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The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction and Modern Biographies Paperback – 13 Sep 2013
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In exposing the fabrications that biographers have resorted to in the face of the lack of knowledge of any kind to be had about Shakespeare's personality and private life, this book is sharply incisive, humorously as well as forensically so. It is also thoroughly informative about Shakespeare's life, insofar as it is known. --George Donaldson, University of Bristol
Very readable and often witty: David Ellis makes a convincing and entertaining case that recent biographies of William Shakespeare, though claiming to add to our knowledge of the poet's life, cannot really do so because the body of directly relevant evidence has remained more or less constant for the last hundred years. --Robert Bearman, former Head of Archives, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
About the Author
David Ellis is Professor of English Literature at the University of Kent at Canterbury.
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The problem facing anyone wanting to know about Shakespeare is that so little is known. Thousands of man/women hours have been spent over the last two or three hundred years or so trawling through official archives, collections of letters, diaries, etc. and the haul is pitiably small. Not only are the documented facts so few - entries in registers, that sort of thing - they also throw little light on Shakespeare the man. How can one try to understand the wellspring of the creative imagination of one of the world's greatest writers through the equivalent of his parking tickets and house moves? One can't, of course, and it drives scholars nuts. So, for fact, they substitute assumption and speculation and write book after book of what is actually historical fiction - based on sound scholarship and knowledge of the period - but still fiction. Ellis obligingly explains the tricks of the trade, like a conjuror revealing the clockwork behind the magic. Unless someone makes a spectacular discovery of documents in some forgotten archive or attic, we know now as much as we are ever likely to know. Ellis cries like Blake: Enough or Too Much!
This book ought to be required reading for anyone contemplating, however dimly, writing another book on Shakespeare.
Ellis writes, " In all their prefaces and occasionally elsewhere, there are hints at the insubstantial nature of the evidence on which any life of Shakespeare has to be based that could be interpreted as bad conscience..... Usually, however, these hints are the implications their authors go on blithely to ignore..... That anything more than a chronicle of his life is not possible is also something unlikely to be popular with the general public (and with publishers); but if academics do not tell it , who will? To not only fail to do so but also nurture the illusion that the life of Shakespeare is within our grasp may well be trahison des clercs....." (pp.175, 177)
Thus the tribe of modern 'biographers' is ruthlessly exposed, and not by an Oxfordian but from deep inside the Shakespearean tent, where one of the tribe has come to comparable conclusions to those of the Oxfordians (and others who do not accept William Shakespeare as the author), it now becomes difficult for the 'great and good' to ignore their own manifest academic deficiencies. No longer can then our criticisms of modern Shakespeare biographies be dismissed as the vapourings of a tiny insignificant minority.
The vertical chasm between the Oxfordians and the 'orthodox' is very deep, but it is now traversable hoprizontally by the one short step of questioning those few remaining alleged pieces of evidence which Ellis still appears prepared to defend.
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