Summary and book reviews of Shakespeare by Peter Ackroyd

Shakespeare

By Peter Ackroyd

Shakespeare
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2005,
    592 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2006,
    592 pages.

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Book Summary

In a magnificent feat of re-creating sixteenth-century London and Stratford, bestselling 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.

Chapter 1 
There Was a Starre Daunst, and Under That Was I Borne


William Shakespeare is popularly supposed to have been born on 23 April 1564, or St. George's Day. The date may in fact have been 21 April or 22 April, but the coincidence of the national festival is at least appropriate.

When he emerged from the womb into the world of time, with the assistance of a midwife, an infant of the sixteenth century was washed and then "swaddled" by being wrapped tightly in soft cloth. Then he was carried downstairs in order to be presented to the father. After this ritual greeting, he was taken back to the birth-chamber, still warm and dark, where he was laid beside the mother. She was meant to "draw to her all the diseases from the child," before her infant was put in a cradle. A small portion of butter and honey was usually placed in the baby's mouth. It was the custom in Warwickshire to give the suckling child hare's brains reduced to jelly.

The date of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Stop! Don't scroll past this book just because it's about Shakespeare. Many probably feel that they "did" Shakespeare to death during their school years and can think of few things less appealing than reading a book about him on their own time - let alone paying good money to buy it! If that sounds like you, think again - in Peter Ackroyd's hands the life and times of The Bard makes for a pretty riveting read!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - John Simon

Comparisons with Dickens, who was, in a way, the Shakespeare of the novel, are particularly suggestive; but Ackroyd, fruitfully, quotes many foreign opinions, old and new, as well. Especially effective is the brevity of his chapters, each dealing with a specific matter....

Kirkus Reviews

Newcomers to Shakespearean studies will find this a good place to start. Those more familiar with the field will find that it palls in comparison to Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World (2004).

Publishers Weekly - Roy Rosenbaum

Boxed Review. [T]he great strength of Ackroyd's book is the depth of his immersion in the culture of Shakespeare's age and the sense he gives of Shakespeare as a product of that extraordinary moment in time.

Library Journal - Shana C. Fair

This biography is distinguished from other contemporary Shakespeare studies by the author's ability to mesh the facts of Shakespeare's life with social, economic, literary, and political details of the 16th century...This book is distinctly different from Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World and Michael Wood's Shakespeare; though all three biographies use the same basic information, Ackroyd transforms the black-and-white sketch of Shakespeare into a richly colored portrait. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.

Booklist - Bryce Christensen

Starred Review. Others (including Stephen Goldblatt in his Will in the World, 2004) have likewise mined Shakespeare's plays and poetry for telling clues about the playwright's life. But 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.

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Beyond the Book

Peter Ackroyd was born in London, England and educated at Clare College, Cambridge; and at Yale. He began his literary career as a poet, before turning to fiction.  Today, he is the bestselling author of at least fourteen novels (often writing with a dual narrative style where the two voices are separated by the centuries), fifteen non-fiction books, various collections and a history series for children.

His best known books include Hawksmoor (winner of the Whitbread Award) and Chatterton (shortlisted for the Booker Prize) His most recent books include The Lambs of London; Shakespeare: The Biography; and J.M.W. Turner, the second biography in the Ackroyd Brief Lives series. He has also written full-scale biographies ...

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