NEW BOOK! Meat, Murder, Malfeasance, Medicine and Martyrdom: Smithfield Stories (Edward Everett Root, 2019). (Fiction).

This remarkable book reveals the sensational, historical and personal stories of the physical, cultural and psychological territory of London s Smithfield. In an extraordinary area, measuring little more than a square mile – bounded by Farringdon Street, Charterhouse Street, Aldersgate and Ludgate – can be found in microcosm some of the key contours of British national life. Here, to borrow the name of a famous Smithfield street, in something like its entirety, is ‘Little Britain’. Originally a ‘smooth field’ outside the City walls, used for grazing animals, Smithfield was, from time out of mind, the site of the famous livestock market until it was moved to Islington in 1855. It thus became a place for the slaughter of animals, and for the dead meat market that still survives. Violence against animals was extended to violence against humans. The site of animal slaughter became one of the premier arenas of public execution, for treason or heresy. Since many were judicially killed for religious rather than criminal reasons, some of their deaths may be considered martyrdom, rather than execution. The area is rich in ancient institutions of law and punishment. Newgate Prison was built nearby in 1188, and the central criminal court, better known as the Old Bailey, erected there in the 16th century. Newgate has gone, but the Bailey remains. Between these instruments of justice, and the stench and violence of market and abattoir, stand institutions of healing and salvation: St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and the Church of St Bartholomew the Great, both founded in the 12th century. And close by is St Paul’s Cathedral, which may have roots extending as far back as the 7th century. Clerkenwell priory, the huge London base of the Knights Hospitaller, stood alongside Smithfield, entered through the still surviving Gate of St John. These monuments of national life are not discrete but interactive. In Smithfield medicine, faith, justice, punishment and animal slaughter all share common ground. Graham Holderness tells the stories of Wat Tyler, Aaron Kominski [‘Jack the Ripper’], Heinrich Himmler and others as rooted in the ground of Smithfield. They revolve around the institutions it houses, and dwell on the overlapping activities that have characterised it for centuries. They range across historical fiction, ‘Restoration comedy’, Gothic romance, drama, ‘alternative history’, and contemporary realism. Most are closely tied to the real past by the use of historical sources and documented events: the execution of William Wallace, the killing of Wat Tyler, the burning of Anne Askew, the execution of Amelia Dyer. Others explore the imaginative possibilities of Smithfield, rather than its authenticated events and characters, reanimating fictional characters such as Sweeney Todd, or the hero of Hogarth’s Four Stages of Cruelty; or inventing a modern Halal butcher who is radicalised and joins Isis. These stories trace in every example the interactions of meat, murder, malfeasance, medicine and martyrdom. They are concerned with the commonalities of violence exhibited in the slaughtering of beasts, the torture and execution of criminals, the violations of the body practised on the autopsy table and in the research laboratory, the atrocities of murder and cannibalism. These stories construct an impression of Smithfield, ‘Little Britain’, and throw their dark light both on British national history, and on the human condition.

NEW BOOK! Samurai Shakespeare: Past and Future Japan in Theatre and Film (Edward Everett Root, 2020).

This highly original new book by a leading Shakespeare expert and cultural critic argues controversially that the ‘samurai Shakespeare’ of the Japanese cinematic and theatrical masterpiece-makers Akira Kurosawa and Yukio Ninagawa represents the greatest achievement of Japanese Shakespeare reproduction. Holderness argues that ‘samurai Shakespeare’ is both consistent with our own western engagement with Japan, and true to the spirit of Japanese culture. 

Shakespeare was an exact contemporary of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Yet when he was first imported into Japan, in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, the plays were performed in contemporary dress, not in the conventional British historical styles, and received as the modern counterpart of Ibsen and Shaw, Gorky and Chekhov.

Today in Japan the Edo past is lovingly preserved, reproduced and displayed. Almost 30 million international tourists enter Japan each year to visit the old capitals of Kyoto and Nara, drawn by the magic of Edo castles, ancient temples, swords and samurai, geishas and sumo, maple leaves and cherry blossom. At the same time Japan represents itself as a society of ultra-modernity, free from the burdens of the past. This book examines why and how early Japanese Shakespeare was assimilated to the modernising and westernising tendencies of the Meiji regime, and kept well away from that very recent but dangerous feudal past of Edo Japan to which at least some of the plays should surely have been seen to belong.  

When Shakespeare was finally integrated with the Edo past, it was to a contradictory mixture of acclaim and condemnation. In 1957 Akira Kurosawa released his great film Kumonosujo, known in the west as Throne of Blood, where the plot of Macbeth, without Shakespeare’s language, is brilliantly relocated to feudal Japan, and which has been described variously as ‘the most complete translation of Shakespeare into film’ and as ‘not really Shakespeare at all’. Kurosawa followed Kumonosujo much later in 1985 with his samurai version of King Lear, Ran. In the theatre Yukio Ninagawa staged in 1980 what is perhaps the greatest ever Japanese production of Shakespeare, his Macbeth set in mediaeval Japan. Ninagawa produced The Tempest in an equally traditional style, as ‘A Rehearsal of a Noh Play on the Island of Sado’ (the island to which Zeami, the great playwright of Noh, was exiled). Across a period of 30 years (1957-1987) these great theatre and cinema artists finally resolved the conflicts between Shakespeare and Japan by setting the plays back into their own beloved but disputed past. These ‘Samurai Shakespeare’ productions were initially received in the west and in Japan with enthusiasm, though not without some critical reflection on the dangers of ‘exoticism’ and ‘orientalism.’

However, after this great florescence of ‘samurai Shakespeare’ (1957-1987), the theatre in Japan returned to its Shingeki roots, preferring modernity to tradition. The phenomenon of Edo Shakespeare became a definitive cultural moment, and many subsequent productions allude or pay homage to the work of Fukuda, Kurosawa and Ninagawa. However ultra-modern a Japanese Shakespeare production may be, it has had the facility to acknowledge the country’s own past as one of Shakespeare’s multiple global histories. At the same time ‘Samurai Shakespeare’ can be found alive and well in other Japanese media, especially Manga.

This is an important study of the complexity and contradictions of crucial cultural and historical moments in Japanese history, and in the relations between Japan and the West.


Introduction: Shakespeare and Japan

1          ‘Show me a samurai’: western admiration of Edo culture, 1890-1900.

2          Modernity and tradition in Japanese theatre 1900-1957.

3          Tsuneari Fukuda

4          Akira Kurosawa

5          Yukio Ninagawa

6          ‘Samurai Shakespeare’ in Japanese theatre 1980-2000.

7          Conclusion: Manga Shakespeare.

c. 256 pp. 12 illustrations, six of which in colour.

NEW BOOK! The Prince of Denmark: Hamlet and the Vikings (Edward Everett Root, 2020). (Fiction).

“An imaginative, impressively reckless attempt to return Hamlet to the Scandinavian matrix from which he was torn some four centuries ago”.  Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University

“A deeply romantic novel in which the Old English Wanderer rubs shoulders with warriors from Tolkein in a landscape of mountainous sea-cliffs and deep ravines”.– Martin Dodsworth, University of Leicester

Graham Holderness

The Prince of Denmark: A Novel of Hamlet and the Vikings

This newly revised fictional re-writing of the Hamlet story is set in a time somewhere between the Scandinavian Dark Ages – out of which the original tale of Hamlet came – and the Renaissance society of Shakespeare’s play.

Graham Holderness’s novel provides both a prequel and a sequel to Shakespeare’sHamlet. It begins with the great duel fought between his father King Amled and Fortinbras’ father Prince Fortenbrasse. It continues after Hamlet’s death to tell both his story, and that of his invented son.

In the light of this re-imagined history, the conflicts and alliances between ancient Viking chivalry, Renaissance realpolitik and Christian forgiveness are dramatically explored.

Contents: Introduction to Revised Edition.Part One: How King Amled Overcame Fortenbrasse, and the Birth of Hamlet. Part Two: The Hamlet Letters.Part Three: Prince Hamlet’s Tables. Part Four: The Death of King Amled.Part Five: The Birth of Sigurd Hamletson.Part Six: The Death of Prince Hamlet.Part Seven: The Boyhood of Sigurd Hamletson, and Horatio’s Quest.Part Eight: How Sigurd Hamletson Overcame Fortinbras.


  “For Hamlet the rest certainly wasn’t silence, as Graham Holderness subtly reveals in the intricate plot that surrounds the survivors of the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s play. What actually happened to Denmark post-Hamlet; why did Ophelia really go mad; what about faithful Horatio? Even more enticingly Holderness suggests that Hamlet and Ophelia might have provided a Danish heir … but this is perhaps giving away too much in a plot that is spellbinding and imaginative. “The timescale precedes and succeeds Shakespeare, before and after the final tragedy, thereby supplying intriguing details omitted by Shakespeare – e.g. what happened on Hamlet’s trip to England? What did he get up to in Wittenberg? – and the atmosphere of mediaeval Denmark is expertly conjured up by fascinating details of everyday life, geographic descriptions and illustrations of Old English and Old Norse literature. Altogether a great read”. – Graham Caie, University of Glasgow   “Will fascinate those who know and love the tragedy. Recommended for all strong Shakespeare Collections”.  – Choice (2003)

NEW BOOK! Textual Shakespeare: Writing and the Word (Edward Everett Root, 2020). (Criticism)

Textual Shakespeare. Writing and the Word.

“Graham Holderness brilliantly explores the inevitable desire for, and the necessary frustration in finding, the Shakespearean original that lies behind the printed texts of his plays. In this unusually alert, sophisticated and lively book, Holderness shows us how the printed plays reflect the complexity of their production, and in the process, he reminds us that writing itself is a central way in which we try to make sense of our world.”  – Professor David Scott Kastan, Columbia University, Joint General Editor, Arden Shakespeare.

Graham Holderness’s book forms a bold, imaginative, and remarkably wide-ranging contribution to thought about the origins and presentation of Shakespeare’s text.” – Professor Stanley Wells, Associate Editor, Penguin Shakespeare and General Editor, Oxford Shakespeare.

In this expanded and much revised new edition, Graham Holderness reassesses Shakespeare as a writer in the light of the recent “revolution” in bibliography and textual studies. This has shifted much opinion about the playwright, how he worked, and with whom he collaborated. 

According to modern literary studies all texts are copies, always already changed, and there are no “originals”. Editors are translators; and scholars and critics rewrite the writing they study. Holderness goes beyond both traditional and “materialist” bibliography to show that texts are both physical media, made and remade by a series of craftspeople; and rich repositories of changeable meaning. Shakespeare is then situated within this theoretical context, via a brief history of the plays’ textual reproduction. A series of chapters on individual plays provide illustrative examples of such textual activities in practice.


Introduction to revised edition

Part One:

Chapter One:                   Text

Chapter Two:                   Matter

Chapter Three:                 Originals

Part Two:

Chapter Four:                  Texts and Contexts: King Lear 

Chapter Five:                   Visions and Revisions: Hamlet

Chapter Six:                     Notes and Queries: Macbeth

Chapter Seven:                Now you see me, now you don’t: Hamlet

Chapter Eight:                  Writing and Fighting: Henry V

Conclusion:                     Writing in the Dust

Notes and Bibliography

The Faith of William Shakespeare (Lion Hudson, 2016). (Criticism)

‘With a mixture of historical scholarship and careful critical reading, Graham Holderness makes a very powerful case for seeing Shakespeare as a committed and self-conscious Protestant in his mature works. This crisp and lively book will challenge a number of popular orthodoxies and will stimulate some fresh readings of the major plays; it makes it harder than ever to think of Shakespeare as indifferent to the great questions of faith’. – Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

‘This book is informative, engaging and forthright in its argument. Contextualising Shakespeare historically, Graham Holderness offers careful and incisive readings of a wide range of plays, urging that the playwright’s faith is not only discernible but also important to our understanding of Shakespeare’s extraordinary achievement’. – John D. Cox, Professor of English, Hope College

‘Shakespeare’s faith was part of his project as a playwright. Graham Holderness’s illuminating account presents Shakespeare as an imaginatively engaged Calvinist of his age, bodying forth on stage a world in which divine will can at best only be hoped for, and for which it is worth risking everything’. –Paul Edmondson, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

‘The Bible and the Book of Common Prayer saturate the plays of Shakespeare, yet his religion is elusive and debated. Graham Holderness’s book places the bard in the very centre of the English Reformation, and the emergent Anglican tradition. This is a study that everyone seriously concerned to understand Shakespeare should read’. – Revd Professor David Jasper, Professor of Literature and Theology, University of Glasgow

‘A timely and helpful book … a deeply informed and well-balanced account both of the Christian context of Shakespeare’s plays, and more importantly of their Christian context … The Faith of William Shakespeare illuminates a faith that itself illuminates and is illuminated by the plays. Readers will finish this book with a richer understanding not only of the plays and the period, but of the Christian faith itself’. – Malcolm Guite, chaplain of Girton College


See ‘The Word of the Lord: Exploring Shakespeare’s Religious Identity with Graham Holderness, author of The Faith of William Shakespeare’. Shakespeare Magazine, 13.


William Shakespeare stills stands head and shoulders above any other author in the English language, a position that is unlikely ever to change. Yet it is often said that we know very little about him – and that applies as much to what he believed as it does to the rest of his biography. Or does it? In this authoritative new study, Graham Holderness takes us through the context of Shakespeare’s life, times of religious and political turmoil, and looks at what we do know of Shakespeare the Anglican. But then he goes beyond that, and mines the plays themselves, not just for the words of the characters, but for the concepts, themes and language which Shakespeare was himself steeped in – the language of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Considering particularly such plays as Richard ll, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Hamlet, Othello, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, Holderness shows how the ideas of Catholicism come up against those of Luther and Calvin; how Christianity was woven deep into Shakespeare’s psyche, and how he brought it again and again to his art.


‘The book is impressive in its grasp of the verbal and imaginative world of Shakespeare’s audiences, persuasively connecting doctrine with drama.

Through these readings of the dramatic texts, Holderness argues for a Shakespeare who moved away from his father’s Catholicism towards an increasingly Reformed understanding of spirituality. His reading of the plays culminates in a tragedy of Lear in which judgement is terrible and unsearchable, and romances in which grace is transforming but mysterious.

Given the crisis over the past few decades in the identity and meaning of Anglicanism, it is striking that this book offers us Shakespeare himself as another possible “Anglican identity” from the past’. – Church Times

‘Deft, accessible, reasonably comprehensive, and excerptible treatment of the religious elements in Shakespeare’s immediate surroundings … felicitous commentary, sharply edged opinion’. – Literature and Theology

Black and Deep Desires: William Shakespeare Vampire Hunter (Top Hat Books, 2016). (Fiction)

Who was the real architect of the Gunpowder Plot? Who was the first person to wear a Guy Fawkes mask? Why was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady dark? These and many other questions are answered in Graham Holderness’s new novel, which combines historical fiction, psychological mystery and supernatural thriller in a highly original and imaginative re-telling of the Gunpowder Plot. It is 1604. The Gunpowder Plotters are tunneling under the palace of Westminster, and confront an immovable obstacle. Guy Fawkes travels to Europe to fetch help, and brings back more than he bargained for. Who is the mysterious Dark Lady? Who is the man in the mask? Why is London over-run by a plague of vampires, and who is going to defeat them? From a Westminster vault to a Transylvanian mine, from the crypt of Lambeth Palace to the under-stage of the Globe Theatre, Black and Deep Desires takes the reader on a tour of historical, psychological and mythical underworlds, delving deep into some of history’s unexplored corridors, into the secret thoughts of Catholic terrorists, and into the dark wellsprings of Shakespeare’s poetry. In Black and Deep Desires Graham Holderness combines the expertise of an internationally-recognised Shakespeare scholar, the narrative flair of his 2001 novel The Prince of Denmark, and the poetic sensibility that won his verse collection Craeft a Poetry Book Society award.


What mad excitement ! Gunpowder plotters, Jacobean intrigue, Transylvanian shape-shifters — all written about and evoked in rich and smoky pungent prose. It’s as if Hilary Mantel, Anthony Burgess and Bram Stoker got together at a diabolical Writers’ Conference and, after a few bottles too many in the witching hours, came up with this rollicking manuscript. Graham Holderness, our leading Shakespearean scholar, has had huge fun bringing his historical knowledge to bear upon an unmissable romp. –Roger Lewis, Daily Mail.

“A thoughtful, well-written novel that kept me engaged throughout … excellent writing” – British Fantasy Society

Tales from Shakespeare: Creative Collisions (Cambridge University Press, 2014). (Criticism/Fiction)

In this engaging book, writer and critic Graham Holderness shows how a classic Shakespeare play can be the source for a modern story, providing a creative ‘collision’ between the Shakespeare text and contemporary concerns. Using an analogy from particle physics, Holderness tests his methodology through specific examples, structured in four parts: a recreation of performances of Hamlet and Richard II aboard the East India Company ship the Red Dragon in 1607; an imagined encounter between Shakespeare and Ben Jonson writing the King James Bible; the creation of a contemporary folk hero based on Coriolanus and drawing on films such as Skyfall and The Hurt Locker; and an account of the terrorist bombing at a performance of Twelfth Night in Qatar in 2005. These pieces of narrative and drama are interspersed with literary criticism, each using a feature of the original Shakespeare play or its performance to illuminate the extraordinary elasticity of Shakespeare. The ‘tales’ provoke questions about what we understand to be Shakespeare and not-Shakespeare, making the book of vital interest to students, scholars, and enthusiasts of Shakespeare, literary criticism and creative writing.


‘Graham Holderness, who was given Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare as a child, here returns the compliment by writing tales for grown ups – and again shows that he is one of the few academics who can combine scholarship with creativity, criticism with fantasy, historical awareness with commitment to present-day issues. Anyone who thought that there was nothing further to say about the authenticity of the account of shipboard performances of two Shakespeare plays off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607, or the likelihood of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson collaborating on the King James Bible, will be surprised at what Holderness does with the two controversies.’

Lois Potter – University of Delaware

‘One would have to be [a] hardened and humourless reader not to enjoy this engaging and interesting book.’

Andrew Hadfield Source: Around the Globe

‘In his long and distinguished career, Holderness has been retelling Shakespeare, and in multiple forms: criticism, biography, fiction and poetry, and now, with this book, in a literary category of his own invention. He names it ‘creative criticism’, and his Tales from Shakespeare puts it into practice.’

Margreta de Grazia Source: The Times Literary Supplement

‘An invigorating reimagining of individual works and of the critical process itself, and a bold contribution to theoretical debates involving Shakespeare, the text and popular culture.’

Heather C. Easterling Source: Renaissance Quarterly

‘Successfully ‘colliding’ in this volume are the creative and critical dimensions. Both coexist and merge, illustrating Holderness’s main point: any activity linked to the name of Shakespeare – from the edition of texts to film adaptations, to advertisements and critical essays – exists in a continuum, and therefore must be studied as part of the system in order to understand the Shakespearean phenomenon.’

Maria Elisa Montironi Source: Linguae

“Graham Holderness’s Tales from Shakespeare is elegantly theoretical but also fun to read, returning to Shakespeare criticism not only Horace’s first requirement for poetry (to instruct) but also his second (to delight)”.  – Christy Desmet, Shakespeare Quarterly

Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th Century Fiction and Film (Bloomsbury, 2014).(Criticism/Fiction)

About Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th-Century Fiction and Fil

At the heart of Christian theology lies a paradox unintelligible to other religions and to secular humanism: that in the person of Jesus, God became man, and suffered on the cross to effect humanity’s salvation. In his dual nature as mortal and divinity, and unlike the impassable God of other monotheisms, Christ thus became accessible to artistic representation. Hence the figure of Jesus has haunted and compelled the imagination of artists and writers for 2,000 years. This was never more so than in the 20th Century, in a supposedly secular age, when the Jesus of popular fiction and film became perhaps more familiar than the Christ of the New Testament. 

In Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th Century Fiction and Film Graham Holderness explores how writers and film-makers have sought to recreate Christ in work as diverse as Anthony Burgess’s Man of Nazareth and Jim Crace’s Quarantine, to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. These works are set within a longer and broader history of ‘Jesus novels’ and ‘Jesus films’, a lineage traced back to Ernest Renan and George Moore, and explored both for their reflections of contemporary Christological debates, and their positive contributions to Christian theology. In its final chapter, the book draws on the insights of this tradition of Christological representation to creatively construct a new life of Christ, an original work of theological fiction that both subsumes the history of the form, and offers a startlingly new perspective on the biography of Christ.

Table of contents

1. ‘Half God, Half Man’: Nikos Kazantsakis’ The Last Temptation and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ
2. Human and Sacred: Anthony Burgess’s Man of Nazareth and Franco Zefirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth
3. Science and Religion: Jim Crace’s Quarantine
4. Cross and Altar: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ
5. God or Man?: Mark Dornford-May’s Son of Man
6. Ecce Homo: A Life of Christ


“No-one interested in the presentation of Christ in modern fiction and film should miss [this book].” –  Times Literary Supplement

“This book’s first part makes an immensely useful contribution to the increasing volume of works covering the interface between theology and film. Taken together with Holderness’s own novella, it does demonstrate that it is not only possible but also fruitful to explore the dual nature of Christ in a fictional literary vehicle.” –  Religion and Theology

Re-writing Jesus is a rare and refreshing example of how rigorous scholarship can inform and strengthen imaginative art. … This is quite a different kind of scholarly work. It is rigorous in attention to texts and sources and historical precedents, but it is also the starting point for a creative encounter with implications for today. Holderness studies in order to be inspired, to be renewed, to find something to share with others. … This would make a great supplemental text within a religion and film or religion and literature class. It is written in a learned but lucid style that undergraduates or seminary students would find accessible. .. Graham Holderness is an encouraging companion in endeavoring to unite what academia repeatedly strives to divide: faith and doubt, the ancient and the contemporary, rigorous analysis and creative response.” –  Christianity and Literature

Re-Writing Jesus is an unusual, provocative, theologically well-informed, and sensitive study of a Christ ‘without form nor comeliness’, existing for Holderness far beyond the word or image.” –  Cambridge Quarterly

“One of the most balanced and scholarly analyses of Jesus-fictions ever produced. Well-argued and strongly supported, Re-writing Jesus is an invaluable addition to the fields of both Christ studies and popular culture studies.” –  Journal of Popular Culture

“This is in a quite different class of originality and excellence from anything so far written about the fictional transformations of Jesus’ life. Acute analysis of a wide variety of novels, films and plays is combined with a rare sensitivity to the large underlying issues not only about the nature of doctrine but about religious language itself as it works and fails to work and reinvents itself in modern culture. A really stimulating and welcome book.” –  Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, UK, and formerly Archbishop of Canterbury

“In Holderness’ book we encounter, with historical and theological sureness of touch, the Jesus who mysteriously persists in contemporary film and fiction. Beginning with The Da Vinci Code, Holderness takes us back to the nineteenth century, and through the fiction of George Moore, leads us into the theological terrain of the late twentieth century. For readers who have never progressed much beyond Dan Brown, this book will be a fascinating journey into the continuing power of the central figure of the gospels in the culture of our time.” –  David Jasper, University of Glasgow, UK

“Re-writing Jesus shows Jesus to be much more among us than we knew, kicking in the womb and on his cross in so much contemporary film and fiction. But Graham Holderness also demonstrates that such reincarnations are part of a neglected ‘great tradition’ stretching back to Renan’s Vie de Jesus. Holderness takes that tradition more than usually seriously, showing what it can do for theology. He even goes so far as to supplement it himself, in Ecce Homo, his original life of Christ, which is distinctive in really taking on the imaginative challenge of what it would mean to be both divine and human. Lucid, learned, and above all alive, this is a magnetic book.” –  Ewan Fernie, author of The Demonic: Literature and Experience and editor of Redcrosse: Remaking Religious Poetry for Today’s World

“Deeply learned and splendidly accessible, Graham Holderness’s brilliant book serves as a fair-minded and thoughtful guide on the quest for last century’s literary and cinematic Jesus. Here, readers will find a plurality of Jesus – and Christ – figures on display, each one revealing as much, if not more, about the novelist or the auteur as they do about the Nazarene. Re-writing Jesus is a theological tour de force!” –  Darren J. N. Middleton, Honors Faculty Fellow and Professor of Religion, The John V. Roach Honors College, Texas Christian University, USA

“Every generation or so, Jesus must be re-written, re-imaged, and re-heard. Such cultural resurrections always carry with them the possibility of misrecognition, and so we need a guide to point the way. Graham Holderness proves an astute and alert docent as he travels with us on the Road to Emmaus, allowing us to recognize the re-written Jesus in film and novels of the past century. Along the way Holderness reveals the sacred in science, sacrifice in cinema, and ends with a poetically charged Jesus for the twenty-first century.” –  S. Brent Plate, author of A History of Religion in 5½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses, Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Hamilton College, USA

Nine Lives of William Shakespeare (Bloomsbury/Arden Shakespeare, 2011). (Criticism/Fiction)

About Nine Lives of William Shakespeare

Acclaimed as the greatest dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare needs little introduction. Or does he? Going beyond Shakespeare the writer and actor, Graham Holderness explores the fact and fiction, tradition and myth, surrounding Shakespeare’s life.

Combining biography and fictional narrative, Holderness takes a fresh critical approach to the problem of piecing together a definitive account of Shakespeare’s life and work from scant historical information. Instead, this study builds upon and examines the many theories that surround the life of this well-known, yet remarkably unknown man. Nine Shakespeares are presented: writer, player, butcher boy, businessman, husband, friend, lover, Catholic and portrait. By carefully critiquing these biographies and reimagining these nine men, Nine Lives of William Shakespeare creates a unique picture of how this playwright became Shakespeare as he is understood today.

Shakespeare Now! is a series of short books that engage imaginatively and often provocatively with the possibilities of Shakespeare’s plays. It goes back to the source – the most living language imaginable – and recaptures the excitement, audacity and surprise of Shakespeare. It will return you to the plays with opened eyes.

Table of contents

Introduction \ 1. LIFE ONE: Shakespeare the Writer: Story: ‘The Shakespeare Code’\ 2. LIFE TWO: Shakespeare the Player: Memoir: ‘Master Shakespeare’s Instructions to the Actors’\ 3. LIFE THREE: Shakespeare the Businessman: Story: ‘Best for Winter’ \ 4. LIFE FOUR: Shakespeare in Love: ‘Husband, I come’: Memoir: ‘Shakespeare’s Ring: First Circle’ \ 5. LIFE FIVE: Shakespeare in Love: ‘Fair Friend’: Story: ‘The Adventure of Shakespeare’s Ring’ \ 6. LIFE SIX: Shakespeare in Love: ‘A Female Evil’: Story: ‘Full Circle’ \ 7. LIFE SEVEN: Shakespeare the Butcher Boy: Memoir: ‘Some further account of the life &c. of Mr William Shakespear’ \ 8. LIFE EIGHT: Shakespeare the Catholic: Story: ‘He dyed a papist’ \ 9. LIFE NINE: Shakespeare’s Face: Fable: ‘An Account of a Voyage to Bardolo’ \ Index


“Required reading for anyone interested in Shakespeare’s life or in how literary biography gets written. There’s no better place to turn for distinguishing facts and traditions from more imaginative accounts of how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. Graham Holderness is a terrific guide and a talented writer.” –  James Shapiro, author of ‘1599’ and Professor of English at Columbia University,

“There have of course been hundreds of biographies of William Shakespeare down the centuries, but none so breathtakingly nimble and adroit as this one. Shakespeare has long been a battleground between what can be historically verified and what in the end is simply speculation. Holderness – who is saturated in his subject – disentangles fact from fiction, but then starts to weave beautiful new tapestries of his own. This is the best and most enjoyably imaginative book on Shakespeare since Anthony Burgess’ ‘Nothing Like the Sun’ – high praise, as Burgess’ only rival was the chapter about Shakespeare in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. Were he to bound back from beyond the grave, this is the volume Shakespeare himself would most love reading.” –  Roger Lewis, Daily Mail

“Holderness brilliantly shows how biography is built of a writer’s desire to create a coherent life picture, one that explains a particular view of Shakespeare . . . The book is immensely thoughtful and written so clearly that it will engage all readers.” –  Choice Magazine

“One of the most original of biographical essays on Shakespeare.” –  Alberto Manguel, El Pais

“’Nine Lives’ belongs to the Shakespeare Now! series, which is defined by its editors as “a rallying cry… for aesthetic immediacy” on the “premise that art is as much as subject as an object, less like aggregated facts and more like a fascinating person or persons”. Graham Holderness’s fictional experiments serve that argument in that they abandon the posture of objectivity, but more essentially in their enjoyment of the escape. He is scrupulous about the facts, but denies that “the more data we possess, the more solid and dependable will be our understanding of the life”, and instead offers Shakespeare biography as an exercise in negative capability: a form of storytelling which knows that, beyond interpretation, “Shakespeare keeps his silence”.” –  Times Literary Supplement

“Graham Holderness knows the power of the Shakespeare myth and its fictions . . . in this volume, he offers a twist . . . Recognising the flimsy factual basis for Shakespeare biography, he draws on wit and wordplay to flesh out a fiction more palatable than the po-faced fantasies of the scholarly biographers. The nine Shakespeares on show here – writer, player, butcher boy, businessman, husband, friend, lover, Catholic and portrait – are each lovingly dissected before being painstakingly reassembled” –  Times Higher Education

“Hugely enjoyable . . . brilliantly imagined . . . the most fun I have had from a Shakespeare biography in a long time.” –  Peter Holland, Shakespeare

“Genuine, and often excellent, fiction . . . a gifted writer.” –  Lois Potter, Shakespeare Quarterly

“Holderness sees his role as a biographer as akin to that of a novelist. Moreover, in some ways Holderness’s flights from the fact-bound earth of traditional biography to the airy realms of biographical creative writing are the most interesting part of the book … when he leaves his fellow-biographers behind and indulges his belief that he is writing a kind of fiction, at times he holds the reader spellbound”. Peter Milward, S.J., Religion and Literature

“A theorised rejoinder to and accentuation of the fissiparous tendencies seen in Stephen Greenblatt’s magnum opus Will in the World. Here we have two veterans of the egregious culture wars competing for literary laurels on the exhausted terrain of Shakespeare biography by agitating the threadbare stratagems of late-literacy they themselves helped to create”. – South African Theatre Journal

“As a biographical study, this is fascinating for the way in which it looks at possible interpretations of a long-bygone life . . . any devotee of the Bard, or even of Tudor social history, will certainly find much to savour here.” –  The Bookbag

“Though always displaying allegiance to the traditional Shakespeare story, Holderness critiques the biographies in useful ways and shows just how weak and tenuous many of their assertions are . . . a dazzling satire.” –  The Brooklyn Rail

“This book takes a novel approach by presenting nine different theories about the Bard’s possible lives.” –  The Catholic Herald

“Holderness addresses nine different biographical emphases, each familiar to Shakespeare scholarship but never before divided out so neatly in a manner that clearly unveils the assumptions and values that underpin them. Shakespeare the writer rises above the sullied physical world of the theatre, the coherent and stable author; Shakespeare the actor performed in his own plays and was intimately involved with every aspect of theatrical production; Shakespeare the son of a provincial butcher; Shakespeare the businessman, investor and calculating accumulator; Shakespeare the husband; Shakespeare the gay lover; the philanderer; Catholic Shakespeare and the icon of cultural capital who winds up on £20 notes and as a holographic image on the back of debit cards.  With each of these narratives, Holderness includes a creative piece of his own which both illustrates the creative investment involved in biography and provides some ironic fun-poking at the serious Shakespearean biographies he follows.  Holderness even stretches his repertoire, one must admit with some success, at Shakespearean porn”. – English

“A witty exploration of [a] mutable subject . . . Holderness’s range is impressive and his experience as a poet and novelist is always in evidence: he can write through the styles of Sherlock Holmes and Ernest Hemingway; he adapts to the pornographic and the lyrical, the suggestive and the explicit with equal skill; and he can bury allusions so deep that Shakespeare is, in the end, lost in translation”. –  Shakespeare Survey

“Graham Holderness is one of the best-known and most prolific of British Shakespearean scholars, not least in the area of Shakespeare and popular culture … Holderness offers no conventional biography … There is much to admire in this book, and in particular, I applauded observations on the origin of Shakespeare’s celebrity as deriving from his work as an actor.” – The Shakespeare Newsletter

“This is a stimulating and thoughtful book,which should be read by anyone interested in the biography of Shakespeare, and more broadly, the implications of turning a life into a narrative”. – Cahiers Elizabethains

“Holderness’s book is a most original contribution to the genre of the Shakespeare biography … Holderness … provides a … convincing model of how facts and outright speculation, even fiction, can be brought together in a book, while always keeping these categories distinct … Holderness’s book is by turns informative, thought-provoking, and brilliant.” –  Journal of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE)