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A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,673 ratings  ·  304 reviews
1599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England

Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and

Paperback, 333 pages
Published June 13th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2005)
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BAM The Bibliomaniac
This book's delves into to hemispheres: the royal world and the plays of Shakespeare. Essex and his downfall are discussed. Nothing new there
What was interesting, and could be a help to those who may write a research paper, is the analysis of the plays. Synopses are given along with character profiles and plot evaluations. I wish I had had this book about 20 years ago!

2017 Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book #14
Mercedes Rochelle
Nov 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I first discovered James Shapiro by accident when stumbling across a documentary called "Shakespeare, The King's Man". This show demonstrated how contemporary events found expression in his writing, especially in the early years of King James' reign. I was totally inspired by his train of thought, which prompted me to purchase this volume; it covers a year near the end of Elizabeth's reign, driven by totally different influences. As a result, my understanding of Shakespeare has undergone a massi ...more
1599 was the year that the famous Globe theatre was built and the year that Shakespeare created Hamlet - probably the first character in the history of the theatre to wrestle so intelligently and so eloquently with his own demons. These circumstances must have played a role in James Shapiro's decision to focus on 1599 when he set out to write his "intimate history of Shakespeare", as the blurb on the back of the book puts it.
But very little documentary evidence exists relating to Shakespeare's
Description: Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen.

James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the new
Shanelle Sorensen
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't know that I could say exactly why, but I absolutely loved this book. It was such an interesting read and I just drank it all in.
I felt it was well done, although perhaps not exceptionally so, but I had one major issue with it. I felt there were several points where Shapiro draws conclusions about what Shakespeare must have felt about a certain issue based on something that a character says in one of his plays. This is extremely fallacious, in my opinion, and really bothered me. The one I
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't praise this book highly enough: an inspired idea, meticulously researched, executed with consummate skill and insight.

Professor James Shapiro takes as his subject the year in which Shakespeare completed Henry V, wrote Julius Caesar and As You Like It and drafted Hamlet. He relates the content of the plays to the playwright's life, to what was happening in the London playhouses, to the court of Queen Elizabeth, to current affairs such as the English invasion of Ireland and the fear of ano
Sep 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Barbara by: Paula Fowler - Utah Symphony and Opera Education Director
This is what I wanted in a biography about Shakespeare. It looked into the events of his time and discussed how those events contributed to his work. It also talked about why his writing appealed to both the rustic and the aristocracy of his time. It also discussed how he grew and progressed as a writer. As we know, Shakespeare was great at stealing stories from others and reworking them into a better story. The book also discusses this and why his versions are such improvements on the originals ...more
Wayland Smith
I found the title slightly misleading. When I hear or read "A Year In The Life..." I usually expect it to focus fairly tightly on the subject that comes next. This book had a good bit about Shakespeare, but it spent a lot of time on events happening that year, some with the most tenuous connections the great playwright.

1599 was a very eventful year. Shakespeare's company built the Globe Theater, and even that was something of an adventure involving "creatively acquired" lumber. Shakespeare hims
Mar 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alan by: F R Jameson
don't read much non fiction, but this one caught my eye in the library (after a recommendation from F R Jameson). As some of you know I take a keen interest in local writers (eg I've recently read Anthony Cartwright's 'Heartland' set in Dudley, Mez Packer's 'Among Thieves' set in Coventry and Raphael Selbourne's 'Beauty' set in Wolverhampton). Well here is a local lad who did quite well for himself - Shakespeare. I live less than twenty miles from Stratford and am often hanging about the same ha ...more
Rex Fuller
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
No doubt being an English lit nerd helps to appreciate this book. That way the endless digression that is probably necessary to encompass not just what Shakespeare wrote in 1599 but the context of it as well won’t gripe you. In fact, you’ll come to give up expecting a recognizable analytical structure and just go with the pleasantly readable flow.

Shapiro lays out the plays of 1599, Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. Putting out such a list in one year is astonishing enough. And
Barnaby Thieme
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Often entertaining and sometimes illuminating, this book is an imaginative attempt to ground Shakespeare's works in his times. It will be of special interest to readers who are equally drawn to the history of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's work, as the purely historical exposition constitutes a large part of the book. Surveys works written in and around 1599, which Shapiro identifies as Henry V, Julius Cesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. I liked some of his closest readings best, and parti ...more
Nov 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an absolutely fascinating read! It is NOT a biography of Shakespeare -- those are abundant, despite the meager information available about the man -- but rather a study of the significant events which most certainly influenced the writer.

While some of the information grew a little tedious for me (specifically the long chapter on Essex's battle with Tyrone of Ireland), I found much of the examination quite remarkable.

Most certainly I learned some things about Shakespeare and about his wr
A pretty good look at how the events in one year - both nationally and personally - might have impacted Shakespeare's writing. Unlike some authors I can think of, Shapiro keeps the guesswork to almost non-existent and is always very clear when he is guessing.

I would've liked a look at connection between Hamlet and Scotland, though I must admit.

Nice combination of history, biography, and criticism.
Christian Schoon
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
so far, so fascinating.... And now that I'm done: A deeply researched, lively and totally engaging summation of not only a fateful year in the life of England but a year or so of unparalleled creativity from Shakespeare - including his re-working/transformation of the existing story of Hamlet. Worth the read as both history and biographical snapshot.
H.J. Moat
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Some of this book I really loved and some... was a bit of a slog.
It's not the author's fault, Shapiro does warn you right from the start that a lot of the book is about the social and political climate Shakespeare was living in during 1599, and that patience would be required to see how Will and what he was up to fits into it all, but my god, I wish he hadn't preceded it with an amazing story about Shakespeare, Richard Burbage and their pals doing a real Ocean's 11 on a dodgy landlord and puttin
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado but I was drawn to this book because of its focus on Elizabethan England in 1599 and the interaction of that particular year’s social and politic events with Shakespeare’s writing and performances. Shapiro takes this approach in lieu of a traditional biography in part because he believes we just know too little about Shakespeare as a person.

Shapiro makes the case that 1599 was a turning point year for England and for Shakespeare. England was dealing with an upris
Todd Stockslager
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Review title: 1599: A Year in the life of William Shakespeare

Shapiro has done the seemingly impossible for the notoriously undocumented Shakespeare: written a full length treatment of just one year of Shakespeare's life. He succeeds by focusing on possibly the most productive year of his writing career (responsible for "As You Like It", "Hamlet", "Henry the Fifth", and "Julius Caesar"), documenting the political and cultural events swirling around him, and pulling in events before and after the
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A beautiful read. In "1599", Shapiro tackles one year in the history of the citizens of London. It also happens to be the year William Shakespeare wrote "Henry V", "As You Like It", and "Julius Caesar", and began work on "Hamlet".

Despite the book's title, "1599" spreads its time equally between Elizabeth and her citizens, and the Bard himself. As Shapiro openly states, we know so little about what exactly led Shakespeare to write his plays, and about specific events in his life, that anything i
Aug 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Acudí al Bardo de Stratford upon Avon para llenar mis soledades e incertidumbres, pero ahora desde otro punto de vista no necesariamente el de su obra, quise hurgar un poco en su vida y en sus inspiraciones, sumergirme en su biografía, en sus razones y en sus incertidumbres. Mucho se ha dicho del genio de Shakespeare, de su conocimiento del alma humana y en vano he tratado de entender la grandeza de sus obras y de su pensamiento. A veces pienso que su obra para mí resulta un pozo muy hondo y osc ...more
Grace Mc
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Once again (well not really 'once again' as this book preceded 1606- I just read them out of order) Shapiro has woven a complex and narratively engaging tapestry of literary history.

When I read Shapiro's books I do feel a lot closer to Shakespeare than I do reading almost anything else. Shapiro is acutely aware of how little concrete evidence we have on the man, the mystery, that is Shakespeare which would allow us to make assumptions about what kind of man he really was. Instead, Shapiro focuse
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love Shakespeare and am not an anti-Avonian. I started reading this book as a birthday present to me and I am glad that I did.

I am absolutely agog over the brilliance of James Shapiro. Granted, there are many -- many, perhaps most -- writers who tackle Shakespeare who might as well be writing fiction. Shapiro does veer into this category but there is so little known about Shakespeare that speculation is inevitable and speculation does, at times, become certainty.

Shapiro, however, presents some
Brian Willis
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Numerous biographies of Shakespeare exist, most of which follow the usual pattern of 1564-1616 connect-the-dots narrative speculations that map the landscape of Shakespeare studies. They are worthwhile, and most are insightful regardless of whether the reader agrees with the conclusions drawn. Most of what we know will rely upon the parcels of data we have as well as the interior evidence of the plays and poems themselves.

What James Shapiro masterfully achieves is to look in depth at a key momen
Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part history, part textual examination and part biography; ‘1599’ does an excellent job of putting Shakespeare’s work – and the man himself – into context. It was a momentous year for The Bard, he wrote ‘Henry V’, ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘As You Like It’ and started on ‘Hamlet’. But it was also a tumultuous year for England, with an aged queen, over-ambitious lords and the threat of invasion (and indeed insurrection) hanging in the air. Shapiro takes on the task of showing how the events of the world a ...more
Jill Lapin-Zell
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I do not think there is a more knowledgeable and competent authority on the topic of William Shakespeare and the impact of the playwright's world on his work. When I finished reading "The Year of Lear", which Shapiro penned after this book, I knew I had to read this one. Everything I said in my review of that book applies to this one, and then some. Shapiro takes a topic which many people would avoid because of its complexity, and makes it completely accessible to the novice. Rather than present ...more
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book wasn't really what I expected. The book title is, in reflection, ambiguous for the book uses 1599 as a fulcrum date and Shakespeare almost as a context. As Shapiro notes early on a true biography of Shakespeare is impossible due to the paucity of contemporary reports on his life. The result is a detective story of inference, context and supposition that seeks to find evidence of Shakespeare's influences and activity.

Shapiro does get sidelined by his 'bromance' with the Earl of Essex at
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read James Shapiro's 1599 three hundred and six years after its subject, the year it came out. It is the best written book on Shakespeare I have read in decades, and since Shakespeare is only known because he wrote so well, Shapiro's is the the most Shakespearean book on Shakespeare. From the first page account of the deconstruction (no, not the French mind-game, but a carpentry event) of The Theater
at night to prepare for the construction of the Globe miles south and across the river, this bo
Mar 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-modern
Wonderfully written survey of an important year in Shakespeare's life and Elizabethan culture. This book combines the best of literary criticism, history, and cultural studies. A worthy read for experts and general enthusiasts alike. Shapiro directs our attention to a period in Elizabethan history when tensions and anxieties were peaking. This is an important tale to remember: we often celebrate the end of the century as the Golden Age of English culture and literary achievement; but just around ...more
Sep 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Terrible. The author states in the prologue that "rather than litter the pages" with "hedging" words like "maybe, surely, probably" that he has dispensed with them for the sake of easier reading. What emerges is sloppy scholarship-- there is so little information on WS's life and especially his thoughts, that claiming that Shakespeare felt this or that at any point is impossible.

Besides this massive, massive problem there is also the fact that this is basically a textual analysis of Henry V, As
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Completely awesome, and a very nice complement to the book I just read, Will in the World. Shapiro covers a little bit of the same territory, which helped to solidify that information in my brain. But he does a fascinating close up of four plays in particular and the circumstances surrounding their creation: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, As You Like It, and Henry V, Part 2. It makes me want to watch that BBC Elizabeth series again starring Helen Mirren, all about the entanglement between the Queen and ...more
Leonard Nakamura
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
James Shapiro, by writing up the history of the year 1599 in Elizabethan England, sheds a powerful light on Shakespeare and the four great plays written in this year: Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet. Having seen all but Julius Caesar fairly recently, I was surprised at what a different reading I found here. All these plays feel different when seen in the light of the great effort to punish the Irish rebel Tyrone and the threats to Elizabeth and England that accompanied it. Sha ...more
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  • Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485
  • Shakespeare's Wife
  • Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London
  • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare of London
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  • Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects
  • Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays
  • Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
  • Shakespeare's Language
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.
“By wrenching this increasingly outdated revenge play into the present, Shakespeare forced his contemporaries to experience what he felt and what his play registers so profoundly: the world had changed. Old certainties were gone, even if new ones had not yet taken hold. The most convincing way of showing this was to ask playgoers to keep both plays in mind at once, to experience a new Hamlet while memories of the old one, ghostlike, still lingered. Audiences at the Globe soon found themselves, like Hamlet, straddling worlds and struggling to reconcile past and present.” 1 likes
“Shakespeare’s way out of the dilemma of writing plays as pleasing at court as they were at the public theater was counterintuitive. Rather than searching for the lowest common denominator, he decided instead to write increasingly complicated plays that dispensed with easy pleasures and made both sets of playgoers work harder than they had ever worked before. It’s not something that he could have imagined doing five years earlier (when he lacked the authority, and London audiences the sophistication, to manage this). And this challenge to the status quo is probably not something that would have gone down well at the Curtain in 1599. But Shakespeare had a clear sense of what veteran playgoers were capable of and saw past their cries for old favorites and the stereotypes that branded them as shallow “groundlings.” He committed himself not only to writing great plays for the Globe but also to nurturing an audience comfortable with their increased complexity. Even before the Theatre was dismantled he must have been excitedly thinking ahead, realizing how crucial his first few plays at the Globe would be. It was a gamble, and there was the possibility that he might overreach and lose both popular and courtly audiences.” 1 likes
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