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“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

“If you were to read only one book on Shakespeare, you would do well with this one.”
–Allan Massie, Literary Review

“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 '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, this marvellous biography is a tour de force

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60 von 63 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Amazing 23. Dezember 2005
Von Amazon Customer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I felt a genuine amazement as I dipped into this wonderful biography of Shakespeare. I started sceptically, wondering how a satisfying biography could be written of a figure that many have doubted even wrote the works for which his name has become known. Ackroyd handles this dillema beautifully by sometimes ignoring and otherwise illustrating that such speculations are poppycock. Little question remains that Shakespeare was a real man who wrote the works for which he is credited.

In this biography, there is a real warm blooded man living and creating in a real time in history. What most amazed and fascinated me by this work is how completely Ackroyd created the minutiae of William's world while building up the structure of William's life.

By minutiae, I do not mean dull plodding lists of details. Not at all. I mean the vital details that provide the fertile ground out of which a person's life grows, takes shape, and becomes what it becomes. You learn effortlessly about the wealth of his parents and relatives and how such wealth was acquired, and what it meant to acquire or not acquire wealth in those days. You learn what London was like when Shakespeare first went there. What role acting groups and theaters had in those days. And how William came to create his own theater. Most importantly, you learn the events that stimulated his writing plays in addition to being an actor in those (and others) plays. This type of information and more is woven together to create a picture of the world that Shakespeare lived in while creating a breathing portrait of the man himself.

There are a number of other books out this year on Shakespeare. Having read Ackroyd's bio, it's hard to imagine any of them replacing it or being more satisfying.
55 von 60 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Read this instead of "Will in the World" 28. November 2005
Von lola12 - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I picked up this book after being seriously disappointed in the bestseller "Will in the World". In that book, there were so many "Shakespeare may haves" or "Surely he would haves" that it distracted from the meat of the subject: Shakespeare's genius. In Ackroyd's biography we are no more sure of the facts of Shakespeare's life(which are cobbled together from the clues left to the world in the history of the time as well as Shakespeare's works themselves no matter where you read about them) but we are invited into the Elizabethan world that Shakespeare inhabited, given the "facts" about his life as they are presented by the various sides of the debate, and then given Ackroyd's insight into what is the most likely scenario. While you are still left feeling the "might haves" and "would haves", you leave the book feeling that you better understand Shakepeare's life and times. Unlike "Will in the World", which you leave unsure if what you just read was a historical romance based on the life of Shakepseare or an examination of that life. For my money, Ackroyd's is the book to read. Itis accessible, and it entertains and informs, leaving you in awe of what Shakespeare accomplished. Further, it engaged me so much on the topics of Elizabathan society and theatre, that I (not a scholar or a student) went out of my way to find other books on the topic. A must read for the Shakespeare lover.
20 von 20 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
One among many 15. Januar 2006
Von Z. Weir - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Scholars and critics can agree on a number of select dates: Shakespeare was born in late April 1564; he died on April 23, 1616 - perhaps exactly on his fifty-third birthday; Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare married on December 1, 1582. Much of the rest, however, remains mere conjecture. Yet, as witnessed even by Ackroyd's immediate contemporaries - Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World" (2004), Marjorie Garber's "Shakespeare After All" (2004), and Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human" (1999) come to mind, for example - the centrality of Shakespearean studies and commentary has retained a place in literary criticism and biography since the "rediscovery" of Shakespeare's work in the late eighteenth century. Opening a book entitled "Shakespeare: The Biography", the reader comes to Ackroyd's work with some fundamental questions: Has Ackroyd uncovered obscure significant documents and evidence overlooked by previous scholars, perhaps the dramatist's personal diary? How will he synthesize over 200 years of scholarship and writing in 592 pages, thus justifying the unapologetic and somewhat hubristic subtitle of "The Biography"?

Quite simply, Ackroyd subverts such expectations with his commitment to a certain style of biographical writing, following a formula that has proven successful in his other wide-canvas studies including "London: The Biography" (2001) and "Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination" (2002) - provide enough of the smells, flavors and brutality of historical context and the subject emerges at pace. And, on this score, Ackroyd displays an enviable talent in rendering Elizabethan England for a contemporary audience, upstaged only by his subtle but probing discussions of the role theatre played in Elizabethan society, how it both influenced and was influenced by princes, players and paymasters alike. Though Ackroyd never loses sight of how his subject would have navigated this complex and uncertain historical milieu, more often than not Shakespeare himself remains largely in the background, a bit-player in a much larger drama. For all of Ackroyd's unqualified discussions of the dramatist's "genius," the subject of his study (the life of the "bio"-graphy) comes through mostly muted.

While the reader will recognize the paucity of attention to both the plays and sonnets on an interpretive level, Ackroyd consciously places the art in conversation with the anecdotal, never allowing the art to somehow eclipse the exceedingly pragmatic and ambitious artist. This has two immediate consequences for the book: 1) Shakespeare is not the Shakespeare of Greenblatt or Bloom, a Shakespeare of the popular imagination inseparable from his posthumous reputation; and 2) Ackroyd's Shakespeare remains a thoroughly historical being, about whom the historical record is almost prohibitively void of fact and detail. Thus Ackroyd has to hedge as a matter of course, as each interesting discussion or vignette is either introduced or followed by disclaimers such as, "It is at least suggestive. And a pretty story does no harm" or "The biographer can thus explore a number of possible Shakespearian identities without traducing the essential nature of the man." While the reader appreciates such qualifications, they do have the effect of highlighting the impossibility of writing a singular work to serve as the authoritative statement on Shakespeare, who will remain as much myth as man when attempting to account for his unmatched influence upon English literature and culture.

No doubt Ackroyd is a deft stylist and he has a strong sense of the biographical form, as both aspects of his writing come forth in "Shakespeare: The Biography." This, along with its accessible and engaging discussions of Early Modern English life, make Ackroyd's work deserving of a place on the shelf of Shakespearean biography and criticism, though it more appropriately supplements, not supplants, a much wider breadth of work attempting to account for the phenomenon of Shakespeare.
39 von 44 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Shakespeare's life is brilliantly explored by Peter Ackroyd 3. Januar 2006
Von C. M Mills - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)is the greatest dramatist and English poet in history. All aspects of human life-the muck and

moil, toil and tragedy, gaiety, romantic love, glory, honor,

kingship, prejudice and those thousand natural shocks that make us human are exposed in all their reality by the master from

Stratford on Avon in Warwackshire.

In the countless books on Shakespeare this one by Peter Ackroyd stands out like a Mt. Everest among lesser peaks.

The book is outstanding because:

1. Ackroyd goes to the sources reporting what we can know about Shakespeare based on family, church and court records which survive the long centuries.

2. He briefly explores the genesis of the plays.

3. He shows us how Shakespeare worked as a dramatist with player companies in the rough and tumble London literary scene. He wrote for plays to be produced in a time of plagues, riots, threats against the government, fires and countless difficulties in getting plays published and perfomed.

4. He looks at Shakespeare's rivalries with other eminent men of the theatre such as Ben Jonson and most notably Christopher Marlow. We seek Shakespeare learning stagecraft and honing his

incomparable pen to produce such immortal works as Hamlet, Macbeth, the history plays and such sparkling comedies as Much

Ado about Nothing and Twelfth Night.

6. Ackroyd takes us to the teeming streets of London. We smell,

taste, touch, dress and think like Elizabethians would do in their colorful, violent world of a brutal age.

7. Shakespeare is an enigma. We will never know the real man behind the glory of his written words. Ackroyd, though, brings us as close as we are likely to get to what it was like to be

William Shakespeare making a living as a playwright and actor.

The book is essential reading for anyone wanting to know more

about the bard of Avon. It is written in a popular style grounded in fantastic scholarship.

A fascinating and important book!
12 von 12 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Lively, elegant, and wonderfully readable 25. Januar 2006
Von Bookreporter - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Writing about the life of William Shakespeare is a bit like trying to catch an echo with your hands. Public records verify the existence of a William Shakespeare who was born and raised in Stratford and then became a resident of London. However, there is no direct proof that this man, the son of a modestly affluent glover, was responsible for the plays and poems that have immortalized his name. In spite of, or perhaps because of, this uncertainty, Shakespearean biography has proved a fertile scholarly enterprise since the publication of Edward Dowden's 1875 book, SHAKESPEARE: A CRITICAL STUDY OF HIS MIND AND ART. Among the thousands of biographies that have ensued, two groundbreaking analytical studies, released in recent years by Stephen Greenblatt and Margery Garber, raise the question of authorship. (Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford de Vere are among those suggested as possible authors for this substantial body of work.) Peter Ackroyd's SHAKESPEARE: A BIOGRAPHY appears, then, at a time when matters of attribution are a source of contention.

Well-known for his spirited biographies of Sir Thomas More, Blake, Dickens and T. S. Eliot, Ackroyd assumes that the Shakespeare of public record is indeed the man who wrote the plays and poems. This approach is neither naïve nor uninformative; his aim throughout is to illustrate how the works themselves illuminate the writer's lived experience as a confident, enterprising man of his day. Thus, the book jacket accurately boasts, "[Ackroyd's] method is to position the playwright in the context of his world, exploring everything from Stratford's humble town to its fields of wildflowers; discerning influences on the plays from unexpected quarters; and entering London with the playwright as modern theatre, as we know it, is just beginning to emerge."

One of SHAKESPEARE's many virtues is its consideration of the rich and varied contexts of village and city life in sixteenth-century England. We learn, for example, that the flora and fauna of Stratford-upon-Avon (a street along the river) is conversant with the extensive references to weeds and wildflowers in Shakespeare's plays; his lifelong proximity to water made him especially attentive to its tides and occasional floods --- images also prevalent in his work; and his father's trade as a glover probably informed the writer's intimate and complex metaphors about gloves.

This approach is interesting in itself. But Ackroyd further suggests that the playwright's social, cultural and religious views were symptomatic of his time. If the preservation of Shakespeare's childhood home reveals a situation that allowed little privacy, this indicates the lack of privacy afforded to most people of that time; if Shakespeare's father occasionally violated a strict regulation in village law and was fined, his struggle to balance individual expression with social responsibility was a challenge for others, too; and if Shakespeare's ambiguous sexuality is suggested strongly in plays and sonnets, this reveals a world in which labels regarding sexual identity were not as fixed as they are today. In short, the history of one man becomes a history of a nation --- and an age.

Handsomely printed and carefully constructed from a staggering breadth of sources, SHAKESPEARE is an effective synthesis of first-hand observations and astute paraphrase. Whereas Ackroyd is clearly conversant with Shakespeare's work, he is comparatively less intimate with primary source documents. Almost nowhere does he cite original public records but instead relies on the well-documented research of other scholars. This tendency should not impair novices or armchair historians, but will prove undoubtedly troublesome for scholars of this subject and period. Occasionally, too, Ackroyd's language is disturbingly evasive. Consider the following passage:

"The writer of the sonnets seems to have been touched by the fear and horror of venereal disease, and some biographers have even suggested that Shakespeare himself died from a related venereal condition. Nothing in Shakespeare's life or character would exclude the possibility."

As relevant as this point may be, Ackroyd does not indicate how such fear and horror are evident in the sonnets; nor does he provide a footnote for at least a partial list of biographers who suggest the writer died of venereal disease. Finally, the last sentence in the passage is at once tantalizing and aggravating --- it hints more than it reveals.

Notwithstanding these complaints, SHAKESPEARE: A BIOGRAPHY is a worthy addition to the mountain heap of other Shakespeare biographies. Ackroyd's lively, elegant prose is wonderfully readable, and his knowledge of the plays and poems is consistent and illuminating. Anyone eager to get acquainted with the life of Shakespeare and, by extension, with England as it straddled the end of the middle ages and the dawn of the Renaissance, will find in these pages a warm, trustworthy voice.

--- Reviewed by Tony Leuzzi
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