This is a splendid and thoroughly absorbing book, one to read quickly at an enthusiastic gallop, and then to return to reading with care, relishing the observations and speculations which Ackroyd throws so copiously and prodigally before us. Admittedly, the subtitle is a silly misnomer, the definite article presumptuous. There is no shortage of biographies of Shakespeare, and many of them are good; an excellent one by Park Honan was published only a few years ago, for example. But just as you never come to the end of Shakespeare, so there will always be more biographies, if only because the challenge is there to be met. None can ever be definitive.