William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colorful muddle to reveal the man himself.
Bryson documents the efforts of earlier scholars, from today's most respected academics to eccentrics like Delia Bacon, an American who developed a firm but unsubstantiated conviction that her namesake, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays. Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunkerlike room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed.
Bryson celebrates Shakespeare as a writer of unimaginable talent and enormous inventiveness, a coiner of phrases ("vanish into thin air," "foregone conclusion," "one fell swoop") that even today have common currency. His Shakespeare is like no one else's—the beneficiary of Bryson's genial nature, his engaging skepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivaled in our time.
Topics: England, London, Elizabethan Era, Writers, Language, Writing, Art & Artists, Witty, Informative, 21st Century, American Author, and Male Author
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He writes clearly and often with humour: a favourite titbit among reviewers is justifiably his pointed comment that Silliman, Looney and Battey are among the surnames rejoiced in by people who theorise that Shakespeare was not really the author of the plays attributed to him. If you have someone in your life who clings to the conspiracy theories about that, and it annoys you, you might consider giving them this book for Bryson's last chapter, in which he makes such theories seem quite silly.
There is nothing startling and new here, but for the clarity of Bryson's research and his writing, it's worth it as a casual read.more
What I've never been is interested is the dude. The only things I knew for sure about him were bits and bobs like his being born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, his wife Anne Hathaway to whom he bequeathed his second best bed, the name of his son, Hamnet, bearing resemblance to that of Hamlet, that his mother's name was Elizabeth Arden, and the fact that there are a lot people trying to prove that he was other than the man we think he was, even though we haven't got a clue about who he was.
What made me finally pick up a biography was my gluttonous consumption of BBC2's recent showing of Julius Caesar and The Hollow Crown, which were just phenomenal. I picked up Peter Ackroyd's biography first and then realised that Bryson's was way less hefty and would provide a quicker route to reaching my Goodreads target. Best tactical decision everrrrr. I didn't really expect it to be that good either because I tried reading a book by Bryson once and didn't really enjoy the tone (grumpy cow).
This book though, awesome. I was a third through the paperback when I realised that 1) I was enjoying it immensely and 2) the library had an edition which illustrated many of the portraits, maps and etc. that Bryson was referencing. So, firstly I would say that if you're about to read this and perusing reviews, go for the illustrated edition. It's an utter delight with some beautiful images, plus a CD of sonnets read by John Gielgud, wut-wuuuuut?!
And secondly, if you're thinking about diving into the realm of Fhakefpeare's identity, this is a great place to start because Bryson talks a lot about the fact that we really haven't much of a clue about who the hell this guy was. He mentions the various names to which his works have been attributed, while having a bit of fun at the expense of these anti-Stratfordians (especially the unfortunately named Looney, Sillimen and Batty - I laughed so hard I almost needed the toilet).
What I love about this book is that Bryson comes across as an admirer, but not too dazzled to believe any old guff. He also sees no reason why Will.I.Am is so unacceptable as a country-boy with a decent grammar school education and quite rightly seems amused by the need to elevate Will to someone of greater learning or breeding, forgetting that while the author might give voice to princes and kings, he also taps into the kind of knowledge about which men of higher breeding might not have had any awareness.
There's also a decent amount of investigation into the era of our playwright, the kind of world he was inhabiting and the kind of people with whom he was sharing it. It was interesting to stop and think how different a history we could be reading, how his world could have changed at the drop of a firecracker, how our author might not have made it past his first birthday or how if Marlowe had not died, maybe today Shoots Spear would be like what Harry Potter is to some Lord of the Rings fans.
This biography definitely left me wanting to know more, but at the same time appreciating the fact that our lack of knowledge about the man somehow make his works all that more special. Shakes Pare could have been anyone. Some rich posh dude with epic tricks up his sleeve to retain his anonymity (as well as the power to keep shut the mouths of people around him... even after he died 0.o) or just some guy with a decent enough background to write well, but an epic imagination with which he gave his words flight and heart, so much so that they still move us without our having to know, who was this man William Shakespeare?more