Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 318. Thursday, 5 Dec 1991.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 1991 16:45:01 -0500
Subject: Shakespeare's Lives
I just picked up a copy of the revised edition of SHAKESPEARE'S LIVES by
Samuel Schoenbaum. (Clarendon Press, 1991, 568 pages + notes and index.) I
would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Schoenbaum in general
and to this book in particular.
Schoenbaum's work on the Life, in its various forms, is - in my opinion -
one of the triumphs of literary scholarship. He writes with a precision
and grace that is often missing from such work, and his wonderful sense of
irony can lighten the dullest topic.
His work on the Lives is particularly significant for me. Probably
everyone has had some book or teacher who provided a "watershed"
experience; this book was such an experience for me. I read it the fall
after I graduated with a BA in English, and it made me wish I could do much
of those four years over again, and made me feel ready and eager to tackle
graduate school. It lowered my tolerance for conclusion-jumping and sloppy
analysis in all intellectual pursuits. Life has taken me on a far distant
path since then: an MFA in playwriting and 12 years' experience as a
mainframe programmer. But I still look back to the LIVES as the cauldron in
which my attitude toward scholarship, and my delight in rigor and
precision, was formed. Schoenbaum would probably be horrified to know, but
I often think of him when I'm tracking down a particularly nasty bug in a
10,000-line COBOL program.
Years ago, I made a trip to Washington to meet him at the Folger. I
couldn't have picked a worse time: a massive snow storm blew in after I
arrived and the Folger was on the verge of closing down, along with the
rest of the city. Schoenbaum remained on hand as a gracious host, a little
uncomfortable with my obvious admiration and determined to give equal time
to my own projects and interests.
I have corresponded with him on several occasions since then, and he has
never failed to respond, pointing out helpful corrections in my spelling
[Halliwell-Phillipps is NOT spelled Halliwell-Phillips] or pointing out
footnotes in Eccles for further sources of information.
(My apologies if my encomiums fall outside the bounds expected in a forum
like this. I just couldn't resist the temptation to celebrate a little.)