From Publishers Weekly
Ben Jonson claimed that Shakespeare "was not of an age, but for all time!" Conversely, noted British Shakespeare scholar Bate (The Genius of Shakespeare
) attempts to prove that the Bard effectively represents the politically and socially complicated 16th-century environment and that his work can then—theoretically—illuminate his mysterious personal life with the notable exception of his marriage. While much is conjectured here, the scant biographical resources are well-used to painstakingly define Shakespeare's careers as actor, poet and playwright and to refute popular myths such as his purported retirement from writing. Bate's approach is more successful in confirming that Shakespeare typifies his age than in providing substantive biographical information based on hints hidden in the prolific body of work. Even so, Bate offers an excellent resource for students of English literature and the Elizabethan era in this thoughtful, well-researched and even playful explication of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets as they resonated in both the Elizabethan sphere and the less austere Stuart court while remaining relevant today. Illus. (Apr. 17)
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Whereas the recent crop of Bard biographies makes quite clear how obscure are the whereabouts of Shakespeare’s body during lengthy periods of his 52-year life span, Bate’s fifth Shakespearean book demonstrates that it’s much easier and no less fascinating to account for the poet-playwright’s mind. Using Jaques’ famous Seven Ages (i.e., life stages) of Man speech in As You Like It to plot the book, Bate runs to ground the sources of the ideas about and the concerns of each age that appear in the plays and poems. Shakespeare’s education, material circumstances, reading, and political and intellectual context affected him about equally overall, Bate shows, though each more or less greatly depending on the stage of life that was his immediate topic. Seasoned Shakespeareans already will know about how the works of Ovid, Plutarch, and Montaigne affect the poems and plays, but do they know how epicureanly skeptical Shakespeare was and from where that came? A book in which Bardolators may gratefully immerse themselves. --Ray Olson