Cover image for Shakespeare : a life
Shakespeare : a life
Honan, Park.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xvi, 479 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Reading Level:
1410 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR2894 .H65 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR2894 .H65 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the most complete, accurate, and up-to-date narrative of Shakespeare's life ever written, Park Honan uses a wealth of fresh information to dramatically alter our perceptions of the actor, poet, and playwright. The young poet's relationships, his early courtship of Anne Hathaway, their marriage, his attitudes to women such as Jennet Davenant, Marie Mountjoy, and his own daughters, are seen in a new light, illuminating Shakespeare's needs, habits, passions and concerns. Park Honan examines the world of theplaying companies -- the power of patronage, theatrical conditions, and personal rivalries -- to reveal the relationship between the man and the writing, and using previously unpublished material explores the causes of Shakespeare's success; Stratford childhood, his parents' capabilities, and hispreparations for a London career. Shakespeare: A Life casts new light on the complexity and fascination of Shakespeare's life and his extraordinary development as an artist.

Author Notes

Park Honan is a biographer and Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University of Leeds.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

There have been many biographies of Shakespeare over the years and even more scholarly studies. Few books, however, manage the artful balance of clarity and scholarship, of lucidity and wit that Honan offers in this immensely readable volume. Drawing on the voluminous new material about Shakespeare, his family, and his era that has been unearthed in recent years--sometimes literally: the book includes a discussion of the recently excavated Rose theater in London--Honan constructs a compelling portrait of Shakespeare and his times. Honan's research is painstaking. He seems to have combed through every relevant village record office and library in England and America, tracking down birth records, court documents, and other bureaucratic ephemera to verify who was where when and what they were up to. Sometimes what Honan reveals is not pretty: his discussion of the London theater scene and the scoundrels, cutpurses, and whoremongers who made it up makes it quite clear why acting was not considered a proper profession. But Honan's book is never boring. --Jack Helbig

Publisher's Weekly Review

So little evidence of Shakespeare's life exists that biographers have had to resort to sometimes far-fetched guesswork to flesh out a vivid chronicle of his days. Many of them would benefit from the healthy dose of common sense evident in Honan's latest critical study. As a leading biographer of Robert Browning and Jane Austen, Honan brings a sensible eye to the Sisyphean task of sifting through what is now called the "Shakespeare Industry." Synthesizing documentary material on Renaissance England with the latest scholarship‘be it Helen Vendler on the sonnets or Leeds Barroll on politics and plague in Elizabethan London‘Honan attempts to link, perhaps a little too closely, the Bard's life experiences with his literary representations. In an examination of Shakespeare's schooling, Honan refutes the oft-cited remark that he had "small Latin and less Greek" and finds analogies to his student years in such plays as The Merry Wives of Windsor and Hamlet. Honan vibrantly depicts Renaissance urban life, where "the theatre [was] a quick-paced, disenchanting funfair; with jigs, dancing, dumb-shows and clowns' acts interlaced with drama." Despite his insistence on historical context, however, Honan reserves most of his critical energies for the poet's high tragedies. In Hamlet, "pathos arises from his hero's idealization of a prior normalcy"; Othello contains a "flawless structure of feeling"; and Antony and Cleopatra investigates "non-literal truth, in myth, fable, and implicit connections between historical epochs." Studies of Shakespeare frequently reflect hotly contested trends in literary criticism; this biography's value, by contrast, lies in its responsibly researched, unflinching look at what is indisputably the artist's real achievement: "Far from soothing an audience," Honan writes, "Shakespeare depicts human nature in ways that are at once truthful and deeply troubling."(Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Honan (English, emeritus, Univ. of Leeds), author of biographies of Jane Austen, Matthew Arnold, and Robert Browning, aims to create the most up-to-date and accurate narrative of the bard's life yet penned. Dismissive of other writers who, in his view, have imagined moments and motives in Shakespeare's life, he tries to rely on documentary and contextualized fact. The result is a blow-by-blow account of Shakespeare's life from birth to death, with some attention paid to the historical, political, and social world Shakespeare inhabited. Extensive notes and a study of the biographical writings on Shakespeare to date conclude the work. At times this biography is overwritten for its target audience, the general public, and it can be slow reading. However, as the most up-to-date biography of Shakespeare, and certainly one of the most complete linear narratives, it is useful and therefore recommended for academic and larger public libraries.‘Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A seasoned biographer, Honan (emeritus, Univ. of Leeds, UK, and author of Matthew Arnold, CH, Dec'81, and Jane Austen, CH, Oct'88, among other works) argues that previous biographers have not connected the details of Shakespeare's life closely enough to local conditions in Tudor England and have instead treated Shakespeare's genius separately or projected modern sensibilities on an Elizabethan figure. For example, Honan points out, even one of Shakespeare's foremost biographers, Samuel Schoenbaum, errs in suggesting that 26-year-old Ann Hathaway was "long in the tooth" when she married William: in fact, historians have shown that 26 was about average marrying age for women in Hathaway's part of the country. Honan has steeped himself in the scholarship on Shakespeare's plays and presents his own interpretations of them as well as the most complete biography to date. Although one often hears the claim that not much is known about Shakespeare's life, Honan observes that details about Shakespeare's family and affairs continue to be discovered, thereby implying that his own work will be superseded one day. Honan includes useful appendixes on the Arden and Shakespeare families and on the Shakespeare biographical tradition. Recommended for readers at all levels. C. Rollyson Bernard M. Baruch College, CUNY

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Introductionp. ix
A Note on Conventions Used in the Textp. xvi
I. A Stratford Youth
1. Birth
Master Bretchgirdle's arrival
The chamberlain's first sonp. 3
2. Mother of the Child
Mary Shakespeare at Henley Street
'Hic incepit pestis'
Air and musicp. 11
3. John Shakespeare's Fortunes
In the bailiff's family
Debts and a downfallp. 25
4. To Grammar School
A classroom
Rhetoric at dawn
The Lord of Misrulep. 43
5. Opportunity and Need
'In the Countrey'
Upon a promontory
Returningp. 60
6. Love and Early Marriage
Anne Hathaway and the Shottery fields
A licence for lovers
After Davy Jones's showp. 72
II. Actor and Poet of the London Stage
7. To London--and the Amphitheatre Players
Streets and conduits
Hirelings, repertory, and poets
Crab the dogp. 95
8. Attitudes
Marlowe, Kyd, and Shoreditch
'I am the sea': Titus Andronicus and the Shrew
The white rose of Yorkp. 120
9. The City in September
Plague and prospects
The 'waspish little worme' and 'upstart Crow'
Shagbag, The Comedy of Errors, and Love's Labour's Lostp. 145
10. A Patron, Poems, and Company Work
To the 'Earle of Southampton'
The sonneteer
Politics and King Johnp. 169
11. A Servant of the Lord Chamberlain
Sharing with the Burbages
Dreams and the doors of breath
Falstaff, Hal, and a Henriadp. 196