Terry's Reviews > Shakespeare: The World as Stage

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
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Jan 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, audiobook, history, biography
Read in January, 2012

This book asks a simple question "What do we actually know about Shakespeare?" and then does a wonderful job of exposing how little we do. The book is a trickle compared to the water spout of Shakespeare works that come out each year but I hope it washes away many of them. Even though he wrote a book on the fellow, Bryson refuses to use the term Shakespeare which suggests the immensity of research on the man.

The author constantly refers to his sources when pointing out things which may seem excessive but is entirely necessary. The best idea we have of what the Globe theater and in fact most of Elizabethan theaters look like comes from a single sketch made by a visitor. No other graphic depictions exist from the period. This paucity is the rule rather than the exception and Bryson spends considerable page space to those who came before him and the meager sources of data scholars have regarding the times in which Shakespeare worked.

Besides Bryson's dogged insistence on only standing behind things that have good evidence, he does a wonderful job of skewering advocates of the idea that someone besides Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. He speaks of how even if Shakespeare only attended a few years of school, those years would have involved more intense language training than what most people in classics programs receive. He points out that most pretenders wouldn't have had the background in rural living that comes through in Shakespeare's work and finally the simple logistic problems of some of the common claimants. He rightly points out that some believe that Shakespeare was too low borne to produce his work yet no one levels that charge against the also inspired Thomas Marlowe.

This book is intellectual self-defense. It is designed to quickly cut through a lot of poorly founded academic claims and make room for the artist and his works to bloom. If you like Shakespeare enough to have seen more than one or two works, do yourself a favor and read this.
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