Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Book Review – Biography

Stanley, Diane, and Peter Vennema. 1998. BARD OF AVON: THE STORY OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Ill. by Diane Stanley. New York: Morrow Junior Books.
ISBN 0688091091

This is a beautifully illustrated, brief biography of the world’s most famous and prolific playwright, William Shakespeare. In the telling of Shakespeare’s life, much is included regarding the history of theater itself, as well as the English language.

Proven historians, Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema, once again take on a subject about who little is documented. However, they are able through research and accurate illustrations of the period, to recreate for readers the life of William Shakespeare, whose prolific plays and poems have influenced the English language like no other writer since.
The authors are always careful to note when gaps in documented events force speculation about what might have happened, but the events suggested are always logical, given the point in time and place, for example when explaining that William’s father, John was the high bailiff of Stratford-on Avon, and responsible for deciding if an acting troupe would receive a license to perform, they state: “Perhaps he allowed his five-year-old son, William, to sit in front with him for the special performance.”

Their picture book format recreates for readers through the intricate stylized period illustrations the Tudor architecture as well as the daily life and customs of servants and gentry alike at the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century in England. Royalty is depicted in their finery; a peasant woman sells oranges to theater patrons.

Another aspect that lends to the authenticity of this biography is the fact that history is not sugar coated. Noted is the fact that it does not appear Shakespeare’s marriage to Anne Hathaway was a happy one. This is noted in the story as is the often unruly behavior of some theater-goers.

A postscript tells much of the history of the development of the English language and the tremendous impact Shakespeare had on its development. Many of the most common phrases used today—tongue-tied, budge an inch, set your teeth on edge, dead as a doornail, and many others—which were originally coined by Shakespeare reveal his brilliance as a writer in saying so precisely what is wished to be said.

Publishers Weekly(July 13, 1992)In this compact, informative biography, Stanley and Vennema return to the 16th-century England they portrayed so deftly in Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth of England. These seasoned raconteurs have sorted out historical facts, speculation and conjecture to neatly piece together the puzzle of Shakespeare's life.

Booklist(September 1, 1992) Gr. 3-8.
Stanley's finesse with the decorative elements of painting makes each illustration a pleasure and the whole book visually satisfying. Accessible to a wide age range, this is a fine introduction for anyone beginning to read Shakespeare. ~--Carolyn Phelan

Another biography of the Elizabethan times:

Other biographies by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema:
Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations
Joan of Arc
Leonardo da Vinci

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