Nine Lives of William Shakespeare

Graham Holderness

DOI: 10.5040/9781623561161

ISBN: 9781441151858

Acclaimed as the greatest dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare needs little introduction. Or does he? Going beyond Shakespeare the writer and actor, Graham Holderness explores the fact and fiction, tradition and myth, surrounding Shakespeare's life.

Combining biography and fictional narrative, Holderness takes a fresh critical approach to the problem of piecing together a definitive account of Shakespeare's life and work from scant historical information. Instead, this study builds upon and examines the many theories that surround the life of this well-known, yet remarkably unknown man. Nine Shakespeares are presented: writer, player, butcher boy, businessman, husband, friend, lover, Catholic and portrait. By carefully critiquing these biographies and reimagining these nine men, Nine Lives of William Shakespeare creates a unique picture of how this playwright became Shakespeare as he is understood today.

Shakespeare Now! is a series of short books that engage imaginatively and often provocatively with the possibilities of Shakespeare's plays. It goes back to the source – the most living language imaginable – and recaptures the excitement, audacity and surprise of Shakespeare. It will return you to the plays with opened eyes.

Required reading for anyone interested in Shakespeare's life or in how literary biography gets written. There's no better place to turn for distinguishing facts and traditions from more imaginative accounts of how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. Graham Holderness is a terrific guide and a talented writer.

There have of course been hundreds of biographies of William Shakespeare down the centuries, but none so breathtakingly nimble and adroit as this one. Shakespeare has long been a battleground between what can be historically verified and what in the end is simply speculation. Holderness – who is saturated in his subject – disentangles fact from fiction, but then starts to weave beautiful new tapestries of his own. This is the best and most enjoyably imaginative book on Shakespeare since Anthony Burgess' 'Nothing Like the Sun' – high praise, as Burgess' only rival was the chapter about Shakespeare in James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. Were he to bound back from beyond the grave, this is the volume Shakespeare himself would most love reading. Daily Mail

Holderness brilliantly shows how biography is built of a writer's desire to create a coherent life picture, one that explains a particular view of Shakespeare . . . The book is immensely thoughtful and written so clearly that it will engage al readers. Choice Magazine

One of the most original of biographical essays on Shakespeare. El Pais

'Nine Lives' belongs to the Shakespeare Now! series, which is defined by its editors as "a rallying cry... for aesthetic immediacy" on the "premise that art is as much as subject as an object, less like aggregated facts and more like a fascinating person or persons". Graham Holderness's fictional experiments serve that argument in that they abandon the posture of objectivity, but more essentially in their enjoyment of the escape. He is scrupulous about the facts, but denies that "the more data we possess, the more solid and dependable will be our understanding of the life", and instead offers Shakespeare biography as an exercise in negative capability: a form of storytelling which knows that, beyond interpretation, "Shakespeare keeps his silence". Times Literary Supplement

Graham Holderness knows the power of the Shakespeare myth and its fictions . . . in this volume, he offers a twist . . . Recognising the flimsy factual basis for Shakespeare biography, he draws on wit and wordplay to flesh out a fiction more palatable than the po-faced fantasies of the scholarly biographers. The nine Shakespeares on show here - writer, player, butcher boy, businessman, husband, friend, lover, Catholic and portrait - are each lovingly dissected before being painstakingly reassembled Times Higher Education

Hugely enjoyable . . . brilliantly imagined . . . the most fun I have had from a Shakespeare biography in a long time. Shakespeare

Genuine, and often excellent, fiction . . . a gifted writer. Shakespeare Quarterly

As a biographical study, this is fascinating for the way in which it looks at possible interpretations of a long-bygone life . . . any devotee of the Bard, or even of Tudor social history, will certainly find much to savour here. The Bookbag

Though always displaying allegiance to the traditional Shakespeare story, Holderness critiques the biographies in useful ways and shows just how weak and tenuous many of their assertions are . . . a dazzling satire. The Brooklyn Rail

This book takes a novel approach by presenting nine different theories about the Bard's possible lives. The Catholic Herald

[A]n interesting literary biography in which Holderness uses a combination of critical essays and fictional narratives to explore nine aspects of Shakespeare's life and career. "The Adventure of Shakespeare's Ring" is a pastiche that has Holmes, Watson, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Oscar Wilde examining the possibility that Shakespeare was a homosexual. Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press Newsletter

[Nine Lives of William Shakespeare] takes a fresh look at the facts, the traditions, and the possible relations between his life and the works that life created. The Perth Shakespeare Club

Holderness includes a creative piece of his own which both illustrates the creative investment involved in biography and provides some ironic funpoking at the serious Shakespearean biographies he follows. Holderness even stretches his repertoire, one must admit with some success, at Shakespearean porn. English

A witty exploration of [a] mutable subject . . . Holderness' range is impressive and his experience as a poet and novelist is always in evidence Shakespeare Survey

Graham Holderness is one of the best-known and most prolific of British Shakespearean scholars, not least in the area of Shakespeare and popular culture … Holderness offers no conventional biography … There is much to admire in this book, and in particular, I applauded observations on the origin of Shakespeare's celebrity as deriving from his work as an actor. The Shakespeare Newsletter