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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
Shakespeare biography wins prize
Cover of James Shapiro's prize-winning book
The book covers the year the bard is thought to have turned 35
A partial biography of Shakespeare has won BBC Four's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

James Shapiro's A Year In The Life of William Shakespeare looks at the events that inspired the playwright in the year he wrote Henry V.

Mr Shapiro beat competition from Alan Bennett whose memoir Untold Stories was favourite for the 30,000 prize.

The award, now in its eighth year, celebrates originality and diversity in contemporary non-fiction.

Mr Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University, says his book was partly inspired by the film Shakespeare In Love, which starred Joseph Fiennes.

In it, he contends that 1599 was the most important year of the bard's life.

It was the year Shakespeare turned 35 and completed the first draft of Hamlet, which many people consider to be his greatest play.

The Globe Theatre, which staged many of his works, also opened that year.

The book provides "a remarkable contribution to the understanding of our greatest cultural figure", said Robert Winston, chairman of the judges.

Aside from the main prize - the richest for non-fiction in the English language - each of the five remaining shortlisted authors received 1,000.

In addition to Bennett, they include Tom Judt for his history of modern Europe, Postwar, and Carmen Calil for Bad Faith, about the Vichy government during World War II.

Also on the shortlist were Tom Reiss' The Orientalist and Jerry Brotton's The Sale of the Late King's Goods.

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