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Shakespeare: The Biography


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A 'living attempt to reach into the world and heart of Shakespeare'. Written with intuition and imagination unique to Peter Ackroyd, a book by a writer about a writer.

About the Author

Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning historian, biographer, novelist, poet and broadcaster. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers London: The Biography, Thames: Sacred River and London Under; biographies of figures including Charles Dickens, William Blake, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock; and a multi-volume history of England. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the South Bank Prize for Literature. He holds a CBE for services to literature.


Adult/High School-Describing himself as a Shakespeare enthusiast instead of an expert, Ackroyd focuses on the bard as an extraordinarily talented theater professional rather than rhapsodizing about the intricacies of the man's genius. He interweaves Shakespeare's life story with England's dramatic history and the fascinating world of the emerging Elizabethan theater. Apocryphal stories are identified and plausible explanations for what occurred during the "missing" years are offered. Shakespeare emerges as a thoroughly engaging, almost modern man, brimming with humor, eager for social advancement, and carefully tracking the popular trends in entertainment. Students who want to discover whether Shakespeare really was the author of the famous plays will find compelling evidence that only the man from Stratford could have hidden so many ingenious clues in his work. Sixteen pages of color illustrations include portraits of Shakespeare's famous contemporaries, photographs of the interiors of Elizabethan buildings, and illustrated title pages. Those daunted by the length of this book will find it a good reference source. Students looking for information on the building of the Globe, the meanings of the sonnets, the differences in the various editions and revisions of the plays, and other typical academic questions will find useful, well-organized information. A rich, vivid account.-Kathy Tewell, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

This is a commendably thorough, engagingly self-effacing new look at a writer whom literary history has never quite managed to pin down, nor ever will. It is the book Peter Ackroyd was born to write -- Anthony Holden * Daily Mail *
Shakespeare: The Biography is everything one would expect from a biographer at the top of his game... his recreation of London life is masterful. He knows the plays and understands better than academic biographers how Shakespeare went about researching and writing... His biography ranks with the best of them * Financial Times *
His biography is conventional, even cautious; grounded in common sense and wide reading, and written with the sensibility of a working novelist -- Nicholas Shakespeare * Saturday Telegraph *
A big, expansive, densely imagined book -- Sam Leith * Spectator *
You will not find a better book on Shakespeare... Ackroyd has genuinely set a new standard for accounts of Shakespeare's life - Colin MacCabe, Independent

At their best, Shakespearean biographers are like great jazz musicians, able to take a few notes of an old standard and spin them into dizzying riffs of conjecture. At their worst they reshuffle old wives' tales, piling supposition upon conjecture into a rickety house of cards. Peter Ackroyd can riff with the best, and he brings to the task of making the old facts fresh some themes and variations of his own that deserve a hearing. He is particularly good, in fact, on the question of sound: the way the language Shakespeare wrote, his players spoke and his audiences heard differed from the Shakespeare we hear and read today. Demonstrating the courage of his convictions, he does something daring for a book aimed at a general reader: he renders all of his citations from Shakespeare "in the original." Thus a phrase from Timon of Athens is printed: "Our Poesie is as a Goume which ouses" (rather than "gum which oozes"), an effect that can defamiliarize, often in an illuminating way. An accomplished literary biographer, Ackroyd doesn't offer a new explanation of how the glover's son of provincial Stratford became the sophisticated poetic genius of London. Instead he gives us intelligent, often elegant, variations on the old ones. Like many of his fellow biographers he warns us that a particular "tradition" has no corroboration and then plays it out anyway. So with such recent, hotly debated questions as whether Shakespeare spent time in his youth in the household of subversive secret Catholics, Ackroyd spins it out for all it's worth. But the great strength of Ackroyd's book is the depth of his immersion in the culture of Shakespeare's age and the sense he gives of Shakespeare as a product of that extraordinary moment in time. His feeling for the role of the theater in Elizabethan London, "a city where dramatic spectacles became the primary means of understanding reality," seems to come from an impressively wide reading of Shakespeare's dramatic and poetic contemporaries. His judgments about the work itself are sometimes ingenious, occasionally eccentric, as when he tells us, "All the evidence suggests, too, that the speech, `To be or not to be' is an interpolation," an unnecessary addition to Hamlet, possibly "from another play altogether." While location of "To be or not to be" is different in an early quarto of Hamlet, to say "All the evidence suggests" interpolation is an overstatement. Still, immersion in Ackroyd's biography cumulatively gives one a feeling that one has lived for a brief time in Shakespeare's world. Ackroyd constructs a an intricate mosaic of Elizabethan context, which brings us closer to the shadowy figure, whose most renowned character, Hamlet, tells us: "I have that within which passes show." Agent, Geri Thoma. (On sale Oct. 18) Rosenbaum is writing a book about controverises among Shakespearean scholars and directors (Random, fall 2006). Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

This biography is distinguished from other contemporary Shakespeare studies by the author's ability to mesh the facts of Shakespeare's life with social, economic, literary, and political details of the 16th century. A novelist and biographer whose subjects include Charles Dickens, Thomas More, and William Blake, Ackroyd interweaves historical information with events in Shakespeare's life, revealing how the playwright was affected and inspired by contemporary events. In Ackroyd's hands, an event like Shakespeare's moving from Southwark to a more affluent area near the booksellers at St. Paul's is a springboard to report on related issues like British bookselling, publishing, and copyright. This in turn leads to a discussion of how these activities would have affected the publication of Shakespeare's works. This book is distinctly different from Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World and Michael Wood's Shakespeare; though all three biographies use the same basic information, Ackroyd transforms the black-and-white sketch of Shakespeare into a richly colored portrait. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/05.]-Shana C. Fair, Ohio Univ. Lib., Zanesville Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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