This is the big one from Peter Ackroyd — and a worthy companion to London: The Biography.
Only Peter Ackroyd can combine readable narrative and unique observation with a sharp eye for the fascinating fact. His method is to position Shakespeare in the close context of his world. In this way, he not only richly conjures up the texture of Shakespeare’s life, but also imparts an amazing amount of vivid, interesting material about place, period and background.
Some snippets: Shakespeare was secretly a Roman Catholic; the witches in Macbeth were not hags but nymphs played by boys; the “best” bed was for guests which was why he bequeathed his wife his “second best” bed (the matrimonial bed in which he probably died); “ham acting” derives from the strutting walk which showed off the ham-strings; an actor called “Will” played female parts — could it have been Shakespeare himself? And, the strongest bond in the plays is between father and daughter, perhaps reflecting Shakespeare’s own family life.
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With his magisterial and ingenious re-creations of the lives of Chaucer, Dickens, T. S. Eliot, William Blake, and Sir Thomas More, Peter Ackroyd has long been recognized as today's foremost practitioner of the literary biography. His adroit style and unrivaled ability to uncover the telling detail have made those books both critical and commercial successes. And now, in SHAKESPEARE: THE BIOGRAPHY, Ackroyd delivers his crowning achievement.
Thousands of books have been written about the playwright, but none has borne Ackroyd's unique and accessible stamp. His method is to position Shakespeare 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 theater, as we know it, is just beginning to emerge.
We are with Shakespeare, observing him and his circle of friends, patrons, managers, and fellow actors and writers. It is as if Ackroyd were sitting with the Elizabethan audience as the plays are performed.
Because the author is coming from so intimate a perspective, he 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 unlike the works other writers-excellent academics-have written, which merely analyze and describe. 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 Englishlanguage.
Peter Ackroyd has written biographies of T.S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake and Thomas More, and short books on Chaucer and Turner. He is the author of London: The Biography and Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination.
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