Skip to main content

Review: Shakespeare: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd


In this book, Peter Ackrod brings to life not only the playwright himself, but London and Elizabethan theatre. He uses exquisite detail to render a satisfactory portrait of his subjects.

Although Shakespeare is perhaps the best-known author in the English language, it is surprising how little is known about his life. Many authors have conjectured about his life based upon the material that appears in his plays.

Shakespeare was born in the town of Stratford to John and Mary Shakespeare. In the town grammar school, he learned Greek, Latin, and all the other subjects that school children of the 16th century would have studied. At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway, who was already pregnant with their first child, Sussannah. Later on, the couple would have two more children, twins: Hamnet, who would die as a child, and Judith. Not long after the marriage, however, Shakespeare set out to London to find his fortune there. He started off his career in the theatre by holding horses for gentlemen as they went inside. Later, Shakespeare would serve in varying roles such as prompter, actor, and of course playwright. It is during his time as an actor that Shakespeare began to write.
Shakespeare got many of his stories from other writers. It was not plagiarism as we think of it today; it was true then that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. He borrowed not only from classical writers, but comtemporary ones such as Christopher Marlowe as well. In this book the reader gets an excellent sense of the theatrical world as it existed in 16th century England. The writers were all rivals, but they were collaborators who admired the others' work as well. The book takes us through the writing of many of his different plays. Ackroyd does not give us plot synopses, or analysis; rather, he gives the history of each play itself. As I have mentioned before, not much is known about Shakespeare's life in London; but the author puts the peices together carefully, basing surmises upon actual facts. It is impressive scholarship. Ackroyd, not a Shakespeare scholar himself, but an enthusiast, documents his sources well. He does mention Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt, in his bibliography, but does not cite him in the body of the text. All of Ackroyd's sources are certifiably excellent scholarship, showing that this particular author takes his work very seriously.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…