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James Shapiro
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Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, a 12c Fd

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,087 Ratings  ·  240 Reviews

1599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England

Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging an

Published by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mercedes Rochelle
Jan 15, 2016 Mercedes Rochelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first discovered James Shapiro by accident when stumbling across a documentary called "Shakespeare, The King's Man". This show demonstrated how contemporary events found expression in his writing, especially in the early years of King James' reign. I was totally inspired by his train of thought, which prompted me to purchase this volume; it covers a year near the end of Elizabeth's reign, driven by totally different influences. As a result, my understanding of Shakespeare has undergone a massi ...more
May 13, 2012 Malakalima rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know that I could say exactly why, but I absolutely loved this book. It was such an interesting read and I just drank it all in.
I felt it was well done, although perhaps not exceptionally so, but I had one major issue with it. I felt there were several points where Shapiro draws conclusions about what Shakespeare must have felt about a certain issue based on something that a character says in one of his plays. This is extremely fallacious, in my opinion, and really bothered me. The one I
Feb 03, 2010 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Barbara by: Paula Fowler - Utah Symphony and Opera Education Director
This is what I wanted in a biography about Shakespeare. It looked into the events of his time and discussed how those events contributed to his work. It also talked about why his writing appealed to both the rustic and the aristocracy of his time. It also discussed how he grew and progressed as a writer. As we know, Shakespeare was great at stealing stories from others and reworking them into a better story. The book also discusses this and why his versions are such improvements on the originals ...more
Jan 27, 2015 Fionnuala rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
1599 was the year that the famous Globe theatre was built and the year that Shakespeare created Hamlet, probably the first character in the history of the theatre to wrestle so intelligently and so eloquently with his own demons. For these reasons it seems, James Shapiro chose to focus on 1599 when he set out to write his "intimate history of Shakespeare" as the blurb on the back of the book puts it. But very little documentary evidence exists relating to Shakespeare's life, apart from his plays ...more
Rex Fuller
Jan 21, 2016 Rex Fuller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No doubt being an English lit nerd helps to appreciate this book. That way the endless digression that is probably necessary to encompass not just what Shakespeare wrote in 1599 but the context of it as well won’t gripe you. In fact, you’ll come to give up expecting a recognizable analytical structure and just go with the pleasantly readable flow.

Shapiro lays out the plays of 1599, Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. Putting out such a list in one year is astonishing enough. And
Jan 16, 2015 Jorge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Acudí al Bardo de Stratford upon Avon para llenar mis soledades e incertidumbres, pero ahora desde otro punto de vista no necesariamente el de su obra, quise hurgar un poco en su vida y en sus inspiraciones, sumergirme en su biografía, en sus razones y en sus incertidumbres. Mucho se ha dicho del genio de Shakespeare, de su conocimiento del alma humana y en vano he tratado de entender la grandeza de sus obras y de su pensamiento. A veces pienso que su obra para mí resulta un pozo muy hondo y osc ...more
Apr 12, 2013 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't praise this book highly enough: an inspired idea, meticulously researched, executed with consummate skill and insight.

Professor James Shapiro takes as his subject the year in which Shakespeare completed Henry V, wrote Julius Caesar and As You Like It and drafted Hamlet. He relates the content of the plays to the playwright's life, to what was happening in the London playhouses, to the court of Queen Elizabeth, to current affairs such as the English invasion of Ireland and the fear of ano
Jun 02, 2010 Alan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alan by: F R Jameson
don't read much non fiction, but this one caught my eye in the library (after a recommendation from F R Jameson). As some of you know I take a keen interest in local writers (eg I've recently read Anthony Cartwright's 'Heartland' set in Dudley, Mez Packer's 'Among Thieves' set in Coventry and Raphael Selbourne's 'Beauty' set in Wolverhampton). Well here is a local lad who did quite well for himself - Shakespeare. I live less than twenty miles from Stratford and am often hanging about the same ha ...more
Barnaby Thieme
Often entertaining and sometimes illuminating, this book is an imaginative attempt to ground Shakespeare's works in his times. It will be of special interest to readers who are equally drawn to the history of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's work, as the purely historical exposition constitutes a large part of the book. Surveys works written in and around 1599, which Shapiro identifies as Henry V, Julius Cesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. I liked some of his closest readings best, and parti ...more
Nov 30, 2007 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an absolutely fascinating read! It is NOT a biography of Shakespeare -- those are abundant, despite the meager information available about the man -- but rather a study of the significant events which most certainly influenced the writer.

While some of the information grew a little tedious for me (specifically the long chapter on Essex's battle with Tyrone of Ireland), I found much of the examination quite remarkable.

Most certainly I learned some things about Shakespeare and about his wr
A pretty good look at how the events in one year - both nationally and personally - might have impacted Shakespeare's writing. Unlike some authors I can think of, Shapiro keeps the guesswork to almost non-existent and is always very clear when he is guessing.

I would've liked a look at connection between Hamlet and Scotland, though I must admit.

Nice combination of history, biography, and criticism.
Christian Schoon
so far, so fascinating.... And now that I'm done: A deeply researched, lively and totally engaging summation of not only a fateful year in the life of England but a year or so of unparalleled creativity from Shakespeare - including his re-working/transformation of the existing story of Hamlet. Worth the read as both history and biographical snapshot.
Jun 15, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Shakespeare and am not an anti-Avonian. I started reading this book as a birthday present to me and I am glad that I did.

I am absolutely agog over the brilliance of James Shapiro. Granted, there are many -- many, perhaps most -- writers who tackle Shakespeare who might as well be writing fiction. Shapiro does veer into this category but there is so little known about Shakespeare that speculation is inevitable and speculation does, at times, become certainty.

Shapiro, however, presents some
Jill Lapin-Zell
Jun 14, 2016 Jill Lapin-Zell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I do not think there is a more knowledgeable and competent authority on the topic of William Shakespeare and the impact of the playwright's world on his work. When I finished reading "The Year of Lear", which Shapiro penned after this book, I knew I had to read this one. Everything I said in my review of that book applies to this one, and then some. Shapiro takes a topic which many people would avoid because of its complexity, and makes it completely accessible to the novice. Rather than present ...more
Leonard Nakamura
James Shapiro, by writing up the history of the year 1599 in Elizabethan England, sheds a powerful light on Shakespeare and the four great plays written in this year: Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. Having seen all but Julius Caesar fairly recently, I was surprised at what a different reading I found here. All these plays feel different when seen in the light of the great effort to punish the Irish rebel Tyrone and the threats to Elizabeth and England that accompanied it. Sha ...more
Mar 02, 2010 F.R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part history, part textual examination and part biography; ‘1599’ does an excellent job of putting Shakespeare’s work – and the man himself – into context. It was a momentous year for The Bard, he wrote ‘Henry V’, ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘As You Like It’ and started on ‘Hamlet’. But it was also a tumultuous year for England, with an aged queen, over-ambitious lords and the threat of invasion (and indeed insurrection) hanging in the air. Shapiro takes on the task of showing how the events of the world a ...more
Jul 03, 2012 Sammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A beautiful read. In "1599", Shapiro tackles one year in the history of the citizens of London. It also happens to be the year William Shakespeare wrote "Henry V", "As You Like It", and "Julius Caesar", and began work on "Hamlet".

Despite the book's title, "1599" spreads its time equally between Elizabeth and her citizens, and the Bard himself. As Shapiro openly states, we know so little about what exactly led Shakespeare to write his plays, and about specific events in his life, that anything i
May 11, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book wasn't really what I expected. The book title is, in reflection, ambiguous for the book uses 1599 as a fulcrum date and Shakespeare almost as a context. As Shapiro notes early on a true biography of Shakespeare is impossible due to the paucity of contemporary reports on his life. The result is a detective story of inference, context and supposition that seeks to find evidence of Shakespeare's influences and activity.

Shapiro does get sidelined by his 'bromance' with the Earl of Essex at
Mar 11, 2009 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-modern
Wonderfully written survey of an important year in Shakespeare's life and Elizabethan culture. This book combines the best of literary criticism, history, and cultural studies. A worthy read for experts and general enthusiasts alike. Shapiro directs our attention to a period in Elizabethan history when tensions and anxieties were peaking. This is an important tale to remember: we often celebrate the end of the century as the Golden Age of English culture and literary achievement; but just around ...more
Sep 23, 2012 Alan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read James Shapiro's 1599 three hundred and six years after its subject, the year it came out. It is the best written book on Shakespeare I have read in decades, and since Shakespeare is only known because he wrote so well, Shapiro's is the the most Shakespearean book on Shakespeare. From the first page account of the deconstruction (no, not the French mind-game, but a carpentry event) of The Theater
at night to prepare for the construction of the Globe miles south and across the river, this bo
Oct 11, 2014 Jennifer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Terrible. The author states in the prologue that "rather than litter the pages" with "hedging" words like "maybe, surely, probably" that he has dispensed with them for the sake of easier reading. What emerges is sloppy scholarship-- there is so little information on WS's life and especially his thoughts, that claiming that Shakespeare felt this or that at any point is impossible.

Besides this massive, massive problem there is also the fact that this is basically a textual analysis of Henry V, As
Apr 19, 2010 Dayna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Completely awesome, and a very nice complement to the book I just read, Will in the World. Shapiro covers a little bit of the same territory, which helped to solidify that information in my brain. But he does a fascinating close up of four plays in particular and the circumstances surrounding their creation: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, As You Like It, and Henry V, Part 2. It makes me want to watch that BBC Elizabeth series again starring Helen Mirren, all about the entanglement between the Queen and ...more
Scott Smith
It's exactly what you think it would be, and if you're a Shakespeare nerd, you'll enjoy it for that reason.

I don't think it's a book that'll CONVERT any non-Shakespeare-nerds, though.
Roman Clodia
Jun 09, 2016 Roman Clodia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for a standard biography of Shakespeare then this definitely isn't it: Shapiro eschews the usual methods of writing a life and instead concentrates on a single year in Shakespeare's life.

He examines what was happening politically and culturally and how those events both manifest in the plays Shakespeare was writing that year, and also how they might have affected his future work. As he admits himself, this is mostly speculation and cannot ever be confirmed, but it's an imaginat
Rachel Jackson
I don't know why my reviews haven't been saving to Goodreads lately. I read this book earlier this year — I forget exactly when — but apparently my review has vanished, and I don't feel like rewriting the whole thing, so I'm just going to include a couple of notes I took when I was reading through it.
— I don’t find this book particularly insightful or interesting. It takes a lot about the political things that were going on at the time Shakespeare was writing, but historians have done research
John W.
Apr 11, 2016 John W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read James Shapiro's The Year of Lear, I turned to his earlier book about Shakespeare in 1599. In that year Shakespeare wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Hamlet. I found it very good especially as to As You Like It and Hamlet, both of which I was inspired to re read. In As You Like It, Shakespeare was using a familiar story but once again he changed it to make it the remarkable tale that it is and one filled with music and the parallel stories of the several couples. It als ...more
Mark Valentine
Jan 30, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading Shapiro's literary history that I wish he would write a sequel: Shakespeare, 1600 and then Shakespeare, 1601. In the meantime, I'll savor this volume.

Shakespeare's capacity to assimilate the poetry, gossip, politics, fears, and everyday detritus into performance piece's STILL BEING PERFORMED gets my attention.

I learned that Shakespeare's development of the soliloquy had its roots in a new genre borrowed from France, the essay, thank you, Montaigne. I learned of the tight polit
Jan 23, 2016 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I vacillate between giving this book 4 or 5 stars. I ended up giving it 5 due to its novel approach to its subject, and the amount of research involved. However as a text that consistently keeps your interest it is a 4, because I often found myself a little bored, and wishing for the author to get to his next subject.
This text is not a biography of Shakespeare. Rather it is a historical exploration of the year 1599, and the culture of Elizabethan England, and how those aspects of his life and ti
Dec 28, 2014 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, writers
What is wonderful about this book, is that the thesis is very academic, as is the thinking behind it, but the book is marvelously accessible to the general reader!

Shapiro's thesis is that the public events of 1599 (The Irish Rebellion, the fall of Essex, the fear of a second Armada, and the nearing succession of Eliz. I - of which it was treasonous to speak) and the events in the personal/professional life of WS (the new theater, the loss of his popular comic actor, the unauthorized publication
Jan 08, 2010 Johanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
What a neat idea! Interdisciplinary approach to exploring the zeitgeist of late Tudor England while also providing a refreshing literary analysis of the plays Shakespeare wrote in 1599, including some insights about Hamlet that I hadn't really known about until I read the book. One of the most informative and yet enjoyable books I have read, it is dense but I finished it relatively quickly. I totally recommend this book to lovers of Shakespeare, lovers of Tudor history, lovers of literary analys ...more
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James S. Shapiro is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University who specialises in Shakespeare and the Early Modern period. Shapiro has served on the faculty at Columbia University since 1985, teaching Shakespeare and other topics, and he has published widely on Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture.
More about James Shapiro...

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“By wrenching this increasingly outdated revenge play into the present, Shakespeare forced his contemporaries to experience what he felt and what his play registers so profoundly: the world had changed. Old certainties were gone, even if new ones had not yet taken hold. The most convincing way of showing this was to ask playgoers to keep both plays in mind at once, to experience a new Hamlet while memories of the old one, ghostlike, still lingered. Audiences at the Globe soon found themselves, like Hamlet, straddling worlds and struggling to reconcile past and present.” 1 likes
“WHEN SCHOLARS TALK ABOUT THE SOURCES OF SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS, they almost always mean printed books like Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles” 0 likes
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