The Atlantic

In Shakespeare’s Life Story, Not All Is True. In Fact, Much Is Invented.

A new film by Kenneth Branagh is a textbook case of how portraitists of the bard spin a paucity of fact into fairy tale.
Source: Robert Youngson / Sony Pictures Classics

How do you tell the story of the world’s greatest literary career when the literary part is a gaping hole, “a jigsaw puzzle for which most of the pieces are missing,” as one scholar ? You get inventive, to put it charitably. , a new film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, is the latest installment in a long line of highly creative Shakespeare portraiture. In his novel (which Harold Bloom, the Yale critic, judged the most astute biography of Shakespeare), Anthony Burgess portrays the bard as a bisexual engaged in affairs with the Earl of Southampton and a black female prostitute, his poetic powers entwined with his immense virility., one of the highest-grossing films of 1998 and the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, envisions him as a besotted heterosexual with writer’s block. Literary scholars, too, join He proceeds to conjure Shakespeare the schoolboy falling in love with language, and Shakespeare watching his first play— that earned the book

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic3 min read
A ‘Ridiculous’ Emmys Night for Fleabag
The acclaimed series created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge swept the comedy category, beating out heavyweights such as Veep and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
The Most Dangerous Moment of the Trump Presidency
Not so long ago, a devastating attack on Saudi oil supplies would almost certainly have elicited an American military response.
The Atlantic7 min read
The Google Feature Magnifying Disinformation
Google’s knowledge panels contain helpful facts and tidbits. But sometimes they surface bad information, too.