Chute’s biography is popular rather than scholarly, as the absence of footnotes indicates. Despite Chute’s ten-page bibliography and occasional citation from an Elizabethan or Jacobean document, she made no effort to uncover new information; virtually all of her research was conducted at the New York Public Library. Nevertheless, young adults who want to understand Shakespeare in the context of his time will find Chute’s book a sensible and accessible introduction to the subject.
Unlike so many popular biographies of Shakespeare, Chute’s eschews myth. She relegates the sonnets and early legends to appendices, indicating her determination to write an objective account shorn of the stories that arose after Shakespeare’s death. Yet the occasional conjecture still surfaces. Chute assumes that Shakespeare learned little besides Ovid at Stratford Grammar School, thus ignoring the training in rhetoric and the broad introduction to the classics that his education provided. She assumes that by 1585 Shakespeare and his wife had become estranged, though there is no evidence that the two did not live together in London and Shakespeare repeatedly visited Stratford. The author further guesses that Anne had been reared as a Puritan and so detested plays and playwrights. Nevertheless, Chute avoids wild surmises.
Although Chute discounts such stories as the young Shakespeare being driven from Stratford by Sir Thomas Lucy because of the youth’s poaching of Lucy’s deer, her book is not devoid of those anecdotes that delight readers of all ages. Through these vignettes, not only Shakespeare but also many of his contemporaries come to life. One finds the details of...
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Shakespeare of London’s selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club testifies to the work’s appeal to general readers. Shakespeare scholars also greeted it enthusiastically. Alfred Harbage praised it in his review in The Nation, as did Douglas Bush in The New Republic. Oscar James Campbell spoke for most when he called Chute’s book “probably the best of all the ‘lives’ of Shakespeare that have recently been pouring from the press.”
The years 1949 and 1950 witnessed an outpouring of popular biographies of Shakespeare unusual even in the ever-productive Shakespeare industry. Unlike so many of these books, however, Chute’s has worn well because it is not thesis-ridden. Chute commented that her initial relative ignorance of her subject served her well in the writing process because she could weigh evidence objectively. Such an approach is especially important for young readers, who may easily be misled by less careful accounts that indulge pet theories.
While Samuel Johnson observed that tediousness is not the worst of faults, it may destroy interest for adolescents. Chute is never dull, and perhaps her chief success lies in her ability to stimulate the reader’s curiosity. One is likely to close her book resolved to explore further Shakespeare’s life and times, as she instructs delightfully.