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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class
An absolute must for anybody who wishes to know more about the life and times of Shakespeare and Elizabethean theatre. A book I found hard to put down - Accurate,well researched and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Published on 14 Jan 2000

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting perspective
Not, perhaps, a book which would be seen as a particularly 'good read' by fans of biography, Holden makes it eminently clear from the start that there is scant historical evidence of Shakespeare's life - administrative and legal records, the odd journal entry, bits and pieces, but no substantial account of the man other than his own poetry and plays.
The...
Published on 10 Oct 2005 by Budge Burgess


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting perspective, 10 Oct 2005
By 
Budge Burgess (Troon, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: William Shakespeare: His Life and Work (Paperback)
Not, perhaps, a book which would be seen as a particularly 'good read' by fans of biography, Holden makes it eminently clear from the start that there is scant historical evidence of Shakespeare's life - administrative and legal records, the odd journal entry, bits and pieces, but no substantial account of the man other than his own poetry and plays.
The biographer, therefore, has to shape the creature out of some fairly insubstantial evidence. In Holden's case, he does so by excessive reliance on deconstruction of Shakespeare's work, drawing conclusions about the man's life and character from a textual analysis of his writings.
Shakespeare knew about leather, therefore he had worked in the family tanning business, he understood meat, therefore had been a butcher, his plays demonstrate his knowledge of horses, hence he had worked as an ostler on first arriving in London.
What we get is a skeletal image of the man, fleshed out in somewhat arbitrary fashion by questionable deduction and extrapolation from lines of poetry and prose. Use of textual analysis and reference is all very well, but it can get just a little tenuous at times, and peppering the narrative with quotations from Shakespeare in places transforms biography into fairly bland literary criticism.
Most contentious, perhaps, is Holden's assertion that Shakespeare was a clandestine Catholic with close ties to a Lancashire family who would be persecuted and denounced for their adherence to the European religion. Again, Holden argues from textual analysis - a few lines from the many thousands upon thousands written by the bard. It can appear a touch subjective in places: you suspect that once a conclusion has been drawn, it might be possible to find several lines in Shakespeare's work to substantiate virtually any claim (I have this theory that he was actually a Scotsman called MacSpeer).
Nevertheless, Holden presents Shakespeare as a man from a relatively privileged background - solid yeoman stock, quintessentially English, his father a Stratford burgess, well respected, hard working, and tolerably well off. The boy, Will, would benefit from a local education and enter the world literate, urbane, and erudite. This is no simple peasant.
This is a man who embraces writing as a means of making a living - he writes major 'box office' successes, he becomes a dynamic force in the theatrical economy of his day. When Shakespeare arrives in London, it is a city where the first theatre has just been built, and where speculators are building others. London is a city of people on the make, and professional writers are as much on the make as anyone else - or did you really think art came into it?
Literature, language, and public performance are the roots of a thriving economy - an economy embraced by aristocracy and court as much as by the common people, but an economy in which actors are still seen as little better than thieves and vagabonds. Theatre and its theatricals constitute a demimonde of debauchery and vice.
Holden offers interesting commentaries on the production of plays and the emergence of the theatre. He considers the politics of the time - both secular and sacred. He steps aside to look at aspects of Elizabethan society. But his Shakespeare, the man, is just a little too bland, a little too idealised in places.
It's an entertaining and well argued life of Shakespeare, but not always entirely convincing. It becomes a trifle too academic and arcane to find a place in the heart of biography lovers. It is a bit too contentious to win over the Shakespeare scholar or student of history. And at times it becomes a bit flaccid, at times the narrative becomes quite sedentary, if never actually soporific.
It's a thought-provoking account, and a useful stimulus for students of Shakespeare's writings, but it remains a curate's egg of a biography. Peter Ackroyd's 2005 biography might prove a more satisfying read for many.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class, 14 Jan 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: William Shakespeare (Hardcover)
An absolute must for anybody who wishes to know more about the life and times of Shakespeare and Elizabethean theatre. A book I found hard to put down - Accurate,well researched and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest writer in history summed up so well, 10 Jan 2000
This review is from: William Shakespeare (Hardcover)
Anthony Holden has done it again, this book is so good I haven't put it down, unless I really have to. The complete story of who the bard was, from his early years right up to his death. Mr Holden has supplied a real insight into the life of this great writer. He draws his own impressions on Shakespeare's writings and relates them to events in the life of the Bard. With the recent renewed interest in Shakespeare due to Shakespeare In Love, this book aims to set straight some of the misgivings by the afore mentioned movie. What else is useful is the detail that the author has given to the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. It's detailed yet not so heavy as to become a book about the Queen. If you are studying Shakespeare, enjoy the Bard's work, enjoy the author, or just enjoy a very good read. Then this book essential. Trust me when I say that you will not be disappointed by this accounting of the life of one of England's greatest sons.
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William Shakespeare: His Life and Work
William Shakespeare: His Life and Work by Anthony Holden (Paperback - 19 Oct 2000)
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