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Read Shakespeare: The Biography (2006)

Shakespeare: The Biography (2006)

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3.93 of 5 Votes: 2
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140007598X (ISBN13: 9781400075980)

Shakespeare: The Biography (2006) - Plot & Excerpts

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.

“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.”~ EmersonThe Obscure & The ElusiveThis ‘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.

What do You think about Shakespeare: The Biography (2006)?

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.
—Tim Wilhelm

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 countyside, 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.

What is most striking in Ackroyd's masterful recounting of a master writer's career and life is the depth of research which clearly went into it. Next to note is that, while encyclopedic in its coverage of Shakespeare the man and the artist, this is--as one anticipates from Ackroyd--a highly engrossing and entertaining read. What we may know or presume to have known about the person, the plays and the poems, have new doors of curiosity and insight opened to them. For this reader, that meant being inspired to greedily watch every available performance of every play, and finding it all fresh and intense.In effect, books like Ackroyd's bring new life to Shakespeare in ways that explain why books are still being written about him.

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