Anthony Burgess

Introduced by Stanley Wells

Novelist and linguist Anthony Burgess’s study paints a fascinating portrait of a man who is both one of history’s most famous figures, and one of its biggest mysteries.


We need not repine at the lack of a satisfactory Shakespeare portrait. To see his face we need only look in the mirror. He is ourselves… all too mortal

This Folio edition includes an original picture selection captioned by Burgess himself, offering careful and thoughtful insight into Shakespeare’s world. As scholar Stanley Wells concludes in his new introduction, ‘its creative interaction between the imagination of a major novelist and the life and work of the greatest poetic dramatist’ that have made, and will continue to make, Burgess’s book one of the finest Shakespeare biographies.

Production Details

Bound in buckram, blocked with a design by Joe McLaren

Set in Caslon

288 pages

Frontispiece and 16 pages of colour plates

Plain slipcase

9” x 6¼”

The bones of Shakespeare given flesh

‘Anthony Burgess’s wonderfully well-stocked mind and essentially wayward spirit are just right for summoning up an apparition of the Bard which is more convincing than most’

  1. David Holloway, Daily Telegraph

Among the many biographers who have endeavoured to breathe life into William Shakespeare the man, few have approached the subject with such creative zeal as Anthony Burgess. Through his trademark irreverent humour, Joycean love of wordplay and lifetime of academic rigour, the acclaimed novelist and linguist conjures a three-dimensional, relatable vision of the playwright. As Burgess says in his foreword, before literary criticism, ’it is the lives that come first’.

Burgess shows us a man unfamiliar to many. Here is a quick-witted son of an aspiring gentleman from Stratford-upon-Avon with ’auburn hair, melting eyes, ready tongue’. A young man who, on account of a lustful countryside indiscretion, is forced into a wedding with a woman he does not love. Burgess ingeniously casts lines between fact and invented drama, showing us the distractions and temptations of Elizabethan London that bled into Shakespeare’s words. With brilliant insight he peers into the carnal origins of the mysterious Dark Lady, inspiration for many of Shakespeare’s most celebrated and sensual sonnets. From the tempestuous patronage of the Earl of Southampton to the grime and violence of 16th-century London, Burgess pieces together a journey that is at once a factual examination of Elizabethan society and a brilliantly scurrilous, bawdy and speculative biography.

‘A smooth-flowing narrative, often enlivened by Anthony Burgess’s Joycean appetite for linguistic fantasy’

  1. Economist

About Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess (the pseudonym of John Burgess Wilson, 1917–93), best-known for A Clockwork Orange (1962, published by The Folio Society in 2014), Earthly Powers (1981, shortlisted for the Booker Prize) and his Enderby novels (1963–84), wrote over thirty novels, including a fictional biography of Shakespeare, Nothing Like the Sun (1964), and composed many musical scores and libretti. His most prolific writing phase began when he was misdiagnosed with a brain tumour in Malaya in 1959 and given just months to live; the success he found allowed him to give up the career in education he had followed since joining the Army Educational Corps in 1940. Although he was born in Manchester and studied there, he lived much of his life abroad, claiming a warm climate was better for writing. In 1986 Burgess was made a Commandeur Des Arts et des Lettres of France.

About Stanley Wells

Stanley Wells is Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, Honorary Emeritus Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. General Editor of the Oxford and Penguin editions of Shakespeare, his many books include Shakespeare: the Poet and His PlaysShakespeare: For All TimeShakespeare & Co.Shakespeare’s Sonnets (with Paul Edmondson), Shakespeare, Sex, and Love and Great Shakespeare Actors.