Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Shakespeare” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  28,968 Ratings  ·  2,281 Reviews
Bill Bryson's biography of William Shakespeare unravels the superstitions, academic discoveries and myths surrounding the life of our greatest poet and playwright.
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 3rd 2007 by HarperPress (first published 2007)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Shakespeare, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Shakespeare

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Pouting Always
Mar 13, 2017 Pouting Always rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm really not a fan of Shakespeare but reading this book really did help explain his popularity, at least in my mind. Everything we know about him seems to be questionable and when you don't know anything conclusive about someone, that leaves a lot up to discussion. Also I never really appreciated how he changed the way English is spoken, probably because I don't know enough about the history of spoken English. I enjoyed the book though, I learnt a lot I didn't know before and I think the autho ...more
Apr 16, 2010 Kalliope rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reads
If you wanted to know more about William Shakespeare, his life, his writings, his times…etc, you would have to embark in the reading of an endless amount of written material that would fill trucks and trucks. Alternatively, you could choose a more expedite path. If instead of rummaging through tons of printed paper one could find a capsule of uncorrupted and distilled Shakespeare, would you not pick this?

And this is what Bill Bryson offers us with his book, Shakespeare The World as Stage.

Why ano
This is a very strange and frustrating book:

• It reads like a lighthearted text book for teenagers/high school - except that it has no index (a cardinal sin for any non-fiction book).
• It is about a wordsmith, but the first chapter focuses on what he may have looked like.
• Its mission and content is to tell us about Shakespeare, yet it tells us in exhaustive and repetitive detail that almost nothing is or can be known about the man ("a wealth of text but poverty of context").

Irrelevant Facts

Barry Pierce
A short, witty, highly readable biography of the Bard by one of the our best beloved writers. Bryson doesn't go incredibly in-depth with this work but I applaud him on that. A lot of biographies can be bogged down by completely unnecessary information which causes the page number to rise to the thousands. This 200-page biog contains about as much information as we casual readers need on Shakespeare. I would definitely include it on a list as one of my most enjoyable biographies in recent memory.
May 26, 2014 Ted rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ted by: Kalliope
We thrill at these plays now. But what must it have been like when they were brand new, when all their references were timely and sharply apt … Imagine what it must have been like to watch Macbeth without knowing the outcome, to be part of a hushed audience hearing Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time, to witness Shakespeare speaking his own lines. There cannot have been, anywhere in history, many more favored places than this.

London Bridge, around the time of Shakespeare’s death.

a short biogra
This audiobook was a perfect companion for a long road trip. Bill Bryson, who has now written books on everything from the history of the universe to the origins of our domesticity to America in the 1920s and, perhaps most endearingly, stories of his various travels around the world, here turns his attention to William Shakespeare.

In this relatively slim volume (it's less than 200 pages), Bryson researched what few facts are known about Shakespeare and synthesized them into chapters on his chil
Apr 27, 2017 Caroline rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-and-biog
Shakespeare: Droeshout Portrait
The Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare, authenticated
as a true likeness by Ben Johnson.


When I worked as a secretary on a tabloid newspaper, many years ago, journalists writing stories based only only a few facts would say they were 'cooking with gas'. This is a cheerful and entertaining read where Bryson is doing just that - so little is known about Shakespeare's life. Yet I think he does a great job. He talks about Tudor England - and the general exper
Diane Barnes
I am not a big fan of either audio books or Shakespeare, but I needed a short something to listen to recently. So on a trip to the library I chose this one because:

1. Bill Bryson wrote it
2. Bill Bryson read it
3. It was only 5.5 hrs long

So I listened to this one and was pleasantly entertained and learned a lot of very interesting things presented in an amusing way. One of the things I learned is that Bill Bryson has a very British accent after having lived in England for many years, despite the f
What a great entertaining listen! I listened to it on my way to work and doing the dishes this week.
I did not get bored one minute - full of interesting facts about Shakespeare's life and his times. Entertaining, erudite and fun. Now, that's a combo hard to beat.
Jun 21, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to read a book which will teach them nothing in a fun and informative way
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: bookcrossers and the big general Bill Bryson fuzzy seal of approval
Well, that was a quick and easy read, very pleasant too thank you Mr Bryson. After reading this book I have learned loads about Shakespeare - NOT! Having being forced to study him for A-Level English and worship at the alter of Shakespeare like a good student I was also suprised how little is known about him. My best memory of learning about Shakespeare was being asked to write an essay on the use of natural symbolism in "A Winters Tale". Being a slightly cocky and beligerent teenager I turned i ...more
Jason Pettus
Mar 13, 2008 Jason Pettus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

No matter where on the planet you're from, it seems that there is at least one figure from the early Renaissance period (1400-1600 AD) who's had a huge and profound impact on your society's culture ever since: here in the English-speaking world, for example, that would be playwright and poet William
Nov 28, 2011 Tracey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shakespeare, 4-star
Bill Bryson is an old friend. His approach to history makes the standard tome all the more flat and dull by comparison – Bryson knows his stuff well enough to not only present it to an audience but to play with it, to have fun with it, to make it fun. He genuinely loves his subjects, and it is infectious. He's like the teacher you always hoped to get – the brilliant, funny, cool one who (to use a real example) sat cross-legged on the table at the front of the room and told the most amazing stori ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Shakespeare's biography is sketchy, and ever thus it shall remain. This little book represents Bill Bryson's attempt to collect what scant information exists, and to debunk a few spurious claims. I can't say I know much more about Sweet Will now than I did before reading the book, but Bryson is not to blame. People didn't reliably keep records 400 years ago. There were no standardized spellings for English words, so a lot of what was written down is indecipherable. Furthermore, no one anticipate ...more
Murugesh Selvaraju
Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works, and William Shakespeare of Stratford was unquestionably that man- whoever he was.
Apr 28, 2009 Jerzy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There's nothing wrong with Bryson's writing... but he just doesn't say very much, because there ISN'T anything to say. Apparently NOBODY knows anything interesting about Shakespeare's life or personality -- all we have are 3 bad portraits (one sketch from memory, one statue that was whitewashed of all detailed features, and one decent portrait that might be of someone else entirely); a few legal documents (with only 6 signatures, 3 of which may have been forged for him since he was too ill to wr ...more
OMG! :) :) :) It's a bright breezy Big Bill Bryson book about Bill!!!!!!!!!! :)

I hope I'm not maligning Bryson more than is strictly speaking necessary by saying this feels like a book one could write in a week or three via google. Shakespeare scholarship? He pretty much sweeps the lot aside as being out to lunch. For example, of these lines from Love's Labours Lost:

KING. O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons, and the school of night;
And beauty's crest becomes the heavens w
From my limited experience with author biographies, I've learned that the less I know about an author, the happier I am. Thankfully (or regretfully, perhaps), I or anyone else is at little risk of having the Bard's work spoilt by too much biographical information of its creator. The aim of this slender book is to collect all of what we know about Shakespeare, which is precious little indeed.

What did Shakespeare look like? We don't know. There are three portraits that are "the best". But two of
Jan 30, 2008 Matt added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: a much broader audience than the AP Lit and Drama Club crowds
Recommended to Matt by: Valerie Marshall (gift)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 25, 2016 Pink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great introduction to Shakespeare and probably one of the best biographies you can read about a man we know so much, yet so little about. It explains why facts are missing, what we can conjecture and why people still read and love his work today.
তাহসিন রেজা
বিল বরাইসনের লেখার সাথে পরথম পরিচয় ঘটেছিল তাঁর লেখা “A Short History of Nearly Everything” পড়ে। বরাইসনের পরাঞজল ভাষায় বিজঞানের জানা বিষয় গুলি নতুন করে পড়ে ভীষণ ভকত হয়ে গিয়েছিলাম লেখকের। এরপর একদিন নীলকষেতে ঘুরতে ঘুরতে হঠাৎ নজরে পড়ে যায় একসাথে সারিবদধ করে রাখা বরাইসনের লেখা পুরনো কিনতু ঝকঝকে কয়েকটি পেপারবযাক। সেদিন দেরি না করে কিনে ফেলেছিলাম “The Lost Continent”, “Notes from a Small Island”, “A Walk in the Woods”
এবং “Shakespeare: The World as Stage”।
শেষোকত বইটি পড়ে শেষ করলাম এক বসায়। আমার ইংরেজি
Apr 13, 2009 Martine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Bill Bryson. The man can take any subject and make it interesting, simply because he has this unfailing flair for adding details which make you grin. He does so to great effect in Shakespeare, his two-hundred-page biography of the man affectionately known as the Bard, which will delight Shakespeare aficionados as well as people who know virtually nothing about Stratford's most famous export product, such as myself.

Two hundred pages is not much for a biography of the world's greatest play
Shakespeare: The World as a Stage has just GOT to be the liberal arts equivalent of the thesis reports on "strategic realignment of the organization to external exigencies using a process driven approach and scalable, replicable models that offer long-term sustainability" that we wrote during my IIM days. I mean, seriously! An entire book that basically talks about how little there is to talk about what the book is supposed to talk about!

The fact is, and this is something that was a bit of an ey
I wish I owned Shakespeare because man, would I be richer than Bill Gates.

Bryson's book is okay. It's a quick read and is ideal for any student who is starting at in the study of Shakespeare. For a long time student, the best bit of the book is the last chapter where Bryson demolished the "Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare" heretics, sillies, nutters, people's arguments.

Overall Bryson simply presents the facts and doesn't not speculate or guess (I love what he said about A. L. Rowse). He has
Jun 28, 2016 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's more 3.5-4 to be honest. I honestly did enjoy the book, I found it fascinating as I love Shakespeare and love learning about Elizabethan times. However, I expect more from Bill Bryson; he is seen as a very witty, comical writer but none of that shines through in this book. It was nicely written but I found him to be quite pompous in places and simply creating extremely long chapters just to show off his evidence rather than keep to the point. As far as biographies go, this was entertaining ...more
Karolina Kat
Apr 22, 2016 Karolina Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"(...)he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron - forever there and not there."

Bill Bryson's take on a Shakespeare is a witty commentary to the whole of the mythical author's phenomenon. If there is one thing anyone can learn from this book, it is that in truth we know next to nothing about the great Elizabethan bard, and it is most likely that we never will. Although there is more than enough said about Shakespeare's work and his impact on English language, he is (and forever will be)
May 22, 2016 Whitney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was exactly what I wanted it to be: a short, easy read that cleared up fact from fiction when it came to Shakespeare biographies and conjecture. I liked the conversational tone.
Apr 01, 2017 Albert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I thought I knew a few things about Shakespeare. As I learned from Bill Bryson, some of what I knew was not true or was some biographer’s educated guess or was someone’s made-up, unsupported, illogical fantasy. Very enlightening. Turns out there is a lot more guessed about Shakespeare’s life than is actually known, and the lack of facts has left room for the growth of some bizarre but very creative theories. Bryson does a great job of distinguishing what we know from what some guess, and he expl ...more
Refreshingly honest, Bryson admits that he has nothing new to say about Shakespeare from the very outset, and in fact spends most of the book demolishing some of the generally accepted facts about Shakespeare, pointing out the lack of evidence. It's useful for a casual reader and the casual interest in Shakespeare, but obviously you'd want to go elsewhere if you have an academic interest in it. It serves as an excellent rundown of what we do know about the Bard, though.

He writes clearly and ofte
Dec 08, 2007 Trevor rated it it was amazing
I really like Bryson - he has a wonderfully dry sense of humour and at times can have me in stitches laughing. His travel books have delighted me for years and his books on English usage have also been very amusing and fun.

I've never bothered reading much about Shakespeare's life - I have always thought I should, but never seemed to get around to it.

This is a very short biography and no wonder there are so many people out there prepared to put forward so many alternative names for exactly who w
Sep 20, 2013 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Entertaining and well-researched overview of Shakespeare's life and his career in the theatre--Bill Bryson is such a great writer and his characteristic sense of humor is in full swing in the chapter on "who really wrote Shakespeare". Especially interesting was the chapter on Shakespeare's influence on the English language, such as the 2,035 words that he was the first to make recorded use of, including abstemious, antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, extract, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellen ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Around the Year i...: Shakespeare: The World as Stage, by Bill Bryson 4 13 Mar 10, 2017 05:29PM  
Bill 13 97 Jan 31, 2014 05:13PM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson 1 4 Jan 19, 2013 04:59PM  
  • Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
  • Shakespeare: The Biography
  • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare
  • The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street
  • The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups
  • Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
  • Shakespeare's Language
  • Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays
  • Shakespeare After All
  • Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
  • Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
  • Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story
  • The Shakespeare Miscellany
  • Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard
  • Essential Shakespeare Handbook
  • The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents
  • The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World
William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

In The Lost Con
More about Bill Bryson...

Share This Book

“A third...candidate for Shakespearean authorship was Christopher Marlowe. He was the right age (just two months older than Shakespeare), had the requisite talent, and would certainly have had ample leisure after 1593, assuming he wasn't too dead to work.” 18 likes
“And there was never a better time to delve for pleasure in language than the sixteenth century, when novelty blew through English like a spring breeze. Some twelve thousand words, a phenomenal number, entered the language between 1500 and 1650, about half of them still in use today, and old words were employed in ways not tried before. Nouns became verbs and adverbs; adverbs became adjectives. Expressions that could not have grammatically existed before - such as 'breathing one's last' and 'backing a horse', both coined by Shakespeare - were suddenly popping up everywhere.” 9 likes
More quotes…