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4.2 out of 5 stars27
4.2 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 30 October 2015
A lot to read but repays the effort. At times it is like walking down the streets of London five hundred years ago and imagining the sights and smells around you.
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on 30 April 2009
This excellent book suffers a little in 2 areas which are linked, one is speculation upon aspects of Shakespeare's life, and the other is working out a wider perspective, not a problem potentially but would mean the book should be entitled 'a life and times of Shakespeare', rather than the rather optimistic The Biography - otherwise enjoyable and readable.
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on 16 September 2015
A fascinating book, most enjoyable to read. One of the best of best on Shakespeare. Thank you Mr. Ackroyd!
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on 6 December 2015
A well-documented and interesting read.
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on 4 October 2013
Another great biography from Peter Ackroyd - always well researched, accessible and fascinating reads. One feels part of the time and context.
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on 25 January 2013
A very thorough biography, but we've been here before - there's nothing inherently new here at least for seasoned shakespearians. Mr Ackroyd does posit a few of his own theories such as his belief that Shakespeare was somewhat of a superstar in his own day and not the unknown figure celebrated by Matthew Arnold and others. This leads to quite a bot of hypothesising on the author's part often without evidence to support his ideas - not a crime in itself of course and why not throw in a few of your own ideas? Overall it's a professional biography by a professional biography writer - neither good or bad.
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on 29 January 2015
I'm just reading it, very beautiful the subject, very nice Ackroyd's style
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on 15 October 2014
Sublime Ackroyd and Shakespeare brilliant combination
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on 12 August 2008
I'm a great fan of Peter Ackroyd, whose technique is outstanding, but I nearly gave up on this book, somewhere around ch 57 which is entitled 'No more words, we beseech you'. A book of about 300 pp. as opposed to 500 would have been much more enjoyable.
The historical evidence about WS consists of two types of source: (1) a group of primarily legal texts about his investments, property purchases, his will and a few encounters with the law; and (2) comments by contemporaries, both favourable and hostile. There are more of (1) than I thought and many more of (2), so many in fact that I'm amazed that the 'Who really wrote Shakespeare?' theorists persist. The picture that emerges is of an exceptionally professional, hard-working, pragmatic, well thought-of, reasonably convivial man, respected and admired by most of his contemporaries. Of Shakespeare's opinions, beliefs and convictions we know, as Ackroyd says time and time again, absolutely nothing. Stretching that picture to 500 pp. requires a vast amount of conjecture (Shakespeare would have done this, Shakespeare would have known that ... ) coupled with a huge amount of admiring comment about the plays, some of it pretty banal.
I agree with reviewers that this is as close to WS as we can hope to get, given that he left no clues at all about himself. It's definitive, certainly the last book I want to read about the man as opposed to the works. But it's too long.
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