Thousands of books have been written about the playwright, but none has borne Ackroyd's unique and accessible stamp. His method is to position the playwright in the context of his world, exploring everything from Stratford's humble town to its fields of wildflowers; discerning influences on the plays from unexpected quarters; and entering London with the playwright as modern theatre, as we know it, is just beginning to emerge.
Writing as though we are observing Shakespeare and his circle of friends, patrons, managers, and fellow actors and writers, Ackroyd is able to see Shakespeare's genius from within, so we feel that Ackroyd the writer merges with Shakespeare the writer, the poet, the man; and thus with great sympathy and clarity we experience the way in which Shakespeare worked.
Shakespeare: The Biography is quite unlike other more analytic biographies that have been written. Rather, Peter Ackroyd has used his skill, his extraordinary knowledge, and his historical intuition to craft this major full-scale book on one of the most towering figures of the English language.
©2005 Peter Ackroyd; (P)2005 Random House, Inc.
"Ackroyd's biography cumulatively gives one a feeling that one has lived for a brief time in Shakespeare's world. Ackroyd constructs an intricate mosaic of Elizabethan context, which brings us closer to the shadowy figure." (Publishers Weekly)
"Ackroyd brings to his biographical reading the imaginative insights of a gifted poet and novelist, along with the passions of a scholar....Vivid and capacious, a life study worthy of its subject." (Booklist)
I've loved all of Ackroyd's biographies (Dickens, TS Eliot, Blake). One thing Ackroyd does better than anyone else is explain the texts of a writer in contemporary terms, so that here he explains Shakespeare's imagery (flowers, trees, landscapes, even books and events) in terms of what the man probably experienced. It made me want to reread Shakespeare from start to finish--surely how a biographer wants a reader to react.
This is a wonderful book. I never read nor heard nor watched Shakespeare's plays, but now I will and will have benefitted from the understanding that Mr Ackroid provids. I listened to the book because I knew I had missed an experience.
The reader, Simon Vance, was excellent and must have tried to connect Shakespeare's friend John Aubry with Patrick O'Brian's Captain of the "Surprise".
A very nicely put together portrait of Shakespeare and his time, the late 1500s, early 1600s in London. Ackroyd plays out the consequences of most of the mainstream conjectures on Shakespeare's life (no one really knows much about him, of course; he left barely a personal trace at all in the records even after centuries of digging). I would've liked a bit more general historical background, especially on the everyday cultural life of London, but Ackroyd had only so many pages to work with, and it's pretty long and full of detail as is! There's perhaps a bit too much conjecture and conclusion drawn on thin evidence on Shakespeare's alleged crypto-Catholicism. This seems to be a particular hobbyhorse of Ackroyd's, and the evidence is slim that it mattered that much to Shakespeare or that any Catholic underground culture shaped his life and work. Ackroyd always seems to be reaching when he makes these conclusions in the book. But I was generally enthralled throughout this account; Ackroyd's novelist's skills made the writing clear and vivid and those qualities in the prose made listening extremely easy and enjoyable.
A comprehensive, fascinating biography of Shakespeare, comprehensive in its grasp of the age. The reading is also top-notch.
The book tells us little about Shakespeare himself. Rather, it is a chronicle of Elizabethan times in England. We learn more about his contemporaries, e.g. Johnson, than we do about Shakespeare. There is even more information in the book that touches on the physical layout of the Globe Theater than the playwrite. The book is, however, a fairly concise, yet informative listing of his plays.
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