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Shakespeare: A Life Paperback – 21 May 1987

3.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; New Ed edition (21 May 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192825275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192825278
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 4.1 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 522,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Amazon Review

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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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The first bio of Shakespeare I've actually been able to finish! Honan's approach is reasonable, intelligent, and well-researched. It also happens to be quite interesting, providing not only the best and most tantalizing of the available evidence of Shakespeare's life, but also by painting a portrait of the milieu in which he lived and worked. Never before has Shakespeare's achievement seemed so towering, and yet so human. Much better by far than Bloom's bloated and self-serving paean. Although slightly marred by Honan's quirky style, and by the mysterious sudden disappearance from the narrative of Anne (Hathaway) Shakespeare before the poet's death, it nonetheless held me in thrall all weekend. I hate the phrase, but it's a definite "must-read"!
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By A Customer on 27 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
Honan does much to firmly establish William Shakespeare as a solid citizen (if also tax dodger). He gives no handle at all to those who would charge him with homosexuality or even adultery and offers plausible explanations for many disputed aspects of the poet's life. But it is a dreadfully lifeless, plodding, life. It takes a really strong prior interest in Shakespeare to persevere through this book. Those coming first to Shakespeare should avoid it, unless they themselves are doing research and need an excellent guide to sources and interpretation thereof.
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Format: Hardcover
What a sad, resourceless bunch of readers your lay reviwers are. The author makes plain at the start the remit of his book, to eschew the romantic speculation about the `bard's' life in favour of a meticulous examination of the facts. This does not make the book `booring,' far from it. If you want cheap thrills, stick to Star Wars. For the intelligent lay-reader with half a brain, this book take a little while to get into, but the effort is well worth it, repaid by insight into London at that time, the theatrical world (in London)and much, much more. I found it enriched my understanding of a much-discussed, much-mythologised figure. Ignore the carpers. Top banana.
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