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Shakespeare: The Biography

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  1,806 ratings  ·  176 reviews
Drawing on an exceptional combination of skills as literary biographer, novelist, and chronicler of London history, Peter Ackroyd surely re-creates the world that shaped Shakespeare--and brings the playwright himself into unusually vivid focus. With characteristic narrative panache, Ackroyd immerses us in sixteenth-century Stratford and the rural landscape–the industry, th ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by Anchor (first published September 26th 2005)
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Riku Sayuj

“Shakespeare is the only biographer of Shakespeare.

So far from Shakespeare’s being the least known, he is the one person in all modern history fully known to us.”


~ Emerson

The Obscure & The Elusive

This ‘biography’ that Ackroyd strings together is mostly tedious, though it has a few really good moments and it has to be admitted that it presents most of the facts that is known of the great Bard. In spite of this, I think it is a mistake to pick up this bio unless one is familiar with ALL the plays
...more
booklady
Very worthwhile book on Shakespeare! Although he is still ‘the mystery man’, the author has researched the era, his family, theatre life, religious differences and the locales of London and Stratford and presents the known facts—as well as the gaping holes—as Shakespeare’s life unfolds.

It is not difficult to see, thanks to Ackroyd’s explanations, why Shakespeare remains such an elusive figure.

There are reasons. It was a dangerous time for one, especially with respect to which side of the relig
...more
Terry Bonner
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
At predictable intervals over the course of the last four centuries, some cynical iconoclast has suggested that William Shakespeare was a simple-minded actor from the hinterlands who was hired by an Oxford-educated aristocrat to serve as the public face for his plays. The latest incarnation of this hackneyed libel against Shakespeare is last year's box office bomb ANONYMOUS, which rather shamelessly attributes Shakespeare's canon to the Earl of Oxford. These Anti-Stratfordists are, of course, th ...more
Brooklyn Tayla
Hands down, one of the best biographies I've ever read. So engaging and enthralling; I learnt SO much and couldn't put it down. Definitely recommend for fans of The Bard & his works. ...more
Caroline
You'd think by now there'd be nothing new to say on Shakespeare, no more interesting insights to make, no way to take what little we know of him and make it justify yet another biography - and yet this book succeeds marvellously. Peter Ackroyd is a wonderful biographer - his biography of London is a triumph - and he always manages to make his material come alive, which to be fair is not hard when you're dealing with the words of Master Shakespeare.

I think I've yet to read a bad biography of Shak
...more
Harry Rutherford
Jul 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
The definite article in the title seems a little hubristic. I don't know if this is the definitive biography of Shakespeare — haven't read any of the hundreds of others — but I certainly enjoyed it.

I don't know if I completely trust Ackroyd as a historian; it's probably unfair, but I just get a nagging sense sometimes that he's a bit too fond of a good story. He has clearly done a ton of research, though, and as you'd expect he's very good at providing historical context. And he writes well.

Ther
...more
Pete daPixie
I find the writings of Peter Ackroyd to be veritable delights. I have read 'London-The Biography' as well as 'Thames:Sacred River' and this author simply oozes with a profound knowledge of 'the smoke', it's environs and it's populace. Although these books are quite hefty volumes, his writing is extremely erudite and set out in short chapters that make his tomes hard to put down.
'Shakespeare-The Biography' takes bardolatry up to a whole new level. In view of the fact that personal records of Will
...more
Wayland Smith
Mar 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Peter Ackroyd is a wordy writer. He's the same way as a biographer, as well. But he does a lot of research and provided a very detailed telling of the life of Shakespeare, or at least, as much as is known. It's a bit dry at times, and there's a lot of speculation, but then, there's a lot we don't know about Shakespeare's actual life.

There are some really interesting facts along the way, like a young woman in his town who fell into a river and drowned... unless it was suicide... and her family n
...more
Megan
May 07, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I am so sick of reading "biographies" that are basically glorified fiction. The amount of factual information that scholars know about Shakespeare from Statford on Avon could fit into this review box! The other 588 pages of this '"biography" is filler: guesses, conjectures and basic bs.

The author himself says that many biographers will assume Shakespeare was a sailor because he uses so many technical sailing terms in his works, but the author decides instead that Shakespeare came from a farming
...more
Katheryn Thompson
This just feels like the definitive book on Shakespeare.

Ackroyd moves chronologically through Shakespeare's life, from birth to death, breaking the book into short chapters (which make reading easier), and tying together what is known about Shakespeare from his plays and from the world beyond the stage. It's a fascinating book, which immerses the reader in Shakespeare's world, although it might be worth noting that this biography is probably best enjoyed by a reader with a reasonable knowledge o
...more
William
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional biography, taking what we know for sure about Shakespeare and his times, and distilling it in a compelling narrative. It was an education for me, because I didn't know there were as many concrete facts that know about his real life. Just the kind of work you would expect from Ackroyd.
Brian
Feb 16, 2016 rated it liked it
I have read many books about Shakespeare and his times, but none have provoked a more ambivalent and varying reaction in me than Peter Ackroyd's "Shakespeare the Biography". There are some nice strengths to this text, and there are some great weaknesses. I gave this text a 4 star rating merely for the output of writing and research, but quality wise I would rate it 3 or 3.5 stars. There are too may dull and/ or redundant sections in the text for it to rate as one of the best books on Shakespeare ...more
Libby
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It is O'dark thirty in the morning and I have just finished this Marvelous Book. You'll note I used capitals which I did on purpose because this book is something very special. It is hard to find non-fiction which reads lyrically like poetry. Some very fine authors, most of them British, do manage this feat and Peter Ackroyd has done it here. Perhaps he was inspired by his great subject matter.

For a brief disclaimer I'll admit up front that I worship every syllable Shakespeare ever wrote. I hav
...more
Joshua
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's not too bold to suggest that the man or woman who approaches writing the biography of William Shakespeare begins with a target on their head. Shakespeare IS the Western Canon of literature, and the vagaries of records that do exist about this individual who has shaped the world so dramatically makes attempts at biography seem like a fool's melody. And yet Peter Ackroyd accomplishes something incredible for, by the end of this book, I felt as if I knew at least something of the nature and es ...more
Rebecca Budd
There is a lot that has been said about William Shakespeare. Everyone has an opinion on who he was, who he was not, what he wrote etc. The debate goes on, even after 400 years of his passing in 1616. Therein lies the true brilliance of literature – the compelling force to continue the conversation.

Goodreads is celebrating Shakespeare Week (August 18 – 23, 2016), which includes quizzes, book lists and an invitation to write a “deleted scene” from one of the Bard’s plays. Shakespeare would be plea
...more
Tim
A fascinating, masterful, and detailed look into the life of the greatest figure in English literature. Any such biographical endeavor would be a daunting task, but Ackroyd handles it beautifully and, surprisingly, more than adeptly. Despite its length, taking the reader from the playwright's birth in Stratford-upon-Avon (even going backward and glancing into a brief history of his parents) to his childhood, and then his rich adulthood, it is a very satisfying read. Ackroyd very creatively takes ...more
James Hartley
Oct 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Reading through what other reviewers have said summarises what my own thoughts on this one. Worth reading for the background to Shakespeare and his life but as infuriating and grasping as most biographies of the bard when trying to pin down the details. Calling any book a biography of Shakespeare should be a violation of the Trades Description Act as there´s simply not much to know about him: scholars have even picked to bits the first so-called biographies written only a generation after he liv ...more
Jason
May 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
not bad...my one complaint would be there doesn't seem to be a lot of original work here...
ackroyd basically took all the bios that were written in the past decade or so and aggregated them into one volume...i read greenblatt's 'will in the world' a few years back and could readily pick out passages that were re-produced here almost verbatim...his photographs were also culled from other recent texts...not a big problem, but there it is...
if you haven't read any of the the other recent works then
...more
Robin
Aug 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
I only gave this 3 stars because for as interesting it was, it could also be boring. I shamefully admit this book took me months and months to read. It was very informative and I actually learned a lot, but it was no I've just got to pick it up and read it either. Perhaps the author got a bit too detailed with every moment of Shaespeare's life. It's hard to explain because I did really like it, just was soooo glad when it was over too.
Bettie
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Need to re-read this baby at some point and next time around, make some blinking notes!
Seb Yawlo
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first book finished in 2020 and what a way to start the year! An interesting and revealing biography of the great gentleman, W.S. Having visited Stratford-upon-Avon in September 2019 on a mini-pilgrimage, I was recommended initially reading the Bryson biography of Shakespeare. That was a lovely short read which lay the foundations for this more in-depth biography by Ackroyd. The short chapters were appealing to me as I was able to chunk my reading of it across many days (just shy of a month!) ...more
Lisa Christian
Although at times tedious and dry, Ackroyd does an admirable job of piecing together the surviving documents of Shakespeare's life and shows that despite popular perception, quite a few documents exist of the Bard. This work is not for the novice Shakespeare reader or scholar as it presumes quite a bit of knowledge of Elizabethan England, London, theatre history, and Shakespeare's plays. It is also not a work for the Anti-Stratfordians who all too often proclaim that the provincial son of a glov ...more
LeAnn
May 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Emerson said, according to Peter Ackroyd, that "Shakspeare is the only biographer of Shaksepeare." Ackroyd himself said this about Shakespeare:

He is one of those rare cases of a writer whose work is singularly important and influential, yet whose personality was not considered to be of any interest at all. He is obscure and elusive precisely to the extent that nobody bothered to write about him."

Throughout Ackroyd's biography, however, runs the theme of Shakespeare's intensely private nature. Un
...more
Eric Ruark
Aug 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
This was one of those books that I wish I had 11 stars for. (Remember the scene in Spinal Tap?) Years ago when the world was young, I majored in 17th Century British Literature at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and one of my long remembered delights was to have taken a course in Shakespeare under Dr. Nancy Tatum. (Dr. Tatum has since passed away, but I can still remember her love for the topic and the encyclopaedic depth of her knowledge. Later when I dabbled in acting, I had severa ...more
Tim Wilhelm
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
A hefty read, but an engaging and thoroughly entertaining look at one of the most landmark figures in history. I had read his plays, and I therefore had a reasonable knowledge of Shakespeare the playwright and a number of facts about his life. But who was Shakespeare the man? What did he do? What made him the figure we know five hundred years later? From his childhood and education, through his active and accomplished adult life, to his death, this masterpiece chronicles Shakespeare's life in co ...more
Laura
May 23, 2014 rated it liked it
I have read this book in order to commit to memory the historical details I have learnt in the MOOC "Shakespeare and his world" offered by FutureLearn and Jonathan Bate together with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. For this, it has been good, and Ackroyd is strong in creating the Catholic milieu of Stratford and the pressures they lived under while Elizabeth I was in the throne.
However, in spite of the fact that there are plenty of inflated praises of "the Bard", Ackroyd never really comes ac
...more
Robert
Mar 05, 2008 rated it liked it
This is not a biography in the traditional sense. Pecious little is known about Shakespeare's life, so Ackroyd goes through contemporary accounts and historical documents, leaving every page filled with conjecture about what WS might have done, could have felt or can conceivably have intended. But to his credit, Ackroyd is an unabashed Shakespeare lover and leaves few details unteurned to present a reasonably full account of Elizabethan life and literary history. Though not quite up to the calib ...more
Doug Hartley
Everybody knows that there is precious little actual information about Shakespeare and as a result there are all these theories speculating about who he really was. I have always considered these to be crapola that reveal more about the proponent of the theory than they do about the Bard.

Rather than claim that the bald actor from Stratford is an imposter Ackroyd's approach is to, on the one hand, do a biography of Elizabethan London and on the other trace Shakespeare through all the lawsuits he
...more
Maryanne
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustive, in a good way. It was an enlightening journey through Shakespear'es life, and times. Every detail is sewn into the whole fabric of the book. Theories about his movement, temperament, and authorship, are adroitly considered and either tossed aside or endowed greater weight. Most of the time, I agree with the author's conclusion. What I like most, though, is that I feel the reader is given enough information to form their own opinion.

I consider my previous knowledge of Shakespeare some
...more
Kaya
Jul 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit dry, this was a tough one to get through. My streak of Shakespeare related reading has slowed since I've been sidetracked by ventures into other topics, but I appreciated the historical tidbits and details Ackroyd packs in. Although everything here is probably conjecture, it's interesting, but the narrative drags and gets bogged down in details that don't really reveal much about the man behind the plays. I did appreciate the author's decision to stick to the original spellings; try pronou ...more
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age
...more

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