Shakespeare (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Although its title suggests a biography, Stanley Wells’s Shakespeare: A Life in Drama is in reality a critical survey of the dramatist’s literary achievement, encompassing all the dramas and poems. While the first chapter does summarize the essential facts of William Shakespeare’s life and additional biographical details are scattered throughout the text, Wells devotes himself primarily to critical explorations. The book stands in the tradition of similar critical introductions such as E. K. Chambers’ Shakespeare: A Survey (1959) and Mark Van Doren’s Shakespeare (1939). A major difference, however, arises from the organization that Wells adopts.
Like the two books cited and numerous other works of their type, Wells examines the Shakespeare canon chronologically. Yet instead of devoting a chapter to each of the thirty-eight plays, he limits the number of chapters by assigning most dramas to groups. Among the plays, only Othello (pr. 1604) and Macbeth (pr. 1606) receive chapter-length analysis. King Lear (pr. 1605-1606) is logically paired with Timon of Athens (pr. 1607-1608), not only because of their proximity of composition dates but also because of their comparable themes and characters. Similar factors serve to link each of the two English history tetralogies in two separate chapters, with a similar single chapter dealing with five of the ten history plays. As many as five...
(The entire section is 1968 words.)
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