Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
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Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  4,426 ratings  ·  470 reviews
Stephen Greenblatt, the charismatic Harvard professor who "knows more about Shakespeare than Ben Jonson or the Dark Lady did" (John Leonard, Harper's), has written a biography that enables us to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life; full of drama and pageantry, and also cruelty and danger; could...more
Paperback, 430 pages
Published 2005 by W.W. Norton (first published September 30th 2004)
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Will in the World by Stephen GreenblattShakespeare by Bill BrysonA Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James ShapiroShakespeare by Peter AckroydShakespeare by Harold Bloom
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Community Reviews

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Cheryl
Jul 28, 2014 Cheryl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of imaginative biographies, lovers of Shakespeare, his plays and sonnets
How did "a young man from a provincial town--without independent wealth, without powerful family connections and without a university education" move to London in the late 1580's and in a remarkably short time become "the greatest playwright not of his age alone but maybe of all time"? Greenblatt does not answer his question but does provide a highly readable book with beautiful prose and much to think about.

Greenblatt imagines Shakespeare's plays and sonnets as context dependent on the Bard's l...more
Kelly
Jul 07, 2008 Kelly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Shakespearean inclined people
I think the theory of Shakespeare that he's espousing is a little far fetched. I'm just going to put it out there. The way he gets from argument to argument is 'well, this probably didn't happen... but what if it /did/.... then this would be true...' and then he'll go on to spout some more historical facts that would then fall into place of that was true. So, as an academic argument? I don't find this book particularly strong.

However. There is a lot of information here about the life of Shakespe...more
Fewlas
Stephen Greenblatt si è preso la briga e la libertà di far combaciare le pochissime prove d’archivio che ci sono giunte riguardanti la vita di Shakespeare con tutte le sue opere (teatrali e poetiche) che tutti noi abbiamo la fortunata possibilità di leggere. Facendo inoltre sempre molta attenzione al contesto storico, dando un peso inimmaginabile anche al più apparentemente insignificante accadimento, riesce a creare una biografia geniale e rivoluzionaria. Una biografia che è pesantemente infarc...more
Rhonda
"If Shakespeare wore shoes--and we have reason to suppose he did--he might have worn some like the ones in this picture."

I'm paraphrasing, but not by much. This is Greenblatt's own special brand of persiflage that drove Germaine Greer to write her excellent Shakespeare's Wife, so I guess this book was good for something.

Read Greer instead. On her way to responsible speculation about the character of Anne Hathaway, traditionally assumed to have been a millstone around her husband's neck--on no...more
Trevor
This book could have been (perhaps even should have been) so much worse than it turned out. Even stating the premise sends a shiver down my spine. The premise is, “How about we speculate on the life and loves of Shakespeare on the basis of the evidence we can find in his plays, poems and sonnets!” You can feel it can't you? It is like the shiver you get from a wind blowing off snow.

If I’d guessed the book was going to be about such speculations I would never have started it. I mean, I would jus...more
Andrew
Stephen Greenblatt is just wonderful. This book makes blood flow between the sonnets, plays and legal records that comprise the slim documentary record of Shakespeare's career.

His analysis is contextual. As you read the book, your attention is driven through a route that wends alternatingly through the terrains of Shakespeare's world, life and work. Greenblatt is a spectacular writer with amazing structural control.

Some bullet points will give you a sense of what I loved about this book:

• Shake...more
Jonathan
Apr 13, 2008 Jonathan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: um, Shakespeare fans? duh.
Recommended to Jonathan by: Puck
Not just a bio of Will, but also a great look into what made him tick, and how he may have come to write his plays. The book is an interesting look into the history of the late 16th and early 17th century, and how the events of the times shaped Shakespeare's life. Unfortunately, many of the details of Shakespeare's life are lost, but Greenblatt uses what is available to make educated guesses as what influences and experiences Shakespeare used to create his masterworks. An altogether fascinating...more
Anne
Jun 16, 2007 Anne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Bardophiles
This is a thrilling read; even at its most speculative (and sometimes it goes a bit far), WILL IN THE WORLD is a feat of scholarship, an example of how a lively but discriminating imagination can engage with historical evidence. Greenblatt makes me feel that Shakesepare was human...which should be a given (after all, he wasn't a wookie), but I've always pictured him as a magical marble bust of himself from which lightning crackled and astounding language (in blank verse) emanated. Or as Joseph F...more
Ensiform
Greenblatt sketches out what is known about the life of Shakespeare, interspersing the meager details with background information about Elizabethan England. He tells of, for example, the tension between Catholics and Protestants, the vilification of the Jews, the myriad ways in which the society was brutal and bloody, and King James’ beliefs on witches and prophecy. The result is a very intriguing book with many interesting and extremely debatable propositions.

That some of the sonnets seem to be...more
Charles Matthews
Perhaps. Probably. Maybe. These words hiccup through any biography of Shakespeare, and Stephen Greenblatt's is no exception. For the facts about Shakespeare's life are, as Greenblatt puts it, ''abundant but thin.'' We know all sorts of stuff about the property he bought and sold, the taxes he paid, the theatrical companies he worked for. We have his baptismal record, his marriage license and his last will and testament.

What we don't have are letters, diaries, manuscripts or anything that would...more
Anna
My immediate response upon finishing this book?

Every Shakespeare play I read from now on will be funnier, deeper, more moving and generally more of a joy because I read this.

What we know of Shakespeare's biography is notoriously fragmented, but Greenblatt fuses an extraordinarily depth of knowledge with the facts we do have, along with the extensive context of the strange, bloody and beautiful world of Elizabethan England. To that potent mix, he adds a passionate and lucid understanding of Shake...more
Nick
The library shelves groan under the weight of the tomes about Shakespeare, but, oddly enough, the writer himself was not much concerned with books. Certainly he read, that we know from his liberal borrowings from old Teutonic and Italian stories. But he never saw what we see in the bookstore, the sonnets were handed around among friends without prior thought for publication (at least in Stephen Greenblatt's reconstruction) and the various theater companies for which he wrote (and in which he inv...more
Robert Farwell
Every historian, critic, author or amateur who starts a book on William Shakespeare knows they are facing tremendous odds. Shakespeare was private, lived 400+ years ago, left very few written records about himself, and those things he did leave are often ambiguous. Writing a book about him is like writing a serious book about Moses, Jesus or Kubla Khan. Separating the myth from the man and the man from his work is a full-time, and nearly quixotic gig.

So, how do you write a book about the most i...more
Alex
I studied a lot of Shakespeare in college. I just like that guy. No one else can explore such huge themes so concisely and so beautifully, and I think he's the real deal.

And he's hard to biographize, partly because we famously don't know a ton about him, but also I think partly because he was just something special. Someone who wrote outside himself.

So, for example, in this terrific biography, Greenblatt points out that it's kinda weird that Shakespeare's son died and he appeared not to deal wit...more
Chris
Some parts of this book raise very good points about the plays and sonnets (though a little over heavy on guesswork). I did like some of his comments on the later plays in relation to Shakespeare's daughter. Some parts of this book caused me to raise eyebrows. Greenblatt's reading of Shylock seems to be too modern, too "what iffy".

But I have to ask, what the he** did Anne Hathaway do to Greenblatt? He seems to hate her even more than Anthony Holden does.

Read the remarks about the plays, skip th...more
Susan
This biography of William Shakespeare will not appeal to everyone, and parts of its ~400 pages did not appeal to me, but I am still very glad that I read it.

There is so much that is not known about Shakespeare but this author has done his research and also done his best to tie all the parts together. What I loved most about the book was seeing how so much of Shakespeare's writing reflected his life. The influence of the ongoing war between Catholicism and Protestantism, of his rather odd relatio...more
Joshua
Stephen Greenblatt reveals the ease and intimacy in which he engages with Shakespeare—not only as a reader of plays and poetry, but as a biographer peering over the shoulder of the elusive bard, on his journey from bucolic Stratford to the bustling, often dangerous stage of London theater. Greenblatt humanizes a figure that was so prolific, so otherworldly in his talent, that many people think Shakespeare did not exist, and was a pen name encompassing an array of personalities, including his dar...more
Alissa Mccarthy
"I heard about this book on NPR one morning and read it on the flights to and from Cape Town. I don’t read much non-fiction, but this was a delight to read.
A biography that enables us to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life; full of drama and pageantry, and also cruelty and danger; could have become the world's greatest playwright. A young man from the provinces—a man without wealth, connections, or university educatio...more
Melissa
Enjoyed it tremendously: very readable, very good scholarship. Didn't catch him in any outrageous errors in theater history; his portrayal of the world of the theater and its interactions with Elizabethan/Jacobean theater made sense. Will was amazingly accomplished, well beyond his wordcraft: he must have been an exceptionally busy man when he was in London. The teases are there as well -- the things we'll never know, as there is nothing surviving to tell us -- why he went off to London to seek...more
AC
I found this deathly dull, even too dull for listening on Audible while driving back-and-forth. Whole chapters are devoted to what should have been crammed into a footnote. I'm sure it's me, not you Stephen...!
Andrea
Interesting and well-written, but Greenblatt does a little too much speculating. I don't quite buy into his theories, but it was fascinating to see where his ideas took him. Granted, there's very little valid historical data regarding Shakespeare's life as a whole so to glean what little bit there is made this book worth reading. Since I able to think for myself I can certainly take or leave Greenblatt's theories however entertaining they may be.
Laura
At 40, the Bard meditates on old age. Stephen Greenblatt's reconstruction of Shakespeare's life and era. Read by Toby Stephens.
William
More than any other single author, past or present, who wrote in the English language, none has been the focus of more essays, criticisms, and analysis than The Bard. But for the majority of his plays, sonnets, and poems that are known and can be read in their entirety by us, William Shakespeare still remains an historical and biographical enigma for scholars and enthusiasts alike, until Harvard Professor Stephen Greenblatt's biography of Shakespeare was first published in 2004.

Perhaps more comp...more
Elizabeth K.
This was fun in the way it would be fun to take a very good Honors Literature class in high school (except it would be fun in a different way, now that I am an adult, as opposed to the way it was fun when I actually took Honors Lit in high school and spent a great deal of time passing notes to my friend Kim about how to best coordinate our outfits for the upcoming weekend). Because we don't know very much about Shakespeare's life -- and I do in fact remember learning that in high school and thin...more
Patrick
Amazon review:
There's no shortage of good Shakespearean biographies. But Stephen Greenblatt, brilliant scholar and author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, reminds us that the "surviving traces" are "abundant but thin" as to known facts. He acknowledges the paradox of the many biographies spun out of conjecture but then produces a book so persuasive and breathtakingly enjoyable that one wonders what he could have done if the usual stuff of biographical inquiry--memoirs, i...more
Joan
I read this book in the middle of a three-Shakespeare bio binge recently on audiobook. It was a critical part of my three-hour-a-day-commute summer. I highly recommend the trifecta of Will in the World, Shakespeare: The Biography and A Year in the Life of Shakespeare.

Will in the World moves away from timeline biography and addresses Shakespeare's life through themes represented in his plays. It's fun for us who like to think that Shakespeare's life is somehow on the stage. Greenblatt makes the...more
D Edward
This is a very interesting look at the world William "Will" Shakespeare lived in, and some of the historical events that may well have shaped his life.

While there is very little direct evidence of events that had an impact on Shakespeare and could have influenced his work, Stephen Greenblatt does an excellent job of identifying many of the public spectacles, and political intrigues that took place during Shakespeare's lifetime — a visit by Queen Elizabeth to Kenilworth castle in 1575, just outs...more
Lit Folio
It took a few years for me to finally get a hold of this much touted (and aptly so) biopic of this mysterious and brilliant literary luminary. Perhaps of all time. There is something so fascinating about the Bard--the fact that he was not of the privileged Cambridge and Oxford circuit--as his many peers were--including the infamous Christopher Marlowe--but here, Greenblatt brilliantly paints the picture of life in London for the young playwright. Here we see the friendships Shakespeare formed wi...more
Curt Hopkins Hopkins
An excellent book. Greenblatt, like Shapiro, informs without projecting. He synthesizes all that is known about Shakespeare with the events surrounding his life and his work. Worth reading and the guy can actually write.
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literature 7 39 Apr 17, 2013 09:52AM  
Shakespeare Club: WS 1 5 Feb 09, 2013 07:07PM  
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  • Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485
  • Shakespeare by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare
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  • Playing Shakespeare: An Actor's Guide
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Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition, he is the author of nine books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Practicing New Historicism; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of t...more
More about Stephen Greenblatt...
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare Hamlet in Purgatory Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World Shakespearean Negotiations (New Historicism Studies in Cultural Poetics, #84)

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