Kay (English/Oxford) calls his chronicle of Shakespeare's life, work, and times a ""modest"" presentation for the ""curious""--which apparently excuses him from scholarly rigor as well as from considering recent Shakespearean research and theories. ""Every age,"" Kay begins, ""creates the Shakespeare, or Shakespeares it needs."" The Shakespeare he displays--assembled from public records of christenings, weddings, deaths, real-estate transactions, and law cases--is a businessman, a crafty materialist who occasionally wrote plays. True, there is little primary information extant about the Elizabethan playwright: no letters, diaries, journals, or even accurate portraits. But having abandoned the ""academic Shakespeare industry,"" Kay offers little to replace it. He provides some useful but commonplace information--about the fortunes of various acting companies and the influence of King James I on literary life--and plot summaries. But the ""lost"" years, 1579-92, from school to Shakespeare's dramatic success (the ""implied parallel"" with the same period in Christ's life ""hardly needs to be dwelt on too closely""), are simply dismissed, like all the other mysteries that comprise the Shakespeare myth. The sonnets, Kay contends, had nothing to do with Shakespeare's amorous life: They were written for a patron in an assumed voice. Nor is there any concern here about how an itinerant actor with little education could have translated the lives of Plutarch into the Roman plays, the complexities of court life into the histories, and the subtleties of human feeling into the romances. While it's legitimate to reject the ""off-putting apparatus of scholarly references,"" there has to be some reasonable substitute: originality, style, perception, depth--none of which surfaces here.