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Title: Shakespearean biografiction: how modern biographers rely on context, conjecture and inference to construct a life of the Bard
Authors: Kevin, Gilvary
Advisors: Leahy, W
Gaston, S
Keywords: Shakespeare;Biography;Life-writing;Historical fiction
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: Modern biographies of William Shakespeare abound: new studies appear almost every year, each claiming new research and new insights, while affirming that there are enough records for a documentary life. In this thesis, I argue that no biography of Shakespeare is possible due to insufficient material, that most of what is written about Shakespeare cannot be verified from primary sources, and that Shakespearean biography did not attain scholarly or academic respectability until Samuel Schoenbaum’s Documentary Life (1975). The thesis therefore is concerned with demythologising Shakespeare by exposing numerous “biogra-fictions.” I begin by reviewing the history and practice of biography as a narrative account of a person’s life based on primary sources. Next I assess the very limited biographical material for Shakespeare identifying the gaps, e.g. there is no record that he spent any of his childhood in Stratford or ever attended school. A historical review of writing about Shakespeare demonstrates that there were no serious attempts to reconstruct his life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, merely some comments and unverifiable anecdotes. I demonstrate that the greatest Shakespearean scholar, Edmond Malone, realised that no narrative account of Shakespeare’s life was possible. I show how the earliest biographies of Shakespeare emerged in the 1840s in line with the Victorian need to identify national heroes. Schoenbaum’s deeply flawed study has greatly influenced academics who have followed his structure and myths in their own biographies. My analysis of the contrasting descriptions of Shakespeare’s relationships with Southampton and with Jonson demonstrate that the very limited biographical material can only be expanded through speculation and inference. Finally, I propose that study of Shakespeare’s life should be confined to discrete topics, starting from a sceptical examination of primary sources. Any attempt at an account of his life or personality amounts, however, merely to “biografiction”.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Dept of Arts and Humanities Theses

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