Well, he won me back, for a bit, with the chapters on the Renaissance theatre and the archaeology of The Rose. And he's kinder to Anne Hathaway than most of Shakespeare's biographers, which suits my personal bias nicely.
But the chapter on the university wits is enough to give me ulcers. Especially as he mouths the usual ill-researched platitudes about what drunken rogues they were, fails to mention that Watson and Marlowe were acquitted in that swordfight on grounds of self-defense, and goes on about how Nashe and Marlowe couldn't stand each other.
And then the bit where he discusses how there's no reason to assume that Shakespeare has any association with Kyd or Marlowe, before blithely rattling on about the Spanish Tragedy and Tamburlaine and their affect on Shakespeare's early work, and how close-knit the Elizabethan theatrical community was. Consistency much?
Also, he's got this thing where every play performed by one of the troupes that Will was ever associated with that relates in subject matter somehow to Will's later work must have been an early work of Shakespeare's.
What is it that possesses otherwise sober Shakespeareans, in droves, when confronted with Marlowe, to maunder on for pages about how that nasty boy Marlowe was a bad bad person and we shall not get Kit germs on my lovely Will? I've witnessed this in person as well as in literature, and it's never pretty.
Let's be honest here, kids. 400 years later, and Will's still his own best apologist.
This book is going to give me ulcers, because parts of it are so damned good. And then there's the sporking. And also, the sporking.
You know, I have my own theories about the last year or so of Marlowe's life, most of which involve my own knowledge of the pressures of success and failure and expectation upon any artist attempting to live by his or trade. I tend to think that by the end of his life Marlowe was probably drinking a bit more than he should have, and taking chances he shouldn't have, and frankly, it's quite possible that he did in fact start that fight his own self, as people do when they're exhibiting signs of depression, emotional upheaval, and risk-taking behavior.
It's also thoroughly possible that he was the victim of a political conspiracy. Especially when you look at the effort that had gone into trumping up charges against him that, quite frankly, he looked awfully good to walk away from--yet again. This is a man who'd walked away from hanging offenses before, and the Privy Council had seen no need to either detain him or put him to the question--and they had more than enough evidence for torture, if they so chose.
He was still valuable to somebody, in other words.
It's wide open for speculation, and I don't think there's enough evidence to say.
But man, if you're going to write a book about Elizabethan theatre, please at least figure out that Nashe and Marlowe were college pals and that they wrote stuff together, kthx?
ETA: The chapter of The Taming of "A" Shrew and Edmund Ironsides and associated works, however, is fantastic, and alone probably worth the price of the book. I come to the conclusion that Ackroyd is just fine--even brilliant--when he's writing about Shakespeare and the legendry surrounding him, and on shakier ground when he ventures off into the prospects of the University Wits and feels the need to wrap our boy Will up in Saran Wrap to keep him clean.
Appropos of nothing, every time I look at this mood icon, I find myself thinking Jebus, McCallum has enormous hands.