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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd ed. edition (May 7 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631207848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631207849
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.8 x 23.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 780 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,188,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“Two of the Mighty dead have been brought back to life in exemplary fashion: Shakespeare in Lois Potter’s The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography, which very cleverly uses expert theatre-knowledge as a way of making her enigmatic subject seem plausibly substantial; and Keats in Nicholas Roe’s John Keats: A New Life, which puts the poet properly in his place.”  (The Guardian, 24 November 2012)

“This study will have wide appeal to readers who wish to expand their appreciation of the works of William Shakespeare.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.”  (Choice, 1 November 2012)

“These form the narrative spine of this richly suggestive, undogmatic book in which Lois Potter ranges across the entire canon and the period that helped produce it.”  (Around the Globe, 1 October 2012)

“Lois Potter’s Life of William Shakespeare, ranks with the most distinguished examples of its kind … Her achievement lies in her catholicity, her simultaneous commitment to matters personal, historical, theatrical, literary, cultural.  She exhibits an absolute command of the available facts, a lifetime’s acquaintance with the works gained in teaching and playgoing, an unparalleled familiarity with theatrical history from 1567 to the present, and a talent for connecting the fictional and the actual.”  (Times Literary Supplement, 10 August 2012)


“Lois Potter’s book provides a delightful guide through Shakespeare’s world. A splendid introduction for those new to the facts about Shakespeare’s life, it is also a revelation for anyone all too familiar with them. The Life of William Shakespeare revitalizes old truths by asking questions where none seemed necessary, by filling in new detail, and most of all, by approaching the material from the perspective of a would-be, then practicing and collaborating, player-playwright. Lois Potter’s unique emphasis, on Shakespeare’s imaginative life and the words that fed it, works brilliantly to produce what I would have thought impossible: a really new biography that never thins into mere speculation. Learned, modest, witty and above all smart, the book will be a must-read for anyone who cares about early modern theater.”
Meredith Skura, Rice University

“By keeping her eye on the enduring power of Shakespeare’s writing, Lois Potter manages to gather all the interesting and puzzling questions we have asked about his life into a focused and authentically critical biography. She is adventurous in taking on speculation and counter-speculation but never allows us to confuse conjecture with fact. Richly informative and engagingly written, this book should appeal to general readers as well as to professional Shakespeareans.”
Edward Pechter, Concordia University

“Lois Potter has produced an astonishing, revelatory, fully literary biography. The Life of William Shakespeare is a product of deep reservoirs of historical knowledge, theatrical experience, and critical acumen, all deployed with an extraordinarily sympathetic imagination. Potter adjudicates standing quarrels about the life story with intelligence and dispassion, offers up scintillating new readings of the works, and produces interesting and original observations on every page.”
Lena Cowen Orlin, Executive Director, Shakespeare Association of America, and Professor of English, Georgetown University

“This is not just (just!) a biography of Shakespeare: it is a theatrical biography. It uses Potter’s immense, unrivalled knowledge of things theatrical to draw very logical and frequently original inferences.”
Laurie Maguire, Oxford University

“This is a lively, fresh new introduction to the life of Shakespeare, no mere regurgitating of earlier lives. It reads well. It is judicious, intelligent, coherent, and well documented.”
David Bevington, University of Chicago

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa3adf444) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa413b270) out of 5 stars 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.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa413b4bc) out of 5 stars A great book for Shakespeare lovers July 27 2012
By Metallurgist - 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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa413b6f0) out of 5 stars 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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa413ba2c) out of 5 stars 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.
HASH(0xa413bc78) out of 5 stars One of the best biographies of Shakespeare Nov. 14 2014
By Osa D. Coffey - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of the best biographies of Shakespeare. Avoids too many assumptions and guesses about Shakespeare's life--a common fault in much Shakespeare biography since the facts of his life are few-Potter focuses on fine readings of the plays and what that can tell us about his life.