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

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  262 ratings  ·  32 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
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
Steven Belanger
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
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
Manuel Antão
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 “seven
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
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
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
Charles Matthews
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
Cassian Russell
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
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
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
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
Joss Carter
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Kim Le Patourel
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.
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.
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.
Cynthia Greenwood
Click on the link below to see Cynthia's review of Soul of the Age;
Elizabeth Finnegan
Scholarly yet written for the layperson. Jonathan bate takes Shakespeare's seven ages of man to discuss the life, times and influences of Shakespeare.
Fascinating analysis of the wider historical and personal context of the Bard's life and works. Essential reading for all Shakespeare lovers.
Mari Stroud
I'm not sure where the line between deep insight and happy bullshit is to be drawn with this book, but it is entertaining.
Excellent look at the conditions and the age in which Shakespeare was writing and how that molded his character and his writing.
Detailed and wonderful! Full of fascinating history and thorough research about Shakespear and his world.
Dec 24, 2011 Bayla rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys Shakespeare
A fascinating mix of biography, history, and scholarship.
Dec 12, 2009 Tammy marked it as to-read
LJ's 2009 Best Books of the Year Non-Fiction
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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
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