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