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Shakespeare: The World as a Stage

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  41,459 ratings  ·  3,069 reviews
Bill Bryson's biography of William Shakespeare unravels the superstitions, academic discoveries and myths surrounding the life of our greatest poet and playwright. ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published November 1st 2007)
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Always Pouting
Mar 13, 2017 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
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
Jul 02, 2015 rated it liked it
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. ...more
May 26, 2014 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
Nandakishore Mridula
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
At the outset - if you are looking for a scholarly tome on the life and times of William Shakespeare, you are going to be disappointed. Bill Bryson simply doesn't write like that. Those of you who are familiar with his oeuvre would know that he is a "love-him-or-hate-him" author: people either love his snarky humour, or hate it with passion. And there are merits to both viewpoints.

I am not a big fan of Bryson's travelogues - too sarcastic for my taste, and I don't like his humour which sometimes
Apr 27, 2017 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 ex
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one is somewhat of a departure for Bill Bryson – ‘Shakespeare’ being a biography of sorts and Bryson being overwhelmingly and ostensibly a popular travel writer. Although the central premise here is that, as Bryson freely acknowledges indeed almost relishes, is that what we do know about the life of William Shakespeare is surprisingly very, very little.

What Bryson does do here is provide us with (as his regular readers would expect) a very witty, insightful, but unsentimental portrait of Sh
Jason Koivu
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really short, but really enjoyable!

It's not a surprise that this is short. First off, it belongs as part of a series of concise biographies. Secondly, there isn't much known about Shakespeare, so biographies of him should be short. Why go on and on about something if there's nothing to go on about?!

The larger of them tend to devote many pages to dissecting the plays. Bryson does not. That was a little bit disappointing...but only a little. I've spent enough time dissecting them. I'd rather just
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
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
Jun 21, 2011 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
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
It really isn't a biography,as Shakespeare the man,remains shrouded in mystery.It certainly came as a surprise to me,that practically nothing is known about the man.

It wasn't until a hundred years after Shakespeare's death,that any attempt at writing his biography was made.

Bryson mostly therefore, talks about the era in which Shakespeare lived,the background of his work,and the myths and conspiracy theories surrounding him.

One theory is that Shakespeare's plays weren't particularly original,and
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
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.
Kevin Lopez
Bill Bryson’s short biography, Shakespeare: The World as Stage, is an excellent addition to the already vast corpus of literature about the life and times of William Shakespeare. If you’ve already had some contact with Shakespearean scholarship, I’d recommend checking out something a little meatier, such as Stephen Greenblatt’s terrific biographical study of Shakespeare, Will in the World (or, for that matter, any of the other myriad books on Shakespeare by the likes of such literary luminaries ...more
Roy Lotz
This man was so good as disguising his feeling that we can’t ever be sure that he had any.

In many ways Shakespeare is the perfect subject for a Bryson book. Shakespeare scholars have included some colorful and eccentric characters—such as Delia Bacon and J. Thomas Looney—which is one of Bryson’s specialties. Shakespeare is also sufficiently mysterious, most of his life being buried in the oblivion of history—an important thing for Bryson, who is attracted to gaps in our knowledge. Two more o
Jason Pettus
Mar 13, 2008 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
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This overview of Shakespeare’s life improved greatly as the pages increased. At first, it honestly felt like Mr. Bryson was begrudgingly completing a college research paper and, becoming exasperated by the lack of factual information, instead presented a (very interesting) history of Elizabethan London! The emphasis right from the beginning was how little we actually know about the life of William Shakespeare. It was fascinating to learn that most of what has been presented to us as biography is ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
I am struggling to recall why exactly I wanted to read this. Many people speak highly of Bryson. But why would I want to read a wry Midwesterner on Shakespeare? I still can’t answer that. This is middlebrow secondary work, not any sort of textual analysis. The entire book addresses the dearth actually known about the Bard. If there is a hero it is the duo who gave us the first Folio.
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
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
Apr 25, 2016 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.
Murugesh Selvaraju
Jun 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
I had no idea we knew so little about William Shakespeare, where later in the book Bryson says there are a variety of ways his name was spelt back then, two were: Shappere and Shaxberd. Bryson plays detective after explaining that this is not his field and he is sharing his finds of what he discovers by talking to a lot of experts. The book starts off with anecdotes, one is from late 1900s of an American couple, Charles and Hulda Wallace, who housed themselves at London’s National Archives to se ...more
Apr 28, 2009 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
Chavelli Sulikowska
It is almost impossible to believe that as infamous as the works of William Shakespeare are, there is negligible conclusive information about him. So much of what we think we know about him is drawn from scarce fragmentary evidence and a high proportion of assumption and falsehoods on behalf of even the most preeminent Shakespeare scholars. Bryson’s novel highlights that we simply don’t know much about him at all.

That he was a literary genius and master of the english language is unquestionable
Slim volume that tells us we don't really know any anything about Shakespeare
Basically a scattered series of chapters from various perspectives that tells us we don't really know anything about the real Shakespeare, including his appearance, signature, early life, married life, death, and everything in between. All we really know is his plays, and even these were transcribed with varying degrees of fidelity by his two close acting friends who put together the First Folio, plus a lot of mediocre
Diane Challenor
Jun 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Bill Bryson is one of my favourite authors. His prose makes everything he writes so very readable. He writes in a way that enables we “everymen” to easily access historical and scientific facts. (I’ve listened to several audiobooks where Bill Bryson reads his own work, so when I read his books, I can hear his voice and imagine his smile while I read.)

Recently I saw the beautifully made movie “All is True” which was about William Shakespeare, and I found it very interesting, so when I tripped ov
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS 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 Continent, Bil

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“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.” 22 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.” 12 likes
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