The New York Review of Books
Shakespeare's Livesby S. Schoenbaum
Fascination with the life of the author has remained a constant in Shakespeare studies, as the recent spate of biographies and books on the authorship question makes clear. Who was William Shakespeare? What can we know about him for certain? Should we be looking at this fellow Shakespeare at all? First published in 1970, and thoroughly revised and updated in 1991,… See more details below
Fascination with the life of the author has remained a constant in Shakespeare studies, as the recent spate of biographies and books on the authorship question makes clear. Who was William Shakespeare? What can we know about him for certain? Should we be looking at this fellow Shakespeare at all? First published in 1970, and thoroughly revised and updated in 1991, Shakespeare's Lives remains the most celebrated history of the quest for Shakespeare the man. The product of more than three decades' research, it is an unparalleled account of the critics and crackpots who have exploredor fancifully imaginedthe life of our greatest writer.
Uniquely qualified for this task by virtue of his wide scholarship, incisive mind, and lively wit, Schoenbaum takes us on a 400-year journey through a multiplicity of "Shakespeares." He begins with the Shakespeare of documentary recordpoet of the London stage and prosperous citizen of Stratfordthen turns to the Shakespeare of legenddeer poacher, beer guzzler, and impetuous lover. Other Shakespeares follow. The playwright appears as protagonist in a host of popular and scholarly biographies, which often reveal more about the biographer than his subject. Then there's the Shakespeare for whom an imaginary history was invented through forged documents. Finally, there's the Shakespeare who never wasmere "front man" in a vast and frequently eccentric literature crediting his works to such luminaries as Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford), and Christopher Marlowe.
How the various documents, clues, and legends were unearthed plays a key role in this astonishing story, as do the controversial painted portraits. Schoenbaum delves into some of the many attempts to reconstruct Shakespeare's life from his writings (Shakespeare as lawyer, soldier, or diplomat), several of the intricate and bizarre cryptographical analyses applied to the canon itself, and even spiritualists' claims to have communicated with his ghost.
Shakespeare's Lives, then, is a book of many lives, described and lived, during the course of more than four centuries. It is enriched by the appearances of such literary notables as Samuel Johnson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud, and James Joyce, as well as by such exacting scholars as Edmond Malone and E. K. Chambers. Seen through a succession of different eyes and shifting vantage-points, the figure of the playwright nevertheless emerges from the mists of misconception.
This reissue includes a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda.
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editor of The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works
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