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The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,830 ratings  ·  356 reviews
Preeminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro shows how the tumultuous events in England in 1606 affected Shakespeare and shaped the three great tragedies he wrote that year—King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

In the years leading up to 1606, since the death of Queen Elizabeth and the arrival in England of her successor, King James of Scotland, Shakespeare’s great
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Simon Schuster
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Nancy Most history students would know that the punishment for treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

PS Queen Elizabeth I had died before the Guy F…more
Most history students would know that the punishment for treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

PS Queen Elizabeth I had died before the Guy Fawkes Plot occurred.(less)

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Manuel Antão
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

A Good Year for Shakespeare but an Awful One for England: “1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by James Shapiro
“Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.”
In Macbeth, “1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by James Shapiro
In the last 2 years I've been thinking a lot about Shakespeare.
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Year of Lear focuses on one specific year as it pertains to Shakespeare's life and works--1606, the year he wrote Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, and King Lear. This is a historical rather than literary text--Shapiro doesn't give a line-by-line analysis of any of the aforementioned plays, but rather, he fills in the historical context surrounding their respective compositions, particularly highlighting the Gunpowder Plot and its aftermath. 

It's an interesting text as long as you're compelled
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: laura

Description: Ten years ago James Shapiro won the Samuel Johnson Prize for his bestseller 1599: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

1606: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND THE YEAR OF LEAR is a compelling look at a no less extraordinary year in his life. The book traces Shakespeare's life and times from the autumn of 1605, when he took an old and anonymous Elizabethan play, THE CHRONICLE HISTORY OF KING LEIR, and transformed it into his most searing tragedy, KI
Original take on the history of a pivotal British year through the lens of the words of Shakespeare, contemporaneous sermons, and a few diarists (in an era when critical words in a secret notebook were treated as treason). James Shapiro--a retired Shakespeare professor--begins the previous November 5, 1605: the exposure of the Gunpowder Plot. After the Kingdom first is relieved by the deliverance of the King, his family, the aristocracy and Parliament from being atomized, repercussions soon divi ...more
4.5 stars. I wish I could give this brilliant, powerful, and surprisingly moving analysis of the year 1606 and the impact 1605 and 1606 had on not only Shakespeare but England as well the full 5 stars. However the occasional factual error and frequent jumping around in the timeline was occasionally jarring. His chapters on the Gunpowder Plot and the impact not only it but also the various government propaganda versions of it had on the national psyche were, pardon the pun, mind blowing. It left ...more
Lew Watts
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was interviewed a few weeks ago( One question was "If you could be present at any moment in history...what event would you visit and why?" My answer, at the time, was 66 million years ago, at the mass-extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous, where I could witness the kind of devastation from a future nuclear war. After reading James Shapiro's magnificent The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, I should have said the year 1606, hovering over Shakes ...more
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shakespeare
“The Year of Lear” is not an academic book—no aspiring assistant professor shooting for tenure would want to hang his career prospects on it as a first or even second book. It isn’t about how the academy views Shakespeare’s late works. Shapiro doesn’t attack scholarly rivals nor does he break new ground analyzing the plays. It is, however, a serious book, or at least a book for serious readers who are familiar with “King Lear”, Antony and Cleopatra” and “Macbeth”. Shapiro assumes the reader know ...more
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week
Episode One : The Theatre

In 1606, Shakespeare was writing for a Royal Family hungry for new entertainment while the threats of plague, insurrection and rebellion threatened English society. At the peak of his powers, he was writing for actors who he knew well within a theatre company with which he had been involved for more than a decade. The resulting plays, KING LEAR, MACBETH and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA were extraordinary.

Episode Two: The Gunpowder Plot

The impac
Roman Clodia
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
In this follow-up to his groundbreaking 1599, Shapiro looks at the fateful year of 1606 and how it might have inspired, inflected and influenced Shakespeare's Macbeth, King Lear and Antony & Cleopatra.

1606 was the year that James I was negotiating the Union of England and Scotland; the year that the perpetrators of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 were brought to trial; and a year that, according to Shapiro's readings, changed the thought-world and language of England.

What Shapiro's books do
M.L. Rio
Because I have such a massive literary crush on James Shapiro, it's quite possible this review is biased. But it's equally possible that Shapiro is simply a scholastic genius. As in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Shapiro's wit and insight and--perhaps above all else, sense of narrative style--make for a read that is both delightful and informative in The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. He weaves together with spectacular finesse what little we know of the man Shakespeare, wh ...more
Susan Liston
Aug 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book does what I HATE, which is presume all sorts of stuff about Shakespeare that is not known and present it as fact. There are so many egregious examples of this here that I was happy to see that there is available "Contested Year: Errors, Omissions and Unsupported Statements in James Shapiro's "The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606" which I read alongside it. I had read a good chunk before I discovered this, and I was already shaking my head at what seemed to me to be some bizarre statem ...more
One of the main reasons I write the odd review on is to try and maintain my written English to at least a basic standard. I don't get much opportunity to write anything substantial these days and worry that my literacy level is in perpetual decline.
So when I saw a novel that combines history and the greatest writer ever to put pen to paper in the English language, I thought here is a chance for genuine self-improvement.

The history I loved, especially the minutiae which is right up
“Let every man be master of his time.”

In 1606, Shakespeare wrote three plays – King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. James Shapiro sets out to show how this burst of creativity reflected the events and concerns of the times and to reveal what Shakespeare may have been thinking as he wrote.

Shapiro reminds us that Shakespeare was as much a Jacobean playwright as an Elizabethan one, and suggests that these later plays show how the English world had changed since James I came to the throne i
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it
I’d like to say that I was really wowed by this book because it seems that most readers were; but, truth to tell, I found it a bit tedious and plodding, so I’ll give it my honest reaction. This is not to say “The Year of Lear…” is not a worthwhile read. It’s meticulously researched. And that’s one of the problems I had with it. It seemed that there was not a detail too small or a linkage too tenuous for the author to claim its influence on Shakespeare. And perhaps it was so.

The year is 1606, the
Carol Douglas
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
James Shapiro is my favorite Shakespearean critic. This book, true to form, is excellent.
In an earlier book, Shapiro described what Shakespeare's life was probably like in 1599. I enjoyed that book, and this is just as enlightening.
The plot to blow up Parliament, and King James and his family with it, was set to culminate in November 1605. Although it failed, the public was traumatized. Protestants especially were upset at the thought of losing their king, and Catholics feared retaliation b
Ed Erwin
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I'm more interested in the history here than the thoughts about Shakespeare's plays. These were interesting times in English/British history. The perpetrators of "Gunpowder Plot" were being drawn and quartered, people were still adjusting to the break from the Catholic church, and were learning to live with a Scottish king in England. And we round the year out with plague, again.

I most enjoyed the chapter on "Equivocation". Catholics were concerned with just how close they could come to making f
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my recollection - which may well be wrong - 1599 was less coherently focused on certain historical developments than 1606. That actually ended up making 1606 really interesting. Reading about surprisingly topical historical events was a good reminder of the useful perspective offered by history. What we're going through is often not so special, but a variation on a theme. ...more
Dec 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Although we tend to think of Shakespeare as an Elizabethan playwright, some of his greatest plays were written in the early Jacobean years - Lear, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth.

Shapiro places these plays in the context of the year they were completed in; England in 1606 after an attempt to behead the state by destroying all of the political establishment during the opening of Parliament (for Americans, probably equivalent to planting a massive bomb in the Capitol to explode during the State
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
Edit: I have put this review off for a long time and am not sure why. I struggled with getting through this one and I think maybe I was Shakespeared-out in terms of reading about him - I'd read A LOT around the time the First Folio was on display at the Durham. I think I will give this book another chance at a later date so I can put together a better review.

I wanted to love this book, because it's Shapiro and Shakespeare. But it was not nearly as engaging as Shapiro's other books about Shakespe
Carol Storm
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! King Lear is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and Columbia professor James Shapiro does a great job showing how Shakespeare rebuilt the story from the ground up by borrowing from an earlier play called "King Leir."

What I loved best about being a Columbia undergraduate more than thirty years ago was the way professors emphasized close reading of the text. Shapiro follows that approach here. In Shakespeare's play the word "nothing" takes on an almost terrifying si
Feb 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
'The Year of Lear' is a thrilling piece of literary detection. James Shapiro puts Shakespeare and his work in 1606 in historical context, showing how the volatile events of the time affected his writing.

November 1605 was the time of the aborted Gunpowder Plot, which had tremendous repercussions throughout English society, from dozens of executions to increased severity of laws governing recusant Catholics. The early years of James I's reign were ones of optimism and change that slowly transform
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love learning about history through targeted perspectives, like biographies or deep dives into specific events. This book was an engaging way to get an introduction to England in the 1600s. The author takes current events and shows how they manifested themselves in Shakespeare's plays. It was a real reminder of how much writers are influenced by what's going on around them as well as their own desire to provide commentary on these events. The chapters on the gunpowder plot were most interestin ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-prose
The title made me expect more of a focused narrative history, but this is more a mishmash of historical and literary observations; it was fine to listen on audio and tune in and out to the more interesting parts -- mostly the Gunpowder plot and how the concept of 'equivocation' worked into Shakespeare's plays. I wouldn't say this is for casual history/Shakespeare readers, but moderately interesting if you are familiar with the plays (esp Lear, Macbeth and Antony + Cleopatra) and have a general i ...more
Bruce Katz
Jan 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Solid scholarship congenially presented. As he has done with other books, Shapiro brings to the reader aspects of Shakespeare's time that clearly influenced how he wrote, edited, and amended his plays. Filled with fascinating detail -- things like how certain lines that could be delivered in Elizabeth's reign had to be removed or altered during that of King James, or how the shock of the Gunpowder Plot found expression in the plays, or the many levels of scrutiny plays had to go through before t ...more
1606 was a very fertile year for Shakespeare as he wrote King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra. This book offers us an insight in how the main events of that year (the plague, the Gunpowder plot and mistrust of Catholics following it and the desperate attempt of King James to unify his kingdoms England and Scotland) influenced and affected Shakespeare's plays. ...more
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really interesting Audio book! After listening to this book and enjoying it so much I think I should read more history books. I'm apparently missing out!

I always think of Shakespeare as being an Elizabethan playwright so it was fantastic to get some insight into his time under King James 1.

The parallels drawn between the then recent event of the gunpowder plot and Macbeth were amazing! I'll never see all the equivocation lines in Macbeth the same way.
Jill Lapin-Zell
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Being a former English teacher and ardent admirer of Shakespeare’s work, I was anxious to read this book on the enthusiastic recommendation of an ex-colleague of mine. I have always been fascinated by the whole mystique of Shakespeare (the man), and I have also always been intrigued by how Shakespeare’s world influenced his plays. Moreover, Macbeth is my favorite of all Shakespeare’s plays. I feel it is one of the best plays ever written, bar none. And while the title may lead one to believe thi
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shapiro's is a neat mixture of history and Shakespeare's plays as he zeroes in on that troublesome year, 1606. It was the year of the Gunpowder Plot, bringing us Guy Fawkes Day (5 November) to commemorate the day the designs of religious terrorists (Catholic, not Muslim) were foiled in their attempt to blow Parliament (complete with seated King James & fellow ministers in attendance) to Kingdom Come (and Gone).

Seems there was a basement below Parliament. Where there was a lot of wood and such. E
So this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. I didn’t realize that earlier in the year and it is just fortuitous that this has become my year of binge-watching and binge-reading the Bard. I’m having a grand time doing it too.

I heard about this book on CBC radio and since I think I saw King Lear twice last year (once live & once via film), I was intrigued enough to put a hold on our public library’s copy. I am so glad that I did! I haven’t read a great deal about the Bard himself
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: phd-studies
That's two down and only fifty more books like this to go, and then particularly bookish scholars will have a complete account of Shakespeare's entire life. Yet like the man in the royal livery attending a court masque on the Epiphany of 1606, the playwright appears in print more as a shadowy onlooker than as the centre stage attraction. For this book, the focus is on King James, whose popularity had its peaks (due to a couple of imagined assassination attempts) and troughs (being upstaged by hi ...more
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James S. Shapiro is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University who specialises in Shakespeare and the Early Modern period. Shapiro has served on the faculty at Columbia University since 1985, teaching Shakespeare and other topics, and he has published widely on Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture.

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