“Shakespeare led a life of Allegory: his works are the comments on it.” Keats’s remark has licensed too much irresponsible speculation and novelettish embroidery masquerading as biography. E. K. Chambers and Samuel Schoenbaum are the major exceptions to this statement, although neither is immune from the odd flight of fancy. Chambers called his book of 1930 William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, and if the factual deposit has grown imperceptibly since then, so have the problems. Schoenbaum never wrote a formal biography, but his scrupulous commentary on the documents, William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (1975), makes a telling contrast to the lunacies of biographers which he charted so entertainingly in Shakespeare’s Lives (1970, revised 1991). Park Honan certainly can’t be accused of sensationalism; he moves at a stately pace through the chronological sequence of events, and is willing to...


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