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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

A SHAKESPEARIAN HERETIC ERIC SAMS, The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early Years, 1564-1594 (Yale University Press) £19.95

Shakespearian scholars owe a debt of gratitude to Eric Sams, who in 1985 established beyond reasonable doubt that the play Edmund Ironside was an early work of Shakespeare's. They have been slow to repay it, for he displays as little respect for academic orthodoxies as the small boy in Andersen's story showed for the Emperor's new clothes. For over sixty years most scholars have held that the so-called bad quartos were produced by actors who reconstructed from memory the texts of plays in which they had appeared, and inconsistencies of style have been explained as the result of collaboration between Shakespeare and other dramatists. All such theories - and theories they remain, however long they have been accepted as fact - Sams sweeps aside with a snort of derision.

Shakespeare's father, according to Sams, was an illiterate Catholic peasant who combined farming with glove-making, butchering, wool-dealing and money-lending. About 1577 he fell on hard times, and took the thirteen-year-old William away from Stratford Grammar School to help with the family businesses. Although animal-lovers may wince at the thought of young William killing calves in his father's slaughter-house, there is some evidence for all this, which Sams prints in a valuable appendix. Opinions may differ on how reliable some of it is; some may feel that he puts too much trust in Stratford traditions recorded by Aubrey and Rowe between sixty and a hundred years after Shakespeare's death.

If we accept all his conclusions, Shakespeare led ...


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