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date: 24 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Modern Shakespeare biographies give special weight to details of Shakespeare’s life supported by reference to archival materials. The ‘documentary life’ records only those life-events in which the legal profession, church, and state have a vested interest, producing a ‘documentary life’ with a particular, predictable, shape—producing Shakespeare as a son, husband, and father, a Stratford resident, a property owner, and a sharer in a theatrical company. But this ‘documentary life’ obscures an earlier biographical tradition which is routinely dismissed as apocryphal. This essay aims to take seriously the seventeenth-century tellings of Shakespeare’s life, analysing them not for their ability to tally with the documentary traces but rather for what they say and where and how they say it. They provide a remarkably consistent characterization, and one that is often intriguingly at odds with the supposedly ‘authentic’, documentary Shakespeare.

Keywords: Shakespeare, seventeenth-century lives, undocumented, anecdote, manuscript, convivial, homosocial

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