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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 childless queen.

James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061840906
List price: $10.99
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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 Theaterat night to prepare for the construction of the Globe miles south and across the river, this book reads like gripping narrative in parts. When I saw James Shapiro at the Shakespeare Association of America, he told me he had spent three years revising it. So here is an ideal model for scholars, one unlikely to be followed under the pressures for publication. Research and write for years, then revise for three more.more
i listened to this and the segments were about 12 minutes long. i stop listening about every 5 minutes. i have no pause and my machine starts at the beginning of each segment .so this was a big problem and the book was hard to listen to and remember.more
I found this book both fascinating and infuriating. On the one hand, it's well-written on a sentence level, contains a wealth of detail about the context Shakespeare was writing in, and does an excellent job of connecting that context to the texts.On the other, it seemed sloppy to me in several ways. For one thing, it is far more willing to speculate on the interior life of historical figures than I'm comfortable with, and since its citation takes the form of a bibliographical essay rather than specific endnotes, it's not always possible to figure out where its speculations are coming from. For another, I noticed occasional bits of carelessness in its discussion of the Shakespearean text (which I'm more familiar with than its historical context -- part of the reason I was interested in reading the book in the first place). For example, when discussing the metaphorical use of the word "brother" in Henry V, it talks about how Henry refers to "his aristocratic kinsmen" Bedford and Gloucester as brothers, without making note of the fact that they are quite literally his brothers.All of this means I'm not quite willing to trust the book, even though it is as I said fascinating.more
Having never read Shakespeare, I wanted to know something about him. This is a fine read. It delves into the political influences and power plays of everyone who was anyone. It also demonstrates where some of his ideas came from, and how treacherous life in the 16th century really was. One day, I will read Shakespeare.more
I usually avoid abridged books like the plague. One can never know what one has missed, and it is therefore unfair to the author to try to provide a review. This was a very clear, understandable, narrative of a single year in Shakespeare's long career. The format works well. There are plenty of discussions of what is going on in England at this time, and how it directly affected Mr. Shakespeare's plays.I ignored the entire last CD. It comprised excerpts from plays written in 1599. Strange. Wouldn't it had been better used for material that made it to the cutting floor? But actually, this audio version was enough book for me.more
Shapiro’s expert scholarship and extraordinary attention to detail both come through in this book. If you thought you knew Shakespeare, you don’t. Every word, every stage direction holds meaning in this microcosmic look at The Bard. You don't usually think about the other contemporary actors of Shakespeare's. This was a thrill to read.more
I enjoyed reading this admittedly popular history of one particularly significant year in Shakespeare's career. Shapiro does a good job of pulling together numerous historical sources which allows him to indicate not only what Shakespeare was likely doing, but what other playhouses were performing, what political intrigues were going on, and what foreigners were noticing and commenting on as they visited. Of course, as with any such history, there is much conjecture and much talk about visits that might have occurred, etc. For example, he reports that Edmund Spenser returned from Ireland to London in the first months of 1599. He then speculates about whether he would have seen one of Shakespeare's plays in performance since the Chamberlain's men were playing at court in those months. But such conjectures, true or not, are to be expected and are part of what makes the read fun.more
This is a wonderful book, well written in a fast paced style which sacrifices nothing to historical accuracy and in which the author's love of Shakespeare leaps off the pages. It did two things for me. Firstly, it reminded me of how I have neglected Shakespeare for nearly twenty years now - an neglect I intend to remedy starting with his sonnets. Secondly, I'm Irish and a history buff; I'm very familiar with the Elizabethan wars in Ireland and every shoolchild here is reared on the Flight of the Earls. What this book does is join the dots and makes of Shakespeare a creature of the time, the policitcs, the wars and the personalties. I felt I understood the man so much more after reading this book and consequuently had a better grasp of his works. It makes it all so real - and that's a helluva job.more
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is a book I've been meaning to get around to for ages. James Shapiro is a Professor at Columbia University in New York, who has taken what relatively little we know of the life of Shakespeare, and woven it together with the detailed history of 1599 to create a vivid account of one year in his life. Quite apart from Shakespeare, it's a fascinating period in English history, as the Elizabethean Era drew to a close and a sense of uncertainty hanging everywhere, and Shapiro uses Shakespeare to illustrate that perfectly, just as his plays reflected it at the time.As well as being a significant year in the history of England, 1599 Shapiro makes a strong argument for 1599 being the fulcrum point on which Shakespeare's reputation tunred; it was the year the Globe was built, the year he insisted on - and won - changes to long-standing traditions in English theatre (effectively allowing it to become a more serious medium), the year he wrote Julius Caesar, Henry V, As You Like It and Hamlet. Shapiro has the skill of taking history and giving it the force of a novel, but he doesn't cross the line into fictionalisation - when he's not sure of something, or is making an educated guess, he tells you.The result is a book that sucks you into both the life of both Shakespeare and Elizabethean England for a year and works both as an excellent history, and as a novel-like story.more
Excellently conceived. How events of 1599 impinged and reflected on one another - the year the Globe opened, a 'new beginning' for Shakespeare, the challenge of Ireland, etc, etc.I say etc, etc because I only got half way through the book before myself giving up the challenge. A little too errudite after Anthony Holden's William Shakespeare and Terry Jones' Chaucer!Must try again later.more
Shapiro's learned but readable biography examines how public events left their mark on the four plays-"Henry V," "Julius Caesar," "As You Like It," and "Hamlet" - that Shakespeare wrote during 1599, the year in which the 35-year-old playwright "went from being an exceptionally talented writer to one of the greatest who ever lived." The approach proves illuminating for the overtly political plays.more
This is the first time I used an audiobook for research. I was very sick and had a bad headache that prevented me from reading. So, I downloaded this book from Audible.com. Not only was I able to do reasearch in that state, but faster, I think. And I think I retained it. In fact there was a revelation in this book that I'm very thankful for. Of course, I'm not revealing what the revelation was.more
I find this a creative way of writing about history and biography. The author examines a single year in the life of Shakespeare and his environment, and 1599 was certainly a busy year for him and an interesting one for England. It deepened my knowledge not only of Shakespeare himself and contemporary writers, but of Elizabethan London and England. I gained new insights into Ireland, France, Spain and even ancient Rome. It's quite a wholistic way of writing.more
An excellent, accessible and enjoyable book. The author makes a surprising number of persuasive connections between then-current events in Engand and the poetry and plays that are believed to have been written in 1599. I'm not sure whether this year was really the single most important in Shakespeare's career, but I'd happily read a whole series of titles that employ this conceit.more
I am a huge Shakespeare nut so I grabbed this book fast when I learned of its existence. The idea of taking one single year out of Shakespeare's life and examining those 12 months in minute detail is a novel idea and one which the many other writers of Shakespeare's life have never attempted before.1599 was a very productive year for Shakespeare. His most famous play, Hamlet, was written and produced. So was plays such as "As You Like It". He and his acting partners built the Globe Theatre and were determined to make a success of the place, despite the fact the building was costing a lot of money, rival theatres were stealing all the customers, and the government of the day, under Queen Elizabeth I, considered theatres to be a hot-bed of treason and conspiracy.1599 was also a year of dangerous political intrigue. The Earl of Essex was rumoured to be planning a coup against Queen Elizabeth I, the military campaign to crush the Irish rebellion was going from bad to worse, and the Spanish were always threatening to invade with another Armada. These political dramas were wonderful for people like Shakespeare as it gave him a never-ending source of material for his plays.This book is very good but my one complaint would be that in many places, the author gets so wrapped up in minutely analysing Shakespeare's plays (quoting verse for verse) that we tend to forget that we are meant to be examining what he did in the year 1599, NOT analysing what he wrote and why he wrote what he did. This never-ending analysis of Hamlet and "As You Like It" gets to be a little tiresome at times. I want to read about Shakespeare's life. I don't want ANOTHER opinion about Hamlet or AYLI.The text can also be a little difficult to follow at times but on the whole, this is still quite a good book. But you will need to have a serious interest in Shakespeare, English literature and British history. If you have no interest in these three areas, then you'll hate this book!more
Read all 18 reviews

Reviews

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 Theaterat night to prepare for the construction of the Globe miles south and across the river, this book reads like gripping narrative in parts. When I saw James Shapiro at the Shakespeare Association of America, he told me he had spent three years revising it. So here is an ideal model for scholars, one unlikely to be followed under the pressures for publication. Research and write for years, then revise for three more.more
i listened to this and the segments were about 12 minutes long. i stop listening about every 5 minutes. i have no pause and my machine starts at the beginning of each segment .so this was a big problem and the book was hard to listen to and remember.more
I found this book both fascinating and infuriating. On the one hand, it's well-written on a sentence level, contains a wealth of detail about the context Shakespeare was writing in, and does an excellent job of connecting that context to the texts.On the other, it seemed sloppy to me in several ways. For one thing, it is far more willing to speculate on the interior life of historical figures than I'm comfortable with, and since its citation takes the form of a bibliographical essay rather than specific endnotes, it's not always possible to figure out where its speculations are coming from. For another, I noticed occasional bits of carelessness in its discussion of the Shakespearean text (which I'm more familiar with than its historical context -- part of the reason I was interested in reading the book in the first place). For example, when discussing the metaphorical use of the word "brother" in Henry V, it talks about how Henry refers to "his aristocratic kinsmen" Bedford and Gloucester as brothers, without making note of the fact that they are quite literally his brothers.All of this means I'm not quite willing to trust the book, even though it is as I said fascinating.more
Having never read Shakespeare, I wanted to know something about him. This is a fine read. It delves into the political influences and power plays of everyone who was anyone. It also demonstrates where some of his ideas came from, and how treacherous life in the 16th century really was. One day, I will read Shakespeare.more
I usually avoid abridged books like the plague. One can never know what one has missed, and it is therefore unfair to the author to try to provide a review. This was a very clear, understandable, narrative of a single year in Shakespeare's long career. The format works well. There are plenty of discussions of what is going on in England at this time, and how it directly affected Mr. Shakespeare's plays.I ignored the entire last CD. It comprised excerpts from plays written in 1599. Strange. Wouldn't it had been better used for material that made it to the cutting floor? But actually, this audio version was enough book for me.more
Shapiro’s expert scholarship and extraordinary attention to detail both come through in this book. If you thought you knew Shakespeare, you don’t. Every word, every stage direction holds meaning in this microcosmic look at The Bard. You don't usually think about the other contemporary actors of Shakespeare's. This was a thrill to read.more
I enjoyed reading this admittedly popular history of one particularly significant year in Shakespeare's career. Shapiro does a good job of pulling together numerous historical sources which allows him to indicate not only what Shakespeare was likely doing, but what other playhouses were performing, what political intrigues were going on, and what foreigners were noticing and commenting on as they visited. Of course, as with any such history, there is much conjecture and much talk about visits that might have occurred, etc. For example, he reports that Edmund Spenser returned from Ireland to London in the first months of 1599. He then speculates about whether he would have seen one of Shakespeare's plays in performance since the Chamberlain's men were playing at court in those months. But such conjectures, true or not, are to be expected and are part of what makes the read fun.more
This is a wonderful book, well written in a fast paced style which sacrifices nothing to historical accuracy and in which the author's love of Shakespeare leaps off the pages. It did two things for me. Firstly, it reminded me of how I have neglected Shakespeare for nearly twenty years now - an neglect I intend to remedy starting with his sonnets. Secondly, I'm Irish and a history buff; I'm very familiar with the Elizabethan wars in Ireland and every shoolchild here is reared on the Flight of the Earls. What this book does is join the dots and makes of Shakespeare a creature of the time, the policitcs, the wars and the personalties. I felt I understood the man so much more after reading this book and consequuently had a better grasp of his works. It makes it all so real - and that's a helluva job.more
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is a book I've been meaning to get around to for ages. James Shapiro is a Professor at Columbia University in New York, who has taken what relatively little we know of the life of Shakespeare, and woven it together with the detailed history of 1599 to create a vivid account of one year in his life. Quite apart from Shakespeare, it's a fascinating period in English history, as the Elizabethean Era drew to a close and a sense of uncertainty hanging everywhere, and Shapiro uses Shakespeare to illustrate that perfectly, just as his plays reflected it at the time.As well as being a significant year in the history of England, 1599 Shapiro makes a strong argument for 1599 being the fulcrum point on which Shakespeare's reputation tunred; it was the year the Globe was built, the year he insisted on - and won - changes to long-standing traditions in English theatre (effectively allowing it to become a more serious medium), the year he wrote Julius Caesar, Henry V, As You Like It and Hamlet. Shapiro has the skill of taking history and giving it the force of a novel, but he doesn't cross the line into fictionalisation - when he's not sure of something, or is making an educated guess, he tells you.The result is a book that sucks you into both the life of both Shakespeare and Elizabethean England for a year and works both as an excellent history, and as a novel-like story.more
Excellently conceived. How events of 1599 impinged and reflected on one another - the year the Globe opened, a 'new beginning' for Shakespeare, the challenge of Ireland, etc, etc.I say etc, etc because I only got half way through the book before myself giving up the challenge. A little too errudite after Anthony Holden's William Shakespeare and Terry Jones' Chaucer!Must try again later.more
Shapiro's learned but readable biography examines how public events left their mark on the four plays-"Henry V," "Julius Caesar," "As You Like It," and "Hamlet" - that Shakespeare wrote during 1599, the year in which the 35-year-old playwright "went from being an exceptionally talented writer to one of the greatest who ever lived." The approach proves illuminating for the overtly political plays.more
This is the first time I used an audiobook for research. I was very sick and had a bad headache that prevented me from reading. So, I downloaded this book from Audible.com. Not only was I able to do reasearch in that state, but faster, I think. And I think I retained it. In fact there was a revelation in this book that I'm very thankful for. Of course, I'm not revealing what the revelation was.more
I find this a creative way of writing about history and biography. The author examines a single year in the life of Shakespeare and his environment, and 1599 was certainly a busy year for him and an interesting one for England. It deepened my knowledge not only of Shakespeare himself and contemporary writers, but of Elizabethan London and England. I gained new insights into Ireland, France, Spain and even ancient Rome. It's quite a wholistic way of writing.more
An excellent, accessible and enjoyable book. The author makes a surprising number of persuasive connections between then-current events in Engand and the poetry and plays that are believed to have been written in 1599. I'm not sure whether this year was really the single most important in Shakespeare's career, but I'd happily read a whole series of titles that employ this conceit.more
I am a huge Shakespeare nut so I grabbed this book fast when I learned of its existence. The idea of taking one single year out of Shakespeare's life and examining those 12 months in minute detail is a novel idea and one which the many other writers of Shakespeare's life have never attempted before.1599 was a very productive year for Shakespeare. His most famous play, Hamlet, was written and produced. So was plays such as "As You Like It". He and his acting partners built the Globe Theatre and were determined to make a success of the place, despite the fact the building was costing a lot of money, rival theatres were stealing all the customers, and the government of the day, under Queen Elizabeth I, considered theatres to be a hot-bed of treason and conspiracy.1599 was also a year of dangerous political intrigue. The Earl of Essex was rumoured to be planning a coup against Queen Elizabeth I, the military campaign to crush the Irish rebellion was going from bad to worse, and the Spanish were always threatening to invade with another Armada. These political dramas were wonderful for people like Shakespeare as it gave him a never-ending source of material for his plays.This book is very good but my one complaint would be that in many places, the author gets so wrapped up in minutely analysing Shakespeare's plays (quoting verse for verse) that we tend to forget that we are meant to be examining what he did in the year 1599, NOT analysing what he wrote and why he wrote what he did. This never-ending analysis of Hamlet and "As You Like It" gets to be a little tiresome at times. I want to read about Shakespeare's life. I don't want ANOTHER opinion about Hamlet or AYLI.The text can also be a little difficult to follow at times but on the whole, this is still quite a good book. But you will need to have a serious interest in Shakespeare, English literature and British history. If you have no interest in these three areas, then you'll hate this book!more
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