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Although the publishers call it a biography, Peter Quennell's original working title, In Search of Shakespeare, is far more apropos. Going against the tide of current chi-chi scholarship (Shakespeare was really Bacon or Marlowe or Oxford), Quennell sets sail with Shakespeare as the Stratfordian all college courses know and then voyages towards and into the dramatic islands, mountains, wonderlands the Elizabethan master forged beyond the competitive reach of anyone before or since. Quennell has an immense understanding of and a shrewd sympathy for his hero; the excerpts out of the poems and plays are all almost faultlessly chosen; and like the professional progress of Shakespeare himself, Quennell's commentary grows from chapter to chapter in a smooth, spacious movement. If it lacks, and it does, the pile-driving intricacies of people like Knight or Caroline Spurgeon or Dover Wilson, it still sparks-up the imagination and stimulates the interest in a way they do not. Further, his conjectures on the complexities of Shakespeare the man (his idealism and opportunism; his instinctive irresolution between the dark dour world and the world of the sweet; his relationships with Southampton and Essex and the famed fall of the two), are all correlated to the theatrical creations themselves, from the idyllic, amoral pastorals to the later tragedies, the stripped-to-the-bone, individualism and isolation of Hamlet and Anthony, Lear and Macbeth, and finally the penultimate upsurge with Prospero and The Tempest, and the magician believing in his magic once again. A beautifully balanced book, a fresh, fluent assault on a seemingly limitless landmark.

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 1963
Publisher: World