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The Book Forum
February 22, 1964

William Shakespeare: A Biography

JAMA. 1964;187(8):623. doi:10.1001/jama.1964.03060210073032

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Although Shakespeare was only incidentally concerned with medicine, nevertheless, since 1964 marks the 400th anniversary of his birth, even a medical journal might appropriately notice a new biography. A. L. Rowse, an outstanding historian of the Elizabethan era, has written a full-length biography of Shakespeare. Historical scholarship, however, does not necessarily confer the ability to write graceful prose. While sometimes Professor Rowse can hold the reader enthralled, at other times he repels with a sprawling, rambling (albeit scholarly) presentation that seems to lack discipline.

The text in large part distills the biographical and historical data from the poetry itself, a process facilitated by Rowse's profound knowledge of things Elizabethan. Yet in the writing the scholar pursuing his point often overshadows the biographer, and all too often the pages smell of the lamp. Furthermore, on much of the presentation only the deeply versed Shakespearean scholar is competent to give an opinion.

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