'This is Not Shakespeare!'

Graham Holderness

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In 1964, as his contribution to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, Anthony Burgess published his novel Nothing Like the Sun, a fictional biography of Shakespeare. Nothing Like the Sun is also nothing like Shakespeare, or rather it is more ‘not Shakespeare’ than it is ‘Shakespeare’. Although the novel is clearly, by definition, fiction, Burgess insisted it was underpinned by extensive scholarly knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works. But a novel cannot be made merely out of a set of facts. So Burgess used invention, speculation, imagination, fantasy and a highly speculative biographical interpretation of Shakespeare’s own works, to fill out a fictional life for him. In 1970 Burgess published an illustrated biography, Shakespeare, that simply inverted the novel, working from the outside in, foregrounding documentary and historical records and pushing interpretation into the same fictional territory as that explored in the novel. By starting with factual fiction, and moving on to fictionalized fact, Burgess offered a serious challenge to the Shakespeare biography enterprise, though it has remained largely ignored or dismissed, at least until recently. The book was has now been reprinted by The Folio Society, with a Preface by Stanley Wells, who describes it as the product of the ‘creative interaction between the imagination of a major novelist and the life and work of the greatest poetic dramatist’, an interaction that makes Burgess’s book ‘one of the finest Shakespeare biographies’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare/Not Shakespeare
EditorsChristy Desmet
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2017


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