Edward Dowden was born in Cork, County Cork, Ireland.
Irish critic, biographer, and poet, noted for his critical work on Shakespeare.
Educated at Queen's College, Cork, and Trinity College, Dublin, Dowden became professor of English literature at Trinity in 1867 and lectured at Oxford (1890-93) and Cambridge (1893-96).
His Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (1875) was the first book in English to attempt a unified and rounded picture of Shakespeare's development as an artist, studying him in terms of successive periods. His other works on Shakespeare include the primer Shakspere (1877), which was written for a nonacademic audience, and several edited collections of sonnets. He also provided the text to accompany the illustrations in Shakespeare Scenes and Characters (1876).
His wide interests and scholarly methods made his influence on criticism both sound and stimulating, and his own ideals are well described in his essay on The Interpretation of Literature in his Transcripts and Studies. As commissioner of education in Ireland (1896–1901), trustee of the National Library of Ireland, secretary of the Irish Liberal Union and vice-president of the Irish Unionist Alliance, he enforced his view that literature should not be divorced from practical life. His biographical/critical concepts, particularly in connection with Shakespeare, are played with by Stephen Dedalus in the library chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses. Leslie Fiedler was to play with them again in The Stranger in Shakespeare.
Dowden married twice, first (1866) Mary Clerke, and secondly (1895) Elizabeth Dickinson West, daughter of the dean of St Patrick's. His daughter, Hester Dowden, was a well-known spiritualist medium