More Acts to Come

The Biography
Peter Ackroyd
Doubleday, $32.50, 500 pp.

In 1998 the American academic Park Honan published Shakespeare: A Life, a modest biography that reminded the literary world that, alongside the mass of peripheral material and speculation thrown up by centuries of scholarship, there has been a steady growth in what is actually known about William Shakespeare. Two years later Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare followed the same approach, meticulously examining all the known facts and confirming that many of them conflict with the traditional picture of Shakespeare. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Ungentle Shakespeare) highlighted the contrast. She drew the portrait of a wary, ambitious, and effective man of business, who pursued debtors relentlessly through the courts and was expert in the law, dodging taxes, and avoiding obligatory attendance at Protestant services. His rise was hard-working and meteoric: by his early forties he had become the leading court dramatist, a best-selling author, and a box-office draw. Yet all three writers point out that he ran a surprising risk for such a canny operator: throughout his life his close friends, patrons, and colleagues were for the most part dissident Catholics. In...

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About the Author

Clare Asquith is the author of Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare (Public Affairs).