Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Excerpt

Any new Life of Shakespeare should begin with an apology, for after all the theme can scarcely be claimed as one yet unattempted, and any addition to the vast literature of Shakespeare needs some justification. My main defence, however, is that I was asked to write a Life of Shakespeare, and that this coincided with my wish to write one, to expand the short account I had already given in my Shakespeare: A Pictorial Biography, the value of which, as the title suggests, is primarily dependent on its illustrations. Yet it is ten years since the last full-scale Life was written, and quite a lot of new biographical material has been unearthed in that time, thanks mainly to the inspired researches of Dr Leslie Hotson, my indebtedness to whom I here gratefully acknowledge. And again, I know of no Life that sets out to do quite what I have attempted.

The book is not a critical study: I have said comparatively little about Shakespeare's art as I have written elsewhere about the plays and their poetry; nor is it a romance, a fanciful reconstruction of Shakespeare's 'lost years', or of events of which we can never hope to have more than a shadowy knowledge, or of amorous adventures with a certain dark lady celebrated in the Sonnets. Yet it is something more than a bare record of facts. Of these we have a fair number, strung like beads along the fifty years of his life, very thinly along the first half, but closer together after his arrival in London, the publication of his first works and his joining the company of players for which he was to write for the rest of his career. By using these clues, bibliographic and theatrical, as well as our knowledge of Elizabethan grammar school education, recently revealed by Professor T. W. Baldwin, by taking hints from the early traditions and from the plays and poems themselves, I have tried to fill in the gaps between the beads of biographical fact with as great a degree of probability as possible, yet without resorting to any extravagance of speculation.

It seems to me that too much emphasis has been placed on Shakespeare as an actor. Although he probably began his London career as a player, although nobody knew more about acting and stagecraft than . . .

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