Shakespeare: The Biography (Unabridged)
by Peter Ackroyd
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In a magnificent feat of re-creating sixteenth-century London and Stratford, best-selling biographer and novelist Peter Ackroyd brings William Shakespeare to life in the manner of a contemporary rather than a biographer. Following his magisterial and ingenious re-creations of the lives of Chaucer, Dickens, T. S. Eliot, William Blake, and Sir Thomas More, Ackroyd delivers his crowning achievement with this definitive and imaginative biographical masterpiece. 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.
Impressive In Some Ways, A Slog In Others
As noted by reviewers, Ackroyd does a wonderful job of recreating Shakespeare's era in the mind of the reader. But by the end of the book even this cannot paper over the fact that there really isn’t enough hard detail about Shakespeare’s life to fill out this many pages, and so Ackroyd relies on the trick of taking facts about Elizabethan life and then superimposing them on Shakespeare, frequently drawing conclusions about Shakespeare’s actions because that was the custom of his time. This continued speculation becomes wearying over the course of the book, leaving the reader struggling to separate truth from supposition. Add to this a frequent repetition of facts and character points, and the 20+ hours of reading seems a lot longer. Simon Vance does his usually wonderful job (though there is no opportunity for him to employ his range of character voices), but even he can’t rescue something that should have been about half as long.