When S. Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives first appeared over twenty years ago, critics enthusiastically hailed it as a triumph of wit and scholarship. Stanley Wells, the editor of Shakespeare's complete works, called it "an extraordinary achievement....fluent, vivid, and intelligent." Writing in the Saturday Review, Benjamin DeMott described Shakespeare's Lives as "a superbly informed, elegantly composed, intensely readable book," while Terry Eagleton remarked on its "shrewd intelligence." Schoenbaum's study of the changing images of Shakespeare throughout history broke important new ground; but in the years since this book first appeared many scholars have followed his lead, and Shakespeare studies has progressed by leaps and bounds. Now, Schoenbaum, one of "the heroes of Shakespeare scholarship," according to Wells, has revised and up-dated this classic study of Shakespeare and his biographers, taking account of the most recent scholarship, adding a chapter on "Recent Lives," and abridging certain sections.
Schoenbaum takes us on a tour of the countless myths and legends which have arisen to explain the great dramatist's life and work, bringing the story right up to 1989 with the publication of A.L. Rowse's Discovering Shakespeare. In the new edition, the emphasis is on more recent "lives" of Shakespeare, with information culled from such diverse sources as E.A.J. Honigmann's Shakespeare: The "Lost Years" and Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde (Wilde's Portrait of Mr W.H. advanced his theory of the Sonnets in fictional form). Besides fanciful theories such as Wilde's, Schoenbaum covers those who have used blatant forgery to construct an imaginary Shakespeare, such as W.H. Ireland and J.P. Collier (the latter would occasionally add his own verse to the Shakespeare canon), and those who have attempted elaborate argumentation to establish the identity of Shakespearean characters (A.L. Rowse claimed to have identified the elusive "Dark Lady" of the Sonnets). From Ben Jonson, whose celebratory verse opens the First Folio of Shakespeare's complete works (published seven years after his death), to Malcolm X, who denied the existence of a historical Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Lives considers virtually the entire legacy of idolatry, heresy, and speculation.
As before, Schoenbaum submits the documentary record of Shakespeare's life to careful consideration. Like a literary detective, he reconstructs as much of the elusive author's life as possible, considering his family history, his economic standing, and his reputation with his peers. The Shakespeare who emerges may not always be the familiar one (he was less vaunted by his contemporaries than we usually believe, for example), but all of Schoenbaum's claims are exquisitely documented.
Even in this revised and abridged version, Schoenbaum's narrative leaves hardly a stone unturned--from Samuel Johnson, Samuel Coleridge, and Alexander Pope to twentieth-century writers like James Joyce, E.K. Chambers, and Anthony Burgess (whose popular life of Shakespeare appeared the same year as the first edition of Schoenbaum's book). Curiousity about Shakespeare has not subsided since the original version of this classic appeared. This new edition will make the latest lives of Shakespeare available to a whole new generation of the Bard's fanatical followers.
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