Shakespeare – The Biography

Peter Ackroyd

Ackroyd richly conjures up the texture of Shakespeare’s life, and at the same time imparts an amazing amount of vivid, interesting material about place, period and background.

‘Ackroyd at the height of his powers. A tour de force.’ Sunday Times

‘Superb. The book Peter Ackroyd was born to write.’ Daily Mail

‘A leading biographer at the top of his game.’ FT

‘Fascinating. An elegant synthesis of previous scholarship and offering us an intuitive feel for the man and his times. Ackroyd comes into his own as he brings sixteenth-century Stratford to life with the deftest touches.’ Tatler

‘Ackroyd is the best and most panoramic of biographers. Powerful’ Mail on Sunday

‘Ackroyd’s enthusiasms are most apparent in the sub-sections about individual plays, which are well tied in with the overall narrative, relating the works to the career and to the growth of Shakespeare’s reputation.’ Observer

‘As straightforward as it is ambitious… A sort of sequel to London: The Biography. Ackroyd invokes not only the national culture of an age, but something still more abstract. Shakespeare, here, is the “greatest exemplar” of “the English imagination”, properly belonging in the company of Dickens, Turner and Chaucer, but more quintessential than any of them. Ackroyd powerfully evokes the jostling, youthful, lethal city, and speculates convincingly on the intimate connections between this brave new world and the unprecedented drama that Shakespeare was to create in its crucible. A paradoxical figure emerges. He is elusive and self-contradictory, a pragmatic visionary who reveals no opinions about anything; the author of plays that seem obsessed with hierarchy and apologetic for establishment power, but that are, at the same time, individualistic and egalitarian. This is a story as old as Shakespeare. But Ackroyd tells it well, with a combination of carefully marshalled evidence and rich imaginative empathy. He is an enthusiast and he makes an eager, engaging guide, tirelessly scattering nuggets of fact and diving with gusto into Shakespeare’s writing at every opportunity. In the end, it is because of his keen critical feeling for the plays themselves that Ackroyd’s portrait of the man convinces.’ Scotland on Sunday

‘Everything one would expect from a leading biographer at the top of his game. His recreation of Elizabethan London is masterful. He knows the plays and understands better than academic biographers how Shakespeare went about researching and writing. Ackroyd’s great gift as a biographer is his capacity to engage sympathetically with his subject. What he has accomplished is impressive. And his biography ranks with the best of them.’ Financial Times

‘Demystifies the man and the artist. . . . Expertly evokes the townscape and landscape in and around Stratford, and the corresponding mindscape that vividly merges the urban and the rustic.’ The New York Times

‘William Shakespeare’s London comes to life with remarkable immediacy and clarity. . . . Ackroyd’s research is impressive.’ San Francisco Chronicle

‘Ackroyd provides the sights and sounds (and smells) of Stratford and London until you’d swear Shakespeare was right at your elbow, sipping ale.’ The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Captures the thrill of London and of a theater emerging, in a ‘hard and disenchanted age,’ to replace the church as the center of communal spectacle.’ The Wall Street Journal

‘Creates a tapestry of Elizabethan London so rich that you feel you’ve been there.’ Independent on Sunday


  • Chatto & Windus UK
  • Nan A Talese USA
  • Knaus Germany
  • Neri Pozza Italy
  • Editions Philippe Rey France
  • Edhasa World Spanish
  • Partvonal Hungary
  • Teorema Portugal
  • Alpina Russia
  • Hakusui-Sha Japan
  • Mikri Arktos Greece
  • Beijing Normal University Press China (simplified – rights reverted)
  • Jarrous Press World Arabic
  • Meulenhoff NL (rights reverted)

Material: finished copies (546pp)