In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section William Shakespeare

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Reference Works
  • Data Sources
  • Journals
  • Overviews and Companions
  • Source Materials
  • Shakespeare and the Classics
  • Critical History
  • Recent Criticism
  • Language and Style
  • Editorial and Textual Issues
  • Politics and Patronage
  • Performance History
  • Shakespeare on Film

British and Irish Literature William Shakespeare
Andrew Hadfield, Amy Kenny
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0085


William Shakespeare (b. 1564–d. 1616) is widely regarded as the greatest writer and dramatist of all time. His poetry, plays, and life continue to fascinate academics, theater practitioners, and the general public over four hundred years after his death. Over the course of his career, he wrote 154 sonnets, forty plays that are known about (not all of which are extant), two narrative poems, and had a major influence on the development of English as a world language. Literary and theater critics, historians, cultural commentators, journalists, major authors, and philosophers have engaged in a variety of ways with his work, studying and analyzing an enormous range of themes: editorial and textual issues, feminism, psychoanalysis, politics, patronage, performance history, and film studies. This selective bibliography aims to provide the reader with an introductory guide through the enormous amount of material available that tries to explain why Shakespeare’s work matters and is relevant in the 21st century. Shakespeare has been analyzed and studied in almost every conceivable way, and there is a massive bibliography of literary criticism, historical contextualization, theater history, theoretical readings, biography, and, of course, speculation.


From his early years in Stratford-upon-Avon to his successful career in the playhouse of London, Shakespeare’s life and art have been profusely studied and analyzed for clues about his work. This section will give a sense of the different approaches to exploring Shakespeare’s life. Shakespeare was thought of as an untutored genius and was regarded with some suspicion by 18th-century men of letters and embraced by the Romantics; however, recent evidence has pointed out that he had a series of entrepreneurial dealings with his company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and this has influenced recent conceptions of him. Instead of merely being thought of as a writer, Shakespeare is now thought to be a shrewd business man who was a shareholder in his company and profited from their success. Schoenbaum 1991 provides an exhaustive list of the stories that have circulated about Shakespeare in order to provide the basis for analyzing the life records. Shapiro 2006 isolates one year of Shakespeare’s life as a microcosm for his biography and as a means of explaining the cultural life of London at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, while Ackroyd 2005 analyze records from various points in his life to create cradle-to-grave biographies. Duncan-Jones 2001 compiles evidence to suggest that Shakespeare was less the untutored genius of romantic legend and more a social climber who was interested in material gain. Bate 2009 uses information about early modern life and theater to create a portrait of Shakespeare’s life based on his own writing techniques and style. Greenblatt 2004 and Potter 2012 analyze his canon for clues about his personal life, drawing data from his characters and plot devices.

  • Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2005.

    A biography that is keen to show a close relationship between the life and the works and that Shakespeare’s art was rooted in his life experience, suggesting that we can read what he wrote autobiographically.

  • Bate, Jonathan. Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare. New York: Random House, 2009.

    Explores Shakespeare’s life through the Elizabethan philosophy of the seven ages of man, based on Jacques’s speech in As You Like It, providing historical information about 16th-century life for each of the seven stages.

  • Bevington, David. Shakespeare and Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    A useful resource for those interested in the history of Shakespearean biography, which outlines the issues that have been the focus of several biographies of Shakespeare, including politics, religion, and familial relationships.

  • Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Shakespeare: An Ungentle Life. London: Arden, 2001.

    Shows Shakespeare’s life as a playwright who has a shrewd business sense as well as an aptitude for verse, and consequently is the object of envy in late Elizabethan London.

  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: Norton, 2004.

    Like Ackroyd 2005, this book is eager to relate Shakespeare’s works to his life and, in particular, his experiences. Greenblatt makes much of the death of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet as an inspiration for Hamlet and Shakespeare having witnessed miracle plays as a youth.

  • Potter, Lois. The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118231746

    Considers the role that early modern actors and playwrights had in collaborating, revising, or influencing Shakespeare’s works. Potter explores Shakespeare’s life chronologically through a series of his own words and pays particular attention to the construction of memory in Shakespeare’s works and in their afterlives.

  • Schoenbaum, Samuel. Shakespeare’s Lives. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991.

    A comprehensive study of the various myths and narratives about Shakespeare’s life, including those now-discredited yet imaginative tales introduced by famous authors

  • Shapiro, James. 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. London: Faber and Faber, 2006.

    Investigates one year of Shakespeare’s life and the events that took place in that year such as the building of the Globe Theatre, Will Kempe leaving his acting company, and writing Henry V and As You Like It as a turning point in Shakespeare’s career.

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