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Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
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Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  326 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
“One man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespea
Hardcover, 471 pages
Published April 7th 2009 by Random House (first published October 1st 2008)
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Elizabeth McCollum
I was really liking this book, reveling in yet another sensible author who doesn't fall for the whole Shakespearean controversy nonsense. He had lots of really great detail about Shakespeare's life and how it informs his works etc. Then he's talking about Hamlet and Polonius' speech to Laertes, and his analysis of the speech is simply that it is full of old saws and cliched advice. And that the end of the speech, "To thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not ...more
Jul 14, 2014 Richard rated it it was amazing
I am a bit of a Shakespeare 'bore' and will not hear a word against him. Genius is a much overused word but in Shakespeare's case it is totally deserved.

Jonathan Bate helps explain why WS was of his time and how Shakespeare was influenced and influenced the Elizabethan and Jacobean world and why he is so bloody important....and why you sat there in school reading his words and why, as an actor and a playwright we should get off our backsides and act his words not just read them.

Bate's book is no
Oct 13, 2014 Bettie☯ marked it as wish-list
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: FutureLearn
The main educator on Shakespeare and his World, The University of Warwick
Steven Belanger
Oct 21, 2013 Steven Belanger rated it really liked it
Mostly-fascinating collection of essays, thoughts, theories and placing-you-there Elizabethan history that attempts to understand nothing less than the very mind of Shakespeare, as a man of his time, and--as Ben Jonson famously wrote--as a man "not of an age, but for all time." Besides a couple of chapters about the politics and religion of his time that I found a bit too dry, the book succeeds at doing so. It is at its best when it sticks to the literary and theatrical stuff: his plays, his the ...more
Jul 30, 2016 Brian rated it liked it
“Soul of the Age” is Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate’s attempt at “biography of the mind” of the Bard. His take on it is to examine Shakespeare’s life, time, and works through the lenses of his famous “7 Ages of Man” speech from his play “As You Like It”. An intriguing idea, but not one that I am sure comes across as completely successful in this text.
First off, this is not a biography for the casual reader of Shakespeare. This book assumes a certain amount of knowledge of Shakespeare’s work,
Jun 21, 2009 Paul rated it really liked it
Another excellent biography of the life, work and times of Shakespeare written by a scholar of great depth. We continue to add to our knowledge of the age of Shakespeare. Greenblatt's "Will in the World" did a similar study but with many more "Could it be that...?" phrases. Another key to the book is that the author writes about his subject both as playwright and as player offering new insights to the theater world. A close correlation between the time the players were preformed and the historic ...more
Cassian Russell
Feb 01, 2014 Cassian Russell rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating look at Shakespeare. I call it a socio-cultural biography. Bate organizes the book around the 7 ages of human life and describes each stage in terms of the Elizabethan context and what is likely to have been the case with Shakespeare. As he goes, he makes wonderfully stimulating connections with the plays. Specific points in the plays have been newly illuminated by this book. It goes on my self with other intriguing Shakespeare books by Ackroyd, Burgess, Shapiro, Goddard an ...more
Mar 01, 2016 Sydney rated it it was ok
A wonderful premise, but Bate struggled to make the necessary connections. A familiarity with both Shakespeare and British history is necessary in order not to drown in the academic language.
Charles Matthews
Nov 30, 2010 Charles Matthews rated it really liked it
Many things are unknowable about Shakespeare's life, including his relationship to his wife and the period between their marriage and his showing up in London as an actor-playwright. That hasn't stopped writers from speculating, however, and from going to the plays and poems to plug the biographical holes. Even the best conventional biography of Shakespeare I've read, Stephen Greenblatt's bestselling Will in the World, relies on that approach more than Bate does.

What Bate gives us is, as his sub
Jul 03, 2016 Antenna rated it really liked it
Sequenced to follow the seven phases of a man’s life in the famous “All the world’s a stage” soliliquy, chapters takes the form of themed essays.

Readers will be struck by different revelations and insights in the spate of ideas. I realised for the first time that it was the banning of the cycles of medieval mystery plays by the Protestant Reformation which created a vacuum into which Shakespeare could present his new plays, untrammelled by dogma, relatively free to range over a wide range of to
Manuel Antão
Sep 17, 2015 Manuel Antão rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2015
Infant, Schoolboy, Lover, Soldier, Justice, Pantaloon, and Oblivion: “Soul of the Age” by Jonathan Bate Published 2009.
There are devotees of Wagner, Madre Teresa, and Cristiano Ronaldo; my fate has been Shakespeare.
“I like to think that Shakespeare would have adopted a similar procedure if he had been commissioned to write his own biography,” says Bate. Uhm…Really? Narcissism on Bate’s part? Maybe only someone with Bate’s background would be able to tackle a project of this magnitude. The “sev
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]I read Bates' earlier book, The Genius of Shakespeare, at the end of last year, and very much enjoyed it; this didn't grab me quite as much, but is still very good, concentrating on what Shakespeare's works tell us about his environment - cultural, political and intellectual - rather than on the man and his legacy as in the earlier book. It is organised around the Seven Ages of Man speech, which gives a nice thematic progression. The chap ...more
Aug 15, 2011 Alan rated it really liked it
There were times when I wanted to throw the book at Bates in frustration at his leaps of conjecture and conclusions without foundation. Yet, in between those moments, I enjoyed the book. At times Bates' admiration of Shakespeare bordered on bardoltry, though not to the same infuriating extent as Bloom's in his The Invention of the Human.

The Seven Ages of Man device was a bit artificial and, given the paucity of information we have about Shakespeare's life, there were times when Bates struggled t
May 27, 2012 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every book about Shakespeare must deal in conjecture, since the subject is unknowable in so many areas of his life, and since all plays are open to interpretation, readers can disagree with an author's view, but one ought not fault an author for what he thinks. I read this along with Greenblatt's "Will In The World" and the short book "Shakespeare" by Anthony Burgess (which is fabulous). This book belongs in any Shakespeare lover's shelf. It's not perfect, but no book is, and for this Shakespear ...more
Aug 13, 2012 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book from a man who has obviously done his research. There were times when he went off on a subject with a little more detail then I really cared to know and he frequently leaped to conclusions regarding Shakespeare's life and motivations without any real support data. Of course, most of the information is unknowable. I really did not need to read a whole chapter on books Shakespeare "might" have had in his library chest, we will never know this information. I did take note that many ...more
Alley Rivers
"A sonnet is a crystallization of the emotion of a moment"
Bate looks at Shakespeare's life, breaking it into sections like "The Infant" and "The Schoolboy" that follow the "All the world's a stage" speech in As You Like It. There isn't a lot of information about Shakespeare's life so there's a lot of conjecture involved. A bit dry and academic, so if that's what you're looking for, hey, a book for you.

What Red Read: Soul of the Age , by Jonathan Bate
Connie Kronlokken
This is a wonderful book, revealing Shakespeare to have been a man "in full." "Add to Stoicism an acknowledgment of the needs of the body and the raw materiality of things, then what do you get? The answer is a powerful philosophy that had a largely bad press in the Renaissance, but that might actually have been the closest Shakespeare came to a belief."

"Shakespeare is often praised for sympathizing equally with all his characters. But he did not. There are some characters with whom he fell in l
Oct 13, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. Sometimes, the conceit of the seven ages was pretty loose - the connection between some of what he was writing about, and the age he was in, was tenuous. But the information was all interesting, especially the 'student' section where he wrote about all the sources Shakespeare drew from.

If you expect there to be chronological order working here, you might want to give up that idea and just enjoy the topic approach.

I also liked the multiple occasions when he said, "Given thi
Jun 11, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
This is a superb book, which will warrant at least three reads, and a permanent place on any bookshelf - however small.

Jonathan Bate bravely shares many original ideas, deftly backed up with detailed evidence.

Shakespeare, the poet, the lover, the businessman, the actor, the dramatist, the political analyst, the philosopher, the quiet man in a dark corner of the inn - listening out for unconsidered trifles and juicy gossip. The bard was all these things and more.

Jonathan Bate captures the spirit
David Gray
Jun 26, 2011 David Gray rated it really liked it
Author uses the 7 ages of man as an outline to discuss how Shakespeare's works reflect the times in which he lived and worked. Provides an excellent context for the prominent thought of the age and digs into the sources that Shakespeare likely used. There are some elements of "fantasy" in that there are things we can suppose about Shakespeare but for which there is little if any proof... though to his credit, the author is very clear about what are his suppositions and musings as opposed to thos ...more
Mar 25, 2016 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyable. Jonathan Bate does a wonderful job of making this an illuminating and attention-grabbing take on Shakespeare—for those who know the plays and history well, there’s nothing here that is boring or unnecessarily repetitive, while neophytes will be kept up-to-speed on every page. It’s exactly what great intellectual history needs to be: knowledgeable, broad-minded, creative, yet appropriately limited.
Joss Carter
Feb 23, 2010 Joss Carter rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book on William Shakespeare though some of it went right over my head. However, Jonathan Bate has the knack of making Shakespeare a tangible human being. As he so rightly says, although one should never look for the author in their work it would also be foolish to ignore the fact of their own experiences of life. The warp and weave of the 17th century is tangible in this biography. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Shakespeare and his life and times.
Dec 17, 2009 Patricia rated it really liked it
Shelves: renaissance
Bate's construction of the book around the seven ages of man turned out to be much more creative than it seemed at first. It was an engaging way of grouping together themes in the life and works. Bates makes convincing and thoughtful reexaminations of some common assumptions about Shakespeare's life and works, such as what he may having been doing in the "lost years", or what he meant by turning Bohemia into an island.
Apr 17, 2016 Lynn rated it it was amazing
This is embarrassing! I recently got two biographies on Shakespeare from the library, this one and Rene Weis' Shakespeare Unbound. i entered the Weis book on my list, then read Bate's book instead, which I found to be excellent. However, I put that review on the Weis book, which I then read and found very disappointing. So if you read my review of Weis forget it. This was the interesting one.
Apr 17, 2009 Pat rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Shakespeare through the lens of the times and places. I especially enjoyed the history of the 1602 rebellion and how Shakespeare's play may have been involved. Had to learn more about Richard II. The author's occasional barbs at other writers' interpretation of events was not enjoyable. Make your case and don't put down others.
Jul 07, 2009 Jodi rated it liked it
Interesting book. I wondered if there would be a discusstion about the different theories of who could possibly be Shakespeare other than the "Stratford" Shakespeare but there wasn't. Oddly enough, the author continued to refer to him thoughas the "Stratford" Shakespeare.
Jul 07, 2009 Dianna rated it liked it
i'm just going to go ahead and consign this to my started-never-finished folder, it isn't grabbing me. it's not bad, it's just far more detail about the minutia of life in the elizabethan age than i have the attention span for.
Dec 14, 2009 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This jumped around too much for me. The information was all interesting and it was well researched, I prefer biographies that go in chronological order. This one started with his birth and then skipped around his adult years and back to his childhood and all through his years in London.
May 25, 2010 Lydia rated it liked it
Shelves: putbackonshelf
This IS a good book, and a good place to build your Antonia Fraser-like impressions of an era...but I think I need to go to more Shakespeare plays to appreciate right now. Just wasn't in the mood to read about the plague.
Aug 14, 2012 Kizzia rated it really liked it
This was well written and a fascinating insight into Shakespeare's life and work. Obviously part conjecture - it isn't possible for it to be anything else - but that doesn't detract from it. I'd quite happily re-read it and, if I'm honest, probably will.
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Jonathan Bate CBE FBA FRSL is a British academic, biographer, critic, broadcaster, novelist and scholar of Shakespeare, Romanticism and Ecocriticism. He is also Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and Provost of Worcester College, Oxford. A Man Booker Prize judge in 2014.

He studied at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. He has been King Alfred Professor of E
More about Jonathan Bate...

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