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William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (Oxford Paperbacks) Paperback – May 14, 1987

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A splendid book that not only presents all salient information lucidly but that also quietly advises students as to the fragility of biographical allegations--a vivid lesson as to why scholarship matters!"--Dennis R. Dean, University of Wisconsin-Parkside

"Masterly...[Schoenbaum] manages to mention everything relevant, and the details are so organized that we never lose sight of the design of the whole....This book will remain the standard life for many years."--Kenneth Muir, Shakespeare Quarterly

"Schoenbaum is the outstanding living authority on Shakespeare's biography....The 'Compact Life' is essential reading for anyone even moderately curious about the current state of Shakespeare biography."--O.B. Hardison, Jr., Georgetown University

"[This book] is the abridged amplified version of the magnificent $50 edition. The Shakespearean authority strips away four centuries of myths, mistakes, and scholarly embellishments; the Bard emerges, pristine, more fascinating than ever."--The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"No student or reader of the plays can afford to neglect Schoenbaum either in the earlier luxurious book or in the graceful, sure-handed compact documentary life now available. The first is an investment, the new one proof that small too can be beautiful."--The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

S. Schoenbaum, Director of the Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies at the University of Maryland, is the author of Shakespeare's Lives and Shakespeare: The Globe and the World.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised ed. edition (May 14, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195051610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195051612
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Schoenbaum's book, which I have used to teach college courses for years, is rigorous and objective in its scholarship. He succeeds in separating the legend from the fact, and gives us the best possible view of the notoriously elusive "man who was Shakespeare." The text is eminently readable, and irresistably interesting.
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Format: Paperback
I was a personal friend of Sam's in fact a neighbor of his in Maryland for 6 years. I spoke with him a week before he passed away and he was telling me that Shakespeare's Identity was still an elusive subject for him and other scholars. He felt that his book ,William Shakespeare : A Compact Documentary Life, a lifelong pursuit was a good primer for beginners but that he felt incomplete about it and wished he had another life to make changes. This I found powerful as he was willing to be open about this and not be stuck in being an expert. Although his research in this book carries influence as authoritarian on Shakespeare's life , Sam up till the end of his life was convinced there had to be more. His publisher of course was unwilling to consider a new revised edition. But one thing Sam stressed over and over in the book as well that it was important for teachers who used his research to be careful in not telling students this was the absolute Gospel on Shakespeare's life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In graduate school, I asked an eminent Shakespeare scholar for recommendations on Shakespeare biographies to consult for my thesis on _Measure for Measure_, and he pointed to this work. After studying modern Shakespeare criticism, it is clear that this is, and has been since the 70s, the seminal biography of the bard. Schoenbaum's biography is a shorter version of his more magisterial volume (Shakespeare: A Documentary Life). I prefer the readability of this 'compact' life, in that it excludes Schoenbaum's sometimes lengthy considerations (in the full version) of critical controversies regarding Shakespeare's life.

What makes this biography so impressive and so esteemed by scholars is its (mainly) objective presentation of the facts surrounding Shakespeare's life. He avoids much of the speculation and even fantasizing of many Shakespeare biographies out there, including Stephen Greenblatt's readable and rewarding imagining. Whereas some scholars eagerly interpret the plays as windows into Shakespeare's life, even using excerpts from the plays as biographical evidence, Schoenbaum tends to present the facts without interpretation.

For those students and teachers of Shakespeare out there looking for a complete and unbiased presentation of the facts of Shakespeare's life, I recommend this biography over all others.

But a word of warning: do not expect a colorful portrait of Shakespeare. Because of the lack of evidence, Shakespeare's life can come across as frustratingly incomplete. If you experience this impression, it is a sign you are reading a dispassionate presentation of the facts. Also, do not expect much interpretation of the plays. Such is the approach of impressionistic biographers, and their biographies, while more readable, involve inferences that tell you more about the biographer than Shakespeare.
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Detailed. Thorough and informative, speculative as well as theoretical.
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