William Shakespeare in Love, Life, and Fiction

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SHAKESPEARE: A LIFE By Park Honan Oxford University Press 460 pp., $30

THE LATE MR. SHAKESPEARE By Robert Nye Arcade Publishing 400 pp., $25.95

Now that we know so much about Shakespeare in love, we may yearn to learn the rest of the story. A new biography, Park Honan's Shakespeare: A Life, and Robert Nye's novel, The Late Mr. Shakespeare, provide abundant factual details of the Bard's life and times. Both are intended for the non- specialist. Honan has taught, researched, and written about Shakespeare for 35 years, and devoted 10 years to writing this biography, using "every known source for his life." This is the first major Shakespeare biography since Schoenbaum's definitive "Documentary Life" (1975). Honan skillfully interweaves the known facts of Shakespeare's life and many incidental historical details with the most accurate knowledge we have of the writing and performance of the plays. His inferences and suppositions about his subject are carefully reasoned and deeply documented. "Shakespeare: A Life" accounts for the Bard's extraordinary range of knowledge and language from his excellent training at the King's New School at Stratford, taught by Oxford scholars; his exposure to dramatic performances by traveling companies; and his ready access to books. Shakespeare's progress as hireling, actor, playwright, and part owner of a theater company is traced in sufficient detail to give the reader an appreciation of the rigors, risks, and vicissitudes of this profession in Elizabethan times. Honan connects to the plays and poems some of Shakespeare's personal experiences. "The most tangled and contradictory of his relationships, one suspects, was always with his mother. His troubled attitudes to women are too deep to be of anything but early origin." The death of his son, Hamnet, in 1596, Honan believes, was a tragedy from which the playwright never recovered and may have referred to in his Sonnet 37. And the complicated relations of fathers and daughters in "Romeo and Juliet," "Othello," and "King Lear," for example, may have owed their complexity to Shakespeare's dealings with his own daughters. Shakespeare lived and wrote at an exceptionally fortunate time. "London helped Shakespeare to offer the most profound, demanding plays ever given to any city," Honan writes. …