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on 17 August 2008
"With the passing of the years Shakespeare has too often been isolated from his fellows. He is the greatest of them, but he would not have been what he is without them." -- so says Stanley Wells at the conclusion of what is a wonderfully readable look at the theatrical scene of Shakespeare's day. Concentrating on the Bard's contemporaries rather than the man himself (more than adequately covered elsewhere), Shakespeare & Co is accessible rather than academic (though by no means lightweight), and an excellent introduction to those figures who hover on the edges of Shakespeare's biography, all too undeservingly like like bit-players in somebody else's drama. Individual chapters cover the theatrical scene (how plays were put together and presented, how they fit into the political mood of the time, and so on), and a brief look at some of the well-known actors of the day, before we get to the playwrights: Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher & Francis Beaumont, and a rather short chapter on John Webster.

The book is peppered with interesting anecdotes and details about the lives of the people covered, reminding you what a Bohemian, and odd, bunch writers can be. There's the self-destructive Marlowe, an atheistical spy who declared that he had as much right to coin money as the Queen of England; Ben Jonson the tireless self-promoter convinced he was the one writing classics for the ages; the cohabiting bachelors Fletcher & Beaumont "with one wench in the house between them" -- large-as-life figures who make Shakespeare's quiet (or at least un-recorded) life seem rather tame and level-headed in comparison.

But Wells's book is as much about the works of the playwrights in question as their lives, with a particular focus on the bearing they have on Shakespeare's plays. Wells points out where the playwrights borrowed from each other, or made jokes or references to one another's works, but as things tend to centre around Shakespeare, Wells's look at the playwrights works doesn't tend to stray too far from those that touch on the Bard's.

All in all, you get the impression of a bustling and creative scene, driven by business, politics and public demand as much as artistry, and the playwrights as much jobbing writers as any Hollywood hack or pulp fictioneer. Wells occasionally points out how the writers he covers have suffered as a result of Shakespeare's success -- their works are inevitably judged as not-quite-Shakespeare, rather than being taken on their own merits, and the product of different artistic sensibilities and aims.
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on 29 August 2010
There are a million and one books on Shakespeare that cover every aspect of the bard's life. What there is a lack of is the contextual literature that puts Shakespeare's relationship with his peers into the spotlight. It is easy to see his greatness but without the other players in his story there would not be the lasting legacy have today.

This book is a fantastic guide to the other playwrites of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era's. in depth and informative it tells you everything you need to know about both Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about the theatre of this time, a theatre that included much much more than Master Shakespeare...
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on 11 April 2010
I am now on my second reading of it and using the chapter on Jonson in reference to the recent claims by Brenda James about the Staple of News (by Ben Jonson) in Henry Neville and the Shakespeare Code to understand that play in the context of Jonson's career. What Wells seems to suggest is that Jonson needed a hit at this point as his career was fading, not, as James claims, that it is a coded hidden revelation of Henry Neville as the author of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays. I have no idea yet as I have not read the original Jonson play but will before James' book comes out with its interesting claims. The overall view of Wells is therefore helpful in getting a quick overview of any of the writers lives and output you are particularly interested in.
The original Documents at the back are very useful. It is fascinating to read all about Dekker, Jonson, Middleton, Fletcher who are sometimes not as written about as much as Marlowe who is also included. I have given it 5 stars because it is a good overview which is what it is supposed to be. However the Index could be more detailed and you will not get explanations about certain developments within each of the writers lives. I did, however, enjoy the opening chapters about The Theatrical scene and Shakespeare and the Actors very much. Mr Wells is somewhat of a legend in his knowledge and is the Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Birmingham University and general editor of the Penguin and Oxford editions of Shakespeare so it is quite amusing that the other review claims the book as non-academic! He is highly respected yet happens to write in a very readable way but with complete precision and sources that can be checked.
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on 10 January 2016
A scholarly and well-written background to Shakespeare and his time - the theatre, the actors, and the contemporary playwrights who were Shakespeare's rivals and collaborators.
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on 26 March 2016
The book arrived a couple of days before I expected it, and it matched the description.
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on 17 June 2015
Must have book.
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on 17 September 2014
So entertainingly written, the best book on Shakespeare and his contemporaries I've read (and I've read a few).
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on 30 May 2016
brilliant
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on 14 July 2012
Oxfordians, whose hero "is absurdly touted as a candidate for the authorship" have no trouble is disposing of Wells' main contention that the writer was merely the product of his age. Wells knows better than Jonson , who wrote he was "not of an age, but of all time", and knew all the principal players in Wells' book. Of course Wells has to adopt this strange contention to fit the towering genius of the writer into into the narrow little bed of the man from Stratford. An analysis will show as Nashe tells us the writer will afford "whole Hamlets, I would say handfuls, of tragical speeches" (Introduction to Menaphon 1589) to lesser writers.

My fuller review may be found in the De Vere Society Newsletter for February 2007, (copy obtainable from me by e-mail : malim@btinternet.com)
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