Stalking Shakespeare: A Memoir of Madness, Murder, and My Search for the Poet Beneath the Paint (Hardcover)
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“A wickedly entertaining” (The New York Times) detective story that chronicles one Mississippi man’s relentless search for an authentic portrait of William Shakespeare.
Following his divorce, down-and-out writer and Mississippi exile Lee Durkee holed himself up in a Vermont fishing shack and fell prey to a decades-long obsession with Shakespearian portraiture. It began with a simple premise: despite the prevalence of popular portraits, no one really knows what Shakespeare looked like. That the Bard of Avon has gotten progressively handsomer in modern depictions seems only to reinforce this point.
“Intensely readable…with bust-out laughing moments” (Garden & Gun), Stalking Shakespeare is Durkee’s fascinating memoir about a hobby gone awry, the 400-year-old myriad portraits attached to the famous playwright, and Durkee’s own unrelenting search for a lost picture of the Bard painted from real life. As Durkee becomes better at beguiling curators into testing their paintings with X-ray and infrared technologies, we get a front-row seat to the captivating mysteries—and unsolved murders—surrounding the various portraits rumored to depict Shakespeare.
Whisking us backward in time through layers of paint and into the pages of obscure books on the Elizabethans, Durkee travels from Vermont to Tokyo to Mississippi to DC and ultimately to London to confront the stuffy curators forever protecting the Bard’s image. For his part, Durkee is the adversary they didn’t know they had—a self-described dilettante with nothing to lose, the “Dan Brown of Elizabethan portraiture.”
A bizarre and surprisingly moving blend of biography, art history, and madness, Stalking Shakespeare is a “gripping, poignant, and enjoyable” (The Washington Post) journey that will forever change the way you look at one of history’s greatest cultural and literary icons.
About the Author
Lee Durkee is the author of The Last Taxi Driver, named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020, Rides of the Midway, and Stalking Shakespeare. His stories and essays have appeared in Harper’s, The Sun, Oxford American, Zoetrope: All Story, and Mississippi Noir. He lives in northern Mississippi.
"[A] wickedly entertaining trawl through several centuries of discovered, and discredited, portraits of our greatest poet . . . packed with skulduggery and delusion . . . [Durkee] becomes a gonzo detective, uncovering the murky goings-on of early-17th-century life. Writing with a blend of punk wit and adrenaline, he captures the turbulence and unnerving verve of that age better than many." —Dominic Dromgoole, The New York Times
“Durkee’s zeal proves infectious, and he keeps readers hooked with his dogged sleuth-work, his radical thoughts on authorship and his insightful potted histories of each portrait . . . His prose is vibrant . . . his words thrill and beguile. . . . Stalking Shakespeare is part treasure hunt, part warts-and-all memoir. . . . gripping, poignant and enjoyable.” —The Washington Post
"Intensely readable . . . with bust-out laughing moments, Stalking Shakespeare recounts the Mississippi novelist Lee Durkee's Adderall-fueled spiral into art obsession, his darkest inner monologues while holed up in a Vermont fishing shack, and the daring trip he took to London to find answers for himself." —Garden & Gun, Best New Books for Southerners in 2023
"Durkee approaches Shakespeare visually through the small number of existing portraits. . . . an obsessive global quest. . . . Shakespeare keeps slipping away, even when we try to look him in the face." —Wall Street Journal
“A lively report of a passionate quest that should appeal to any fan of the Bard.” —Kirkus
“One of the boldest, most exhilarating books I've read this year. Durkee is a great raconteur, whose curiosity and love for literature is positively contagious. Somewhere Shakespeare—whatever he actually looked like—is smiling.” —George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo
"My favorite 2023 reading experience. . . . Stalking Shakespeare is splendid, capturing both the wry humor and the underlying melancholy in the author’s prose. What I responded to so strongly in Stalking Shakespeare is the way it demonstrates the way that a fascination—in Lee Durkee’s case, with Edwardian portraiture—can become a fixation, the center of a whole life, the roundabout that all our personal traffic passes along." —Owen King, New York Times bestselling author of Sleeping Beauties and The Curator
"Hold on for a wild ride . . . Wielding an elegant and eclectic writing style, Durkee lobs words like firecrackers, holding our wide-eyed attention as he blazes through to his point. . . . The soul of this story is the author, a battered man, broken-hearted, Adderall addicted, the epitome of a lost spirit, gracious, without an ounce of avarice, not so much looking for the ad vivum Shakespeare, I submit, but inner peace and purpose, a quiet spot in the sunlight, the ad vivum Durkee. . . . [a] beautifully penned quest of stalking the inexplicable." —Leader's Edge
“Stalking Shakespeare is beautiful, weird, poignant, genre-bending, and should rattle the zeitgeist. Follow Lee Durkee as he tries to glimpse the true face of the Bard and, along the way, maybe catch sight of his own true face, too.” —Wright Thompson, senior writer for ESPN and author of Pappyland