Young Shakespeare (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
In a book that chronicles the life of William Shakespeare for its first thirty years, Russell Fraser points out that biographers know more about Shakespeare than about any of his contemporaries, dramatists such as Robert Greene and Ben Jonson. Anyone who examines E. K. Chambers’ William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (1930) or Samuel Schoenbaum’s more recent William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (1975) recognizes the soundness of the point. Historical scholarship has uncovered numerous details and records concerning Shakespeare and his family. Yet Fraser’s comment misses the mark in one important respect. The biographical details that exist about Shakespeare—church records, business documents, deeds, a will—reveal little about the subject as a person. Anecdotes that indicate something about Shakespeare’s personality, though numerous, usually date from a much later time or derive from questionable sources and therefore remain unreliable. Shakespeare himself apparently avoided public controversy, kept his political and religious opinions to himself, and left no personal writings at all. On the other hand, the kind of information that exists about Robert Greene and Ben Jonson enables one to make inferences about their personalities and characters, for they were much more willing to reveal their emotions in conversations and writings that have survived. To cite another example, this one of a poet born eight years before...
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