Shakespeare: A Life Paperback – 21 May 1987
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Atheist, homosexual, rebel, ladies man, Tory, Catholic: the varieties of "Shakespeare" on offer since the first printed biography of the Bard appeared in 1709 are profuse and often bizarre. The late Ted Hughes even claimed that Shakespeare was a shaman, who visited the former Poet Laureate in a dream to dictate Hughes' (or Shakespeare's?) preposterous Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. It therefore comes as some relief to read Park Honan's Shakespeare: A Life and find that it eschews the wilder side of Shakespearean biography.
Honan's book is the result of more than 10 years of research into primary sources dealing with Shakespeare's life and career, and the result is an impressively weighty and scholarly study. Honan is particularly strong on the early years in Stratford, and young William's relationship with his father, as well as the poet's attitude towards the women in his life: his intelligent mother, Mary, his shadowy wife, Anne, his sisters Joan and Margaret, and his two daughters, Susanna and Judith. Honan's touch is less sure when he follows Shakespeare to London, where the biography gets bogged down in interpreting virtually all of the plays in relation to biographical "facts", an approach which has been the subject of much criticism within Shakespeare studies in recent years. But if every age gets the biography of Shakespeare that it deserves, then Honan's version perhaps unwittingly offers us a Shakespeare which catches the spirit of Britain's current post-Thatcherite times.
Honan's Shakespeare is a cautious, astute man in both his professional and personal life. This Shakespeare shows routine deference to both kin and country, cautiously negotiating the political and commercial pitfalls of Elizabethan and Jacobean London, painstakingly learning his craft, and with a constant eye on his carefully marshalled financial assets. Honan's biography is detailed, precise, and very well researched, but it ultimately offers a curiously colourless and uninspired Shakespeare, lacking the passion of the Romantics or even the genius of the Victorians. Perhaps this is, after all, the Shakespeare biography that the end of the 20th century deserves. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
a meticulously researched ... authoritative biography ... it is lucid, enjoyable and reliable in excluding (exuding?) colourful, imaginative reconstructions and elaborate psychological theories which strain credulity and are less exciting than newly found factual truth. (Patrick Richards, Day by Day, 14/12/00.)
This engrossing life, using a wealth of new evidence to illustrate personal experiences and artistic development of the greatest English writer, is incomparably vivid and credible ... I know no biography of Shakespeare to rival this one. (Patrick Richards, Day by Day, 14/12/00.)
In this complete, accurate, and up-to-date narrative of Shakespeare's life, Park Honan uses a wealth of fresh information to cast new light on Shakespeare's development as an artist, dramatically changing our perceptions of the actor, poet and playwright. (Publishing News)
Honan evokes the Bard's contemporary social context to enable a better understanding of his personal relationships, as well as his writing. - The Guardian (In the EDITOR) - 7/5/99
Honan has gone through town and church registers with a keen eye and a happy wit. An always interesting book. - Peter Ackroyd - The Times 22/10/99
His biography of Shakespeare is clearly the product of a lifelong engagement with his works and of a thorough study of the documentary evidence and the life of the time. Others have told the story of Shakespeare's life, but none of them will the fullness of detail, the scholarship, the literary skill and the sheer readability that Honan brings to his task. This is now the best available life of Shakespeare. - The Observer - 18/10/98
An impressive new biography. Honan's particular flair is for the vivid dramatic reconstruction of small incidences recorded only fleetingly by conteporary documents. A highly readable book which is more reliable about more aspects of Shakespeare's life and career than any other currently on the market. - LRB 7th January 1999
documented facts, expertly marshalled (Daily Telegraph, 13/5/00)
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The sad fact is, like Jesus, we don't know a lot about Shakespeare-and this title demonstrates it. Read it only if you have an academic-level interest in the subject and want... Read morePublished on 12 May 1999
An excellent and as thoroughly as possible knowable account (for now), of the Bards life. Scholarly, and sometimes dense, but accessible and an enjoyable pleasure for the... Read morePublished on 7 May 1999
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