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The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography

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The Life of William Shakespeare is a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of Shakespeare's life and works focusing on oftern neglected literary and historical contexts: what Shakespeare read, who he worked with as an author and an actor, and how these various collaborations may have affected his writing. Written by an eminent Shakespearean scholar and experienced theat The Life of William Shakespeare is a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of Shakespeare's life and works focusing on oftern neglected literary and historical contexts: what Shakespeare read, who he worked with as an author and an actor, and how these various collaborations may have affected his writing. Written by an eminent Shakespearean scholar and experienced theatre reviewer Pays particular attention to Shakespeare's theatrical contemporaries and the ways in which they influenced his writing Offers an intriguing account of the life and work of the great poet-dramatist structured around the idea of memory Explores often neglected literary and historical contexts that illuminate Shakespeare's life and works


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The Life of William Shakespeare is a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of Shakespeare's life and works focusing on oftern neglected literary and historical contexts: what Shakespeare read, who he worked with as an author and an actor, and how these various collaborations may have affected his writing. Written by an eminent Shakespearean scholar and experienced theat The Life of William Shakespeare is a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of Shakespeare's life and works focusing on oftern neglected literary and historical contexts: what Shakespeare read, who he worked with as an author and an actor, and how these various collaborations may have affected his writing. Written by an eminent Shakespearean scholar and experienced theatre reviewer Pays particular attention to Shakespeare's theatrical contemporaries and the ways in which they influenced his writing Offers an intriguing account of the life and work of the great poet-dramatist structured around the idea of memory Explores often neglected literary and historical contexts that illuminate Shakespeare's life and works

30 review for The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Published 2013 (audio version, the one I’ve used; print edition published 2012). Imagine yourself at the Globe to see a Shakespeare play, preferably Hamlet (my favourite…). Keep on imagining standing among the crowd, quite near the stage, on a rainy evening. You look around and see people from all walks of life, from different countries and cultures, all mesmerized by the Bard's words...almost 400 hundred years later. Imagine laughing If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Published 2013 (audio version, the one I’ve used; print edition published 2012). Imagine yourself at the Globe to see a Shakespeare play, preferably Hamlet (my favourite…). Keep on imagining standing among the crowd, quite near the stage, on a rainy evening. You look around and see people from all walks of life, from different countries and cultures, all mesmerized by the Bard's words...almost 400 hundred years later. Imagine laughing so heartily with the rest of the audience, practically falling off your wooden chair. The actors are absolutely amazed and unbelieving at the rapturous applause they receive. You cheer them to the rafters. You start to have an inkling of how audiences of Shakespeare's own time must have received his plays. My reading of Shakespeare makes me “re-live” stuff like this. I feel his writing will allow me to deepen my own self-knowledge as well. If you're into Shakespeare, read the rest elsewhere.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gerald Sinstadt

    What we know for certain about Shakespeare's life is remarkably little, and here are nearly 500 pages to confirm it. But that is not really the point. The back cover of Lois Potter's critical biography features five endorsements - all from eminent professors. This is clearly a book by an academic that will resonate most strongly in academic circles. Its strength is in its portrait of the world in which the playwright lived - the theater, its actors and Shakespeare's fellow authors; collaboration What we know for certain about Shakespeare's life is remarkably little, and here are nearly 500 pages to confirm it. But that is not really the point. The back cover of Lois Potter's critical biography features five endorsements - all from eminent professors. This is clearly a book by an academic that will resonate most strongly in academic circles. Its strength is in its portrait of the world in which the playwright lived - the theater, its actors and Shakespeare's fellow authors; collaboration features prominently in Ms Potter's analysis. Less fruitful are the early years where such terms as "possibly," "it is likely," "probably," "may," "we can conjecture" occur too often for the reader to benefit. The pages of speculation about who might or might not have attended the young William's christening, complete with details of their place in Warwickshire society, are a tribute to research but fail to enlighten. Scholars will profit from the author's painstaking work, less dedicated readers would do better to turn to Bill Bryson for a readable biography or to Jude Morgan for a novel which does not distort the sparse known facts and does a decent job of bringing to life the ways and means of Elizabethan theatre.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Colin Cox

    While reading Lois Potter's The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography I could not help but think of Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World. Unlike Greenblatt, Potter's account is a longer and more measured exploration of Shakespeare's life that attempts to understand in laborious detail the social and political conditions under which Shakespeare wrote, worked, and lived. At its core, The Life of William Shakespeare is about collaboration. The notion that Shakespeare collaborated with While reading Lois Potter's The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography I could not help but think of Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World. Unlike Greenblatt, Potter's account is a longer and more measured exploration of Shakespeare's life that attempts to understand in laborious detail the social and political conditions under which Shakespeare wrote, worked, and lived. At its core, The Life of William Shakespeare is about collaboration. The notion that Shakespeare collaborated with others while writing his plays is not a new observation, but Potter persuasively argues for the equally legitimate place of the actor in this collaborative paradigm. While writing about Richard III, Potter argues, "Part of the fascination of Richard is that he speaks partly from Barabas's essentially amoral position, as a comic theatrical figure outside ordinary human concerns, and partly, like Faustus, as a Christian inhabiting a moral universe in which his role is that of a damnable villain. In the theater the unifying presence of an actor can make these very inconsistencies the source of Richard's lifelikeness, but in the final act the conflict between them becomes difficult to perform" (164). This long passage highlights two important features of The Life of William Shakespeare. First, Potter's book is endlessly readable. She writes in a clear, coherent style. Second, Potter places Shakespeare alongside equally important figures such as Christopher Marlowe. This second gesture is not new. However, for a reader approaching Shakespeare with little knowledge of or exposure to the Early Modern Period, a move like this is necessary and important. There is so much more I could write about this book, but I thought I would end by offering a list of topics I want to understand better after reading Lois Potter's insightfully written and researched The Life of William Shakespeare: -What collaboration between writers and actors looked like. -The differences between private and public performances. -The use of prompts, lighting, and other techniques in private performances. -The history of the soliloquy, both its successes and its failures. -The moment when writers became "writers" during this period.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jee Koh

    I enjoyed Lois Potter's The Life of William Shakespeare tremendously. Subtitled "A Critical Biography," the book looks at all the works by the Bard not only as literary artefacts but also as living process. On the poems, she observes the pressures on an ambitious young man aspiring to make his mark on literary London. On the plays, she is particularly acute on Shakespeare and his collaborators. She is also sensitive to how the plays were written or adapted to capitalize on star actors and boy pe I enjoyed Lois Potter's The Life of William Shakespeare tremendously. Subtitled "A Critical Biography," the book looks at all the works by the Bard not only as literary artefacts but also as living process. On the poems, she observes the pressures on an ambitious young man aspiring to make his mark on literary London. On the plays, she is particularly acute on Shakespeare and his collaborators. She is also sensitive to how the plays were written or adapted to capitalize on star actors and boy performers. Different audiences, whether at the theaters or the Inns of Court or the royal palaces, accounted for different versions of the plays. Publication of the plays were economic and political decisions, and not just literary ones. The process of producing the work was messy, contingent, opportunistic, and it is a testament to Potter's writing that she is able to bring a clarity of form to her mastery of detail. One useful device is to begin every chapter with a quotation from Shakespeare. The quotation launches a brief discussion of the theme of that stage of Shakespeare's social and writing life. What she does not know, she says so. What she is unsure of, she speculates cautiously. I like the suggestiveness of some of her outside references. In her discussion of Anthony and Cleopatra, she considers Jungian archetypes of gender. Jung's "Perfection is a masculine desideratum, while woman inclines by nature to completeness," though a wild generalization, works remarkably well as an account of the duality of this play. Jung went on to insist that, "just as completeness is always imperfect, so perfection is sterile." Macbeth may be the most perfect of Shakespeare's plays, in the sense of being self-contained and atmospherically unified, but its power comes from the evocation of a universe that eventually shrinks to the dimensions of Macbeth's obsessed mind (and his marriage is, at least in the play's present, famously sterile). In Anthony and Cleopatra, on the other hand, Shakespeare emphasizes the fertility of the Nile and "All the unlawful issue" of the two lovers, while never mentioning the children that the historical Anthony had by Octavia. Potter is also very suggestive when defending Shakespare against the suspicion that somebody more learned wrote his works. One effect of situating Shakespeare among other writers may be to make the anti-Staffordian argument irrelevant. If he can be seen as an author like any other, there is no need to talk about his "genius" and no need to displace him with someone else. "Genius" is a term unpopular in scientific circles because it makes no distinction between potential and achievement. It is however a term that people like to use about Shakespeare, and perhaps the main reason people like to read books about Shakespeare is that they hope to discover some cause of "genius" that they themselves can imitate. Yet what they most need to imitate is his productivity. As Dean Simonton writes, "the single most powerful predictor of eminence within any creative domain is the sheer number of infuential products an individual has given the world." As I have already indicated, it is the sheer number of Shakespeare's surviving plays and poems, and the fact that few people can claim both breadth and depth of knowledge in them all, that makes them an inexhaustible field of study. We are all, forever, trying to remember him. I am guilty of reading books about Shakespeare, such as this one, to discover how I can be a "genius" like he was. It is interesting to think that what I have to do is to produce as many influential products as I can within my short lifetime.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Published by Wiley-Blackwell, this is an academic `biography' of Shakespeare which places the texts in their historicised, intellectual context. If you're looking for a personal biography of Shakespeare the man then this may well disappoint. There is only sparse evidence for Shakespeare's life but what little there is, primarily on his early life and retirement to Stratford, is subjected here to Potter's cool, measured and eminently sensible gaze. This isn't a hagiographical book and moves away f Published by Wiley-Blackwell, this is an academic `biography' of Shakespeare which places the texts in their historicised, intellectual context. If you're looking for a personal biography of Shakespeare the man then this may well disappoint. There is only sparse evidence for Shakespeare's life but what little there is, primarily on his early life and retirement to Stratford, is subjected here to Potter's cool, measured and eminently sensible gaze. This isn't a hagiographical book and moves away from the idea of Shakespeare as some kind of unique genius, a hangover from the nineteenth-century to which people may still subscribe today. Instead, Potter foregrounds the extent to which Shakespeare's plays were nearly all collaborations with other writers (Lodge, Greene, Kyd, possibly Marlowe, Jonson), often re-writing known and recognised sources. Writing for the sixteenth century theatre was more akin to being part of the scriptwriting team on a TV series today such as The Killing, The Bridge, The Wire - where the show itself wins accolades but the writers (and directors) of individual episodes are generally unacknowledged. London theatre audiences certainly rushed to see the new show at the Globe, but wouldn't necessarily have known that it was by Shakespeare. So this is an integrative text with full notes, references and bibliography that summarises well the current general position of Shakespeare in the academy, and is one that I would recommend to undergraduates or even postgraduates wanting a quick and dirty way-in to contemporary Shakespearean studies. Would I also recommend it to non-academics? It's certainly accessible, elegantly-written, and welcoming to the non-specialist - but if you're looking for a traditional biography, then this isn't it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Razi

    A good (re)introduction to Shakespeare's works. This book recreates Shakespeare's world and relocates the poet in his own time, reconstructs the events, influences and the limitations that shaped Shakespeare's imagination. I had no idea of the extent of collaborative work that Shakespeare undertook. Anybody who was somebody among his contemporary dramatists worked with him as he was, to quote Ben Jonson, "gentle Shakespeare", effable, co-operative, focussed quietly creative. He lived in dangerou A good (re)introduction to Shakespeare's works. This book recreates Shakespeare's world and relocates the poet in his own time, reconstructs the events, influences and the limitations that shaped Shakespeare's imagination. I had no idea of the extent of collaborative work that Shakespeare undertook. Anybody who was somebody among his contemporary dramatists worked with him as he was, to quote Ben Jonson, "gentle Shakespeare", effable, co-operative, focussed quietly creative. He lived in dangerous times when living double lives was dangerous business (Marlowe and Kyd's tragic ends bear testament to that) still scholars never stop speculating about the 'real' Shakespeare or 'Shakespeare-Bacon Theory' that we used to get so excited about. Then there were the religious tensions that adumbrate some of the plays. Personified in Hamlet's Ghost, the Catholic past can be seen as it merges into Protestant future: Ghost: I am thy father’s spirit; Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confin’d to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purg’d away. These were dangerous times and in Hamlet Shakespeare can be seen dealing with controversial material. I have ordered more books on Shakespeare now. Thanks Ms Potter for bringing me back to a subject that was very, very dear to me in a previous life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Fisher

    So far this is the best Shakespeare biography I've read. This biography stands above many other works in the field for two reasons. First of all, Potter engages in little to no speculation on the life of Shakespeare. Many popular biographers seem unable to resist a fanciful dramatization of Shakespeare. Potter is content to recognize that we know very little of the genesis of the bard. The second strength of Potter's biography is that she demonstrates that filling 500 pages doesn't require her t So far this is the best Shakespeare biography I've read. This biography stands above many other works in the field for two reasons. First of all, Potter engages in little to no speculation on the life of Shakespeare. Many popular biographers seem unable to resist a fanciful dramatization of Shakespeare. Potter is content to recognize that we know very little of the genesis of the bard. The second strength of Potter's biography is that she demonstrates that filling 500 pages doesn't require her to speculate and conjecture about the banal goings-on in his life. We know a great deal about the man through his works. Let me be clear, we don't know what he thinks about his father or his wife but we learn a great deal about his view of father-son relationships and marriage fidelity. Whether he practiced what he preached, wrote directly from his own experience, or idealized the character he failed to achieve in his own life is beyond the scope of good scholarship. Lois Potter doesn't go there but still manages to fill a long book with excellent insights and analysis of the Shakespeare we have - not one we imagine, but the one we discover when treating him as a masterful playwright of fictions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Daw

    This is an absolutely outstanding biography, full of fascinating insights. The known details of Shakespeare's life are fairly limited, and exhaustively repeated in many biographies, but Potter sorts them and values them in strikingly original ways. Her theatrical instincts are especially good, so she has really interesting things to say about the relationship of the life and works. I liked this MUCH better than Will in the World. Highly recommended!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mauro Charles

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ale

  12. 5 out of 5

    Valéria Borges

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heather Truckenmiller

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kanaga Lakshmi

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marie Kiell

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  17. 5 out of 5

    Barbie Goldsmith

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Friel

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Blanding

  20. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stella

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike O'Malia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  24. 5 out of 5

    Meera

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Tyrrell

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily Schmid

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tad Davis

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bernard

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tharkûn

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