Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography (reviewed on page xx) is in four self-contained audio volumes. Ackroyd is unrivalled in vivifying the place as well as the person. Serious Shakespeare fans will find fresh material for their ongoing debate about how a country-raised young actor went to London and became England’s greatest playwright. Stratford was a medieval town of 1,900 souls, complete with jail, ducking stool, pillory and stocks. William’s father was a well-off glover, wool merchant and usurer; despite being prosecuted for refusing to convert to the Anglican Church, he was prominent in civic affairs. In church schools William learned history and the Bible. Higher school prepared him to be a gentleman, familiar with Latin and grammar, Ovid and Virgil. At eighteen he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, but later left her behind with their three children to pursue his destiny. Volume Two focuses on his coming to maturity at the same time as Elizabethan drama. Mocked by a jealous rival as ‘unlearned’ because he didn’t go to university, Shakespeare and the violent (and ‘learned’) Kit Marlowe influenced each other’s plays until during a tavern brawl Marlowe was murdered by a rapier through his eye. Simon Callow’s versatile reading is stunning.
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