This was a decent book with a lot of good stuff for anti-Stratfordians. I encountered Bryson in a class on humor writing and enjoyed him, though his w...moreThis was a decent book with a lot of good stuff for anti-Stratfordians. I encountered Bryson in a class on humor writing and enjoyed him, though his wit was a bit dry be classified in the same arena as Dave Barry. Nevertheless, I picked up this book as a quick read and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was told by a professor that my quaint and snobbish attachment to the anti-Stratfordian de Vere thesis was not exactly well looked upon in "educated" circles, and so I've been seeking out some more traditionally-minded biographies of the Stratford man to see if the Stratford case is stronger or weaker.
This one demonstrates amply this is unlikely to take place. There are so many places secularists will consider me as an affront to American education that really, what's one more? I believe in six-day creation. Withstanding the withering criticism that receives from every quarter makes the fact that a bunch of secular stuffed shirts laughing about my apparently fevered de Vere thesis somewhat easier to take. As in, its rather like walking through a bothersome batch of gnats.
Bryson is at least honest about how much is known about Shakespeare. There are three paintings and etchings of William of Stratford and none of them can be historically proven to be of Shakspere (ch. 1).
Here's a couple of gems from the book:
"...all we know of William Shakespeare is contained within a few skanty facts: that he was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, produced a family there, went to London, became an actor and writer, returned to Stratford, made a will and died." (pp. 8-9)
"...there remains an enormous amount we don't know about William Shakespeare, much of it of a fundamental nature. We don't know, for one thing, exactly how many plays he wrote or in what order he wrote them. We can deduce something of what he read but don't know where he got the books or what he did with them when he had finished with them." (9).
"We don't know if he ever left England. We don't know who his principle companions were or how he amused himself. His sexuality is an irreconcilable mystery. On only a handful of days in his life can we say with absolute certainty where he was. We have no record at all of his whereabouts for the eight critical years when he left his wife and three young children in Stratford and became, with almost impossible swiftness, a successful playwright in London. By the time he is first mentioned in print as a playwright, in 1592, his life was almost more than half over." (11)
In fact, we know so little about William of Stratford that Bryson is forced, to make his biography more than of pamphlet length, to helplessly pad the book with endless asides about the layout and conditions of London of the time, the origins and history of the various theaters in London, and details of theater production, performance, and technique of Shakspeare's time (such as there are). As it is the book runs to barely over 200 pages. With a vigorous bought of trimming off all the dross and it could easily be 115-130 pages.
What is good about the book is that Bryson is merciless with the biographers of Shakspeare. While he still presents their case, he also admits when the historians just don't know, which is refreshing to the rigid dogmatism of the Stratfordians, even going so far as to disqualify some of the supposed "references" to Shakspeare, such as the oft-alluded to "Shak-shaft" note, and points out that there were other Shak-shafts living in the same area as the name originates, three of which were named William.
For all he admits he still devotes a scathing final chapter to the various theories of the sundry anti-Stratfordian positions like Francis Bacon. Nevertheless, he paints all the originators of the various theories as hopeless kooks - and many of them were. But that's hardly the point at this time in history. Many solid historical works have been written and it is these Bryson must refute, and it is these which he ignores. There is no mention of clearly the best de Vere book available, Mark Anderson's 640 page biography of de Vere - and written a year before Bryson's was published. If he's going to deal with de Vere, he ought to deal with current scholarship.
Nevertheless, his final line is apt to the whole historical situation: "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." (less)
Really good. Presents the case that Edward de Vere was the real author of the Shakespeare works. Parts are more convincing than others, but the sheer...moreReally good. Presents the case that Edward de Vere was the real author of the Shakespeare works. Parts are more convincing than others, but the sheer weight of the evidence is convincing enough.(less)