This is the big one from Peter Ackroyd — and a worthy companion to London: The Biography.
Only Peter Ackroyd can combine readable narrative and unique observation with a sharp eye for the fascinating fact. His method is to position Shakespeare in the close context of his world. In this way, he not only richly conjures up the texture of Shakespeare’s life, but also imparts an amazing amount of vivid, interesting material about place, period and background.
Some snippets: Shakespeare was secretly a Roman Catholic; the witches in Macbeth were not hags but nymphs played by boys; the “best” bed was for guests which was why he bequeathed his wife his “second best” bed (the matrimonial bed in which he probably died); “ham acting” derives from the strutting walk which showed off the ham-strings; an actor called “Will” played female parts — could it have been Shakespeare himself? And, the strongest bond in the plays is between father and daughter, perhaps reflecting Shakespeare’s own family life.