From the book jacket:
In a magnificent feat of recreating
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. 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.
Comment: Stop! Don't scroll past this book just because it's about Shakespeare. I'm sure that there are many who 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 make for a pretty riveting read!
Unlike the majority of Shakespeare biographers who precede him, Ackroyd is not a professional Shakespeare scholar; instead he is an accomplished novelist, poet and critic; and most importantly, he's also an experienced literary biographer who has already brought new life to a number of historical figures, such as Chaucer, Thomas More, Blake and Dickens.
His trick is not to break new ground but simply to bring new life to the old facts by presenting them in short, readable chapters, focused on a particular subject, which are blended seamlessly with a lively commentary on the social, economic, literary and political events of the time; which, in combination, show how Shakespeare was both affected and inspired by contemporary events. As Library Journal puts it, "Ackroyd transforms the black-and-white sketch of Shakespeare into a richly colored portrait."
As always, don't take my word for it - read the first three chapters for yourself at BookBrowse.
"London has always provided the landscape for my imagination.
It becomes a character - a living being - within each of my books."
- Peter Ackroyd.
This review was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the November 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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