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The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography Hardcover – May 7 2012

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A great book for Shakespeare lovers July 27 2012
By Peter J. - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book is encyclopedic in its treatment of Shakespeare. It covers not only the little that contemporaneous records tell us about him, but also discusses his poetry and plays, and the theater of Elizabethan England. This is one case where the publisher's blurbs do not overstate the overwhelming amount of detail included in this book. The book is chronological, covering each period of his life and his work, but it is so much more. For instance, there are sections that cover things like:
· Playwrights of the 1580's
· Shakespeare the actor
· Shakespeare's coat of arms
· Satire and satiric drama (as well as other aspects of drama)
· The financing of theater companies and theaters, including the Globe theater
· A detailed discussion of Shakespeare's death, his will, and what became of his descendants
· Discussions regarding the production of the Shakespeare folios, how the various folio versions changed over time, how his plays have been produced in altered forms both for the stage and for film and TV, and the appropriation of characters he created for derivative modern plays

His poems and each play are discussed. This discussion includes the influence of other poems and plays on his writing, how his individual poems and plays influenced his later works, the influences of history and politics on the creation and presentation of his plays, the nature of the presentation of the plays and their popularity, and much more. The book contains a lot about the history of Elizabethan England, both as background and how it influenced individual plays. The book also goes into detail about Shakespeare's father, discuses other playwrights such as Christopher Marlow and Ben Jonson, and aspects of Shakespeare's life such his marriage (and why the wrong name for his wife was recorded in the marriage record), and his relationship with his brothers, sisters and children. There are copious endnotes after each chapter, 31 pages of bibliography, a very useful genealogy chart, an index and 24 black and white illustrations interspersed in the text.

The question of the claim that Shakespeare was not the true author of all of the material attributed to him is covered in only one lengthy paragraph, which does not support the contention that someone else wrote what is attributed to Shakespeare. While not specifically addressed, I think that the book provides a lot of evidence that point to the conclusion that William Shakespeare was indeed "Shakespeare". Professor Potter shows that Shakespeare was a gentleman in the Elizabethan sense of the word (his father was relatively rich (at least while William was a boy), a bailiff (mayor) of Stratford, and William was maternally descended from the noble Arden family), which entitled him to his own coat of arms. This meant that he would have had a good grammar school education, which would have provided him with the ability to read the Latin classics in the original Latin, as well as the overall background to have written what is attributed to him. There is no evidence that Shakespeare traveled outside England and this has led to the charge that he could not have written the plays that take place outside England because he would not have had the knowledge of place that is evident in the plays. However this is refuted by the fact that these plays are based on the prior widely available work of others. Thus, the material in this book does not support the argument that Shakespeare did not write what is attributed to him. However, I am sure that this will not still the controversy surrounding the authorship of all that is attributed to Shakespeare. To a large extent I think that the scope and importance of Shakespeare's poems and plays makes it difficult for many to believe that a man about which relatively little is known could have authored all this body of work. However, I feel that this book fills in many of the blanks regarding Shakespeare and makes his authorship much more plausible.

The level of detail in this book is overwhelming, which is not without its downside. So much is covered that I feel that that the details and the numerous subchapters compromised the narrative flow of the book and made it quite dry, making it a four-star book for me. This will be not problem for those who are looking for this level detail, but the more casual reader may be overwhelmed. This is definitely a five-star book for hardcore Shakespeare lovers and those interested in theater and the history of Elizabethan England.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Better than average in this field Aug. 16 2012
By Thomas F. Dillingham - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Biographies of Shakespeare must account for whatever recent discoveries scholars may have revealed, and they usually reflect the prevailing theoretical or critical stances of recent Shakespeare scholarship. This Blackwell Biography, within the perameters of that series, manages to do both of those, and to provide the curious reader with a dependable and enjoyable narrative that sums up what is known and much that is thought--especially about Shakespeare's life in the theater of his time--that would be useful. It is not as challenging nor exciting a book as Ackroyd's, for example, and is unlikely to stir controversy--but that latter is a good thing. The tiresome continuation of the "anti-Stratfordian" arguments, in all their preposterous variety, will offer those who wish for it all the excitement (empty, pointless, even malign in some cases) they could ask for. The prose style is modest and the critical comments about the plays and poems are illuminating without usurping the reader's ability to make judgments on her or his own. On the whole, while this is not the most brilliant work of its kind, it can certainly be given enthusiastic support as a trustworthy and readable introductory study of Shakespeare's life, and that is a good thing to have available.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
More about Shakespeare's works than the man himself July 4 2012
By Bruce Trinque - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Any biographer of Willaim Shakespeare is immediately handicapped by the paucity of contemporary documentary evidece. Beyond such scraps of information such as baptismal records, any biographer is forced to speculate and to make best guesses. Important background matters remain forever unknowable to any certainty. Was William Shakespeare secretly a Roman Catholic? Maybe yes and perhaps no. Lois Potter does all that can be expected with such limited hard data, but for most of this quite densely packed book, she must resort to examining the details of Shakespeare's plays and poems to find hints of the man who wrote them. She accords the greatest importance to Shakespeare's experiences as a "player" on the theatrical stages of London and on rural tours, experiences that taught him first-hand the limitations and potentialities of live performances. What emerges ultimately is more of a portrait perhaps of the English theater of the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth centuries than a thorougly detailed standard biography.

The reader of this volume cannot expect anything like a biography of a modern figure, filled with racy and intimate details.` Instead, this is a scholar's study of a body of literature created by a rare genius.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Better Understanding this Famous and Revered Author Sept. 25 2012
By Forrest Wildwood - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Lois Potter takes a deep dive into Shakespeare, and the theater world that was evolving around him, in this critical biography of the playwright poet. Filled with facts that never seem to devolve into the unknowable and unprovable. The one thing that I can say about his book is that Potter keeps all these facts and information on an even keel. This is quite the accomplishment especially on a subject and body of work that she really likes and admires. In addition to his plays, the book contains information gleaned about the other dramatist who collaborted with Shakespeare and were a vital part of his life and work. I really enjoyed this book and applaud the effort that Potter takes in bringing to life the world of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatre. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Shakespeare, the Theatre and his time and place.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Exploration of the Literary and Historical Context of Shakespeare's Life and Plays July 14 2012
By Nancy Famolari - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Very little is known about the background and facts of Shakespere's life, or about how he came to write his plays. However, there is a rich fund of historical detail about his time and the people who were involved in dramatic pursuits. The author uses these sources to give us a fascinating look at the historical context in which Shakespeare worked and the people who might, and probably did, influence his creative efforts.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have been fascinated by Shakespeare from my undergraduate years when I did my thesis on Hamlet. This book, although intended as a text book for scholars, is very readable. The information is fascinating. I was struck by the opening where we learn where Shakespeare's parents lived and who their neighbors were.

I found the author's analysis of the plays extremely interesting. Instead of concentrating on the literary merits, she talked about how the play may have come to be written, who might have influenced the development, and whether there were people who might have been prototypes, or have used similar ideas or language in their productions.

I highly recommend this book if you love Shakespeare and want to know more about his life and what influenced his work. You don't have to be a scholar to understand and enjoy the book.