Among Shakespeare's many biographers none brings to his subject more passion and feeling for the creative act than Anthony Burgess. He breathes life into Shakespeare the man and invigorates his times. His portrait of the age builds upon an almost personal tenderness for Shakespeare and his contemporaries (especially Ben Jonson), and on a profound ...
Among Shakespeare's many biographers none brings to his subject more passion and feeling for the creative act than Anthony Burgess. He breathes life into Shakespeare the man and invigorates his times. His portrait of the age builds upon an almost personal tenderness for Shakespeare and his contemporaries (especially Ben Jonson), and on a profound sense of literary and theatrical history. Anthony Burgess's well-known delight in language infuses his own writing about Shakespeare's works. And in the verve of his biography he conveys the energy of the Elizabethan age.
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This lively biography of Shakespeare recounts the notoriously ill-recorded life of William Shakespeare, from his birth in April 1564, his marriage at age 18 to the 26 year old, scandalously pregnant, Ann Hathaway, through the years in London to the tranquil retirement to Stratford rent apart by his daughter, Judith's, marriage to a fornicator and her consequent exclusion, more or less, from his will.
Burgess deftly draws the glories of the Elizabethan age (so frequently and, for an Englishman, conveniently, remembered at the expense of the horrors of the Elizabethan genocides), the intrigues at court, Essex's rebellion, the queen's death, James ascent to the throne and his peculiar peccadilloes and genius.
The plays, of course, are the thing and form the central pillar of the book. Burgess knew them well and throws many an illuminating light on them from the historical circumstance of their writing. The dispute between the Danver and Long families transported to Guelph and Ghibelline fair Verona, where he set his scene. The contemporary London view of Venetian women as courtesans, which would have robbed Desdemona of any sympathy, any many more examples.
Burgess, thankfully, has no time for those ridiculous snobs who, parroting a half-mad American woman, scramble in the historical dust to find a nobleman's hand clutching the writers quill rather than that of a, horror of horrors, master glover's son.
Lastly, and most refreshingly, Burgess does not withhold criticism where it is due, describing the Comedy of Errors as marred by long-winded, creaking dialogue, Love's Labour Lost as inferior, and Two Gentlemen of Verona as a stage failure. It's a pity he didn't reserve some of his ire for the interminable courting scenes of The Merchant of Venice.
Forget Bill Bryson, this is best short biography of Shakespeare and the perfect introduction to this intriguing subject.
Apr 9, 2007
As a teacher and director of Shakespeare, but also a fan, I frequently recommend this brilliant, witty and insightful biography. It covers the few facts that we know about him for sure, speculates a little here and there and paints a vibrant picture of the period. Post-modern purists might find it a bit fanciful (for you - check out Stephen Greenblatt's jaw-droppingly awesome WILL IN THE WORLD) but for me it captures beautifully the spirit of the man and the times. It is a fairly easy read but challenging and delightful by turns nonetheless. Also brilliant is Burgess' novel about Shakespeare NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, I feel about both books as my English teacher felt about Emma - he re-read it regularly for the sheer delight in language and storytelling. My email address was WillOfArden for a while so I know I'm obsessed but seriously, this book is fantastic. [Similarly brilliant though mopre dense are Germaine Greer's short history "SHAKESPEARE and the incomparable THE GENIUS OF SHAKESPEARE by Jonathan Bate.]
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