Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life by Katherine Duncan-Jones - review by Robert Nye

Robert Nye

The Dark Side of The Stratford Man

Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life


Arden Shakespeare 322pp £20

‘Gentle’ was the epithet most often applied to Shakespeare by his contemporaries. They seem to have meant that he was mild and self-effacing, although some of them no doubt were being sarcastic about a fellow first regarded as an ‘upstart crow’. Ben Jonson, in particular, called his friend and rival ‘gentle’ as part of a habit of mocking the Stratford man’s ambition to be considered a gentleman. When in 1596 Shakespeare acquired a coat of arms for his family, complete with the motto non sanz droict (‘not without right’), Jonson lost no time in sneering at him in his very next play, where the country bumpkin Sogliardo’s motto is ‘not without mustard’.
Katherine Duncan-Jones has called her biography Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from his Life. The second part of that title defines the thematic nature of the book - what we have here is a series of linked insights rather than a comprehensive survey. Most of those insights, though, are concerned to illustrate

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