Research into the Elizabethans is of such quality today that new material about Shakespeare, his town, his parents, his schooling, his friendships, or his career comes to light continually. My aim in this book is to show in an accurate narrative all that can be known of Shakespeare's life, at present, and to offer some account of his writing in relation to his life.
I have tried to supply a dispassionate, up-to-date report on the available facts, and to add new and relevant material. I write for the general public, but think that scholars will find fresh details about Shakespeare here.
This book differs from those biographies which imagine for him political roles, sexual relationships, or colourful intrigues not in the factual record. Imaginative reconstructions and elaborate psychological theories about him can be amusing; but, for me, they strain credulity. The attempt to understand his life is not new -- a start was made with Nicholas Rowe's forty-page sketch in 1709. Since then, a major effort of biographers has been to collect what is known about the playwright, to synthesize it, and in a sense to clean the bones of the ' Shakespeare documents' or to separate facts from myths and errors. That effort continues today. Our knowledge of him is refined in new editions of his plays or in searching performances of them, as well as in discoveries at Stratford's Birthplace Records Office, at the Public Record Office or county record offices, or at the great collections of Renaissance books and manuscripts at the British, Huntington, or Folger Shakespeare libraries. As data accumulates, so do myths. But what, surprisingly, emerges is that the factual truth as we piece it together is more exciting, suggestive, and tantalizing than anything so far dreamed up about him. What do the facts reveal of Shakespeare's relations with Marie Mountjoy or Jennet Davenant? Or about the murders connected with his house, and the brutal killing of a family friend? If we grant that not all of his work was miraculous, how did he come to write Hamlet? I find such questions more intriguing than