Garry O'Connor's biography creates a vivd impression of Shakespeare's family life, his marriage and sexuality, the intimate details of his background, and his relationships with the theatre, his audiences and the towering political figures of his time such as Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex. It captures the darkness and confusion of his religious feelings, and his painful search for identity as well as his continuous commitments to change and development. O'Connor imaginatively and persuasively reconstructs the playwright's life and career.
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Garry O'Connor has been a major and prolific English biographer since his life of Ralph Richardson, published in 1980, was hailed in "The New York Times Book Review" as "Stunning... the best biography of an actor I've ever read," and by the "London Sunday Times" as an "astounding book, original in form and fascinating in content." He has subsequently written highly praised lives of Sean O'Casey, Peggy Ashcroft, Paul Scofield and William Shakespeare and, most recently, Alec Guinness. He lives in England with his wife and six children.
Rather than taking on the Sisyphean task of sifting through the reams of documents generated by zealous scholars, British biographer O'Connor has chosen "to give Shakespeare a life, not only as a historical figure who can be brought to life, but the dimension of one who is still living." This strategy, for him, entails two major departures from typical Bardology (such as Park Honan's bio earlier this year): First, O'Connor freely and assuredly speculates on the contents of Shakespeare's mind ("Fugitive Jesuits in disguise popped in and out of his imagination as vividly as images of woman's delight"; the Bard later finds that "twins are exhausting"). Second, he draws upon the thoughtful opinions of those who have worked closely with the plays in performance and in noncritical writings: Iris Murdoch, Jonathan Miller, Peter Brook and Trevor Nunn, among others. Their smartly chosen quips have a refreshing authority. O'Connor's approach to the plays themselves ranges from irreverently colloquial (Prospero's Epilogue is "the old man signing off") to casually shrewd--a digression on "the textual use of musical sounds and instruments" is as good as any of the academic research he eschews. While his hostility to the vicissitudes of contemporary scholarship is understandable, O'Connor's reliance on an 80-year-old book for a chronology of "facts and traditions" at the end surely weakens the chronology's credibility; many discoveries have since been made. As an idiosyncratic overview of Shakespeare's present-day status among admirers outside the Ivory Tower, the book's a gem, but its speculative aspects remain ungrounded. (Jan.)
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