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Shakespearean lives in the Oxford DNB




To mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare we’ve put together a gallery of Shakespearean lives in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Here you’ll find actors, directors, editors, biographers, critics, and sources of inspiration whose lives are closely associated with Shakespeare and his work. These Shakespearean lives span 400 years: from fellow players such as Richard Burbage to Sam Wanamaker, creator of the modern Globe Theatre.


Read on, Macduff...





'Your face, my thane, is as a book' (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5)

Laurence Olivier Macbeth David Garrick
Sarah Siddons Harley Barker Samuel Wanamaker Ellen Terry
Frank Kermode Nicholas Rowe John Philip Kemble Caesar Edmond Malone

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'I long to hear the story of your life' (The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1)


Where next? The Oxford DNB’s Shakespeare biography also includes lives of Shakespeare’s father John (d.1601) and Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway (d.1623).


We've also John Heminges and Henry Condell, editors of Shakespeare's first folio (1623), and 'W.H.' (fl. 1609), dedicatee of Shakespeare's sonnets—one of the most elusive figures in literary history.


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'The play's the thing' (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

Use the Oxford DNB’s text search to trace the history of Shakespeare’s plays over 400 years. Nearly 400 ODNB biographies include a reference to Macbeth, 300 to Hamlet, 200 to King Lear, and 100 to Much Ado About Nothing. When were they performed? How have they been adapted?


You can also trace the history of famous Shakespeare characters: 92 ODNB biographies refer to Lady Macbeth, 85 to Desdemona, and 52 to Prospero. (Links to full text searches require subscriber access, see below.)

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'I like this place & willingly could waste my time in it' (As You Like It, Act 2, Sc. 4)


Full access to the Oxford DNB’s 60,000 life stories is available (from anywhere at any time) via nearly all UK public libraries, as well as college and university libraries worldwide.


As Rosalind tells Orlando: ‘Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?’

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About the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Horatio Nelson Nyree Dawn Porter Constantine I Anne Boleyn Winston Churchill Eileen Agar

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of nearly 60,000 individuals who have shaped the British past, worldwide, from the Roman occupation to the twenty-first century.


In addition to 60,000 biographies, the Oxford DNB includes more than 11,300 portraits, researched in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London—making the Dictionary the largest published collection of British portraiture. The Dictionary’s General Editor is the historian Professor Sir David Cannadine.


The Oxford DNB is a research and publishing project of the University of Oxford and Oxford University Press. Its 60,000 biographies are available online via college and public libraries worldwide: in the UK ‘remote access’ enables public library members to access the ODNB, free, from anywhere at any time.


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