Shakespeare the Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Vintage, 2005. Read in October and November 2014.
Little is known about Shakespeare’s life but what there is Ackroyd has put together into a very readable book. All of his non-fiction has a pleasant feel to it. Not only has he done his research but he enjoys his subjects. Having read quite a lot of biographies and other books about Shakespeare, I didn’t necessarily learn so much from this but liked reading about Shakespeare’s childhood in Stratford and his family life there. Ackroyd shows how his upbringing provided him with knowledge of life in the country which emerges often in his plays.
We follow Shakespeare’s moves around London and since Ackroyd has also written London the Biography the flavour and atmosphere of Elizabethan London comes alive in the descriptions of Shakespeare’s different neighbourhoods.
In general chronological order his plays are presented in the context of historical events and as much of his life as we know. People who knew Shakespeare are also brought to life on these pages.
Shakespeare himself as a witty, lusty, knowledgeable, hard-working professional, a warm and caring and generous friend and family man – though his sense of the economical could make him appear shrewd and even miserly – emerges on these pages and we are left with a clearer picture of him than we have ever seen before.
It was a pleasure to read and if you’re at all interested in reading about Shakespeare, this is an excellent book to start with.