shakespeare's life, so Ackroyd goes through contemporary accounts and historical documents, leaving every page filled with conjecture about what WS might have done, could have felt or can conceivably have intended. But to his credit, Ackroyd is an unabashed Shakespeare lover and leaves few details unteurned to present a reasonably full account of Elizabethan life and literary history. Though not quite up to the calib This is not a biography in the traditional sense. Pecious little is known about Shakespeare's life, so Ackroyd goes through contemporary accounts and historical documents, leaving every page filled with conjecture about what WS might have done, could have felt or can conceivably have intended. But to his credit, Ackroyd is an unabashed Shakespeare lover and leaves few details unteurned to present a reasonably full account of Elizabethan life and literary history. Though not quite up to the caliber of such recent books as "Will in the World" or "A year in the Life of Shakespeare", it provides a useful background to the era in which Shakespeare lived. The reader looking for the "real" Shakespeare is encouraged to take the information in books like this only as a supplement to the plays.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doug Hartley

    Everybody knows that there is precious little actual information about Shakespeare and as a result there are all these theories speculating about who he really was. I have always considered these to be crapola that reveal more about the proponent of the theory than they do about the Bard. Rather than claim that the bald actor from Stratford is an imposter Ackroyd's approach is to, on the one hand, do a biography of Elizabethan London and on the other trace Shakespeare through all the lawsuits he Everybody knows that there is precious little actual information about Shakespeare and as a result there are all these theories speculating about who he really was. I have always considered these to be crapola that reveal more about the proponent of the theory than they do about the Bard. Rather than claim that the bald actor from Stratford is an imposter Ackroyd's approach is to, on the one hand, do a biography of Elizabethan London and on the other trace Shakespeare through all the lawsuits he was involved in. Some of the lawsuits seem to appear as subplots in his plays. Interesting stuff.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maryanne

    Exhaustive, in a good way. It was an enlightening journey through Shakespear'es life, and times. Every detail is sewn into the whole fabric of the book. Theories about his movement, temperament, and authorship, are adroitly considered and either tossed aside or endowed greater weight. Most of the time, I agree with the author's conclusion. What I like most, though, is that I feel the reader is given enough information to form their own opinion. I consider my previous knowledge of Shakespeare some Exhaustive, in a good way. It was an enlightening journey through Shakespear'es life, and times. Every detail is sewn into the whole fabric of the book. Theories about his movement, temperament, and authorship, are adroitly considered and either tossed aside or endowed greater weight. Most of the time, I agree with the author's conclusion. What I like most, though, is that I feel the reader is given enough information to form their own opinion. I consider my previous knowledge of Shakespeare somewhat limited. I think this book is appropriate to Shakespearean scholars, armchair and otherwise, as well as someone new to the subject who is interested in a closer look.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shenek

    I finally finished, all 19 hours of it! Excellent reader. It should be renamed, The Time of Shakespeare and Thoughts on His Life. Now I know why Shakespeare's plays take so much time for me to understand, I live in a different world. Politics, vernacular, superstitions, prejudices-bits and pieces of so much of his time period are used in his plays. When I read biographies I like to see the goodness and the spark that makes the person a hero. I finished this book without finding that spark, al I finally finished, all 19 hours of it! Excellent reader. It should be renamed, The Time of Shakespeare and Thoughts on His Life. Now I know why Shakespeare's plays take so much time for me to understand, I live in a different world. Politics, vernacular, superstitions, prejudices-bits and pieces of so much of his time period are used in his plays. When I read biographies I like to see the goodness and the spark that makes the person a hero. I finished this book without finding that spark, all I found was as Ackroyd states, genius.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kaya

    A bit dry, this was a tough one to get through. My streak of Shakespeare related reading has slowed since I've been sidetracked by ventures into other topics, but I appreciated the historical tidbits and details Ackroyd packs in. Although everything here is probably conjecture, it's interesting, but the narrative drags and gets bogged down in details that don't really reveal much about the man behind the plays. I did appreciate the author's decision to stick to the original spellings; try pronou A bit dry, this was a tough one to get through. My streak of Shakespeare related reading has slowed since I've been sidetracked by ventures into other topics, but I appreciated the historical tidbits and details Ackroyd packs in. Although everything here is probably conjecture, it's interesting, but the narrative drags and gets bogged down in details that don't really reveal much about the man behind the plays. I did appreciate the author's decision to stick to the original spellings; try pronouncing a few lines that way and new layers are revealed.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Leaving aside the inherent pretentiousness of calling any work on Shakespeare "the" biography, this book does show painstaking research into not just Shakespeare's life, but his time, environs, social circles, etc. It does weave together to form a coherent narrative, and Ackroyd does sometimes offer up various interpretations of particular information, but equally often he simply asserts his theory as "likely." Despite being a Shakespeare fan, I wasn't very engaged by this.

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