Yup, we’ve got that one

And more than one million more. Become a member today and read free for two weeks.

Read free for two weeks

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

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 6, 2009
ISBN: 9780061983658
List price: $6.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
Availability for Shakespeare
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.
Clear rating

I love Bill Bryson. I love Shakespeare. It would make sense, then, that this should be one of my favorite books. It is not. Bryson's brief biography of the most famous writer of all time lacks the flair and wit of all of Bryson's previous work (excepting, perhaps, his first travel book that was written like a real travel book). To my knowledge, I have read all of Bryson's published works, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Even a Short History of Nearly Everything, a book about-- well, everything-- Bryson was able to take a mountain of facts and find a great deal of humor. Bryson's approach in this book is to look specifically at what we know for sure about Shakespeare and skip over all of the conjecture. Anyone who has read many Shakespeare biographies knows that nearly everything we think we know about the bard is mostly conjecture-- which makes short work for Bryson's biography. I do like the fact that Bryson's writing is terse and to the point, and that he dismisses outright everything other than what can be historically documented about Shakespeare. This book is part of a series of biographies written by others, and I suspect that has a great deal to do with the flat feel of this volume. I have read a lot of things about Shakespeare that were much less interesting, but coming from one of my favorite humor/travel writers, I was expecting so much more from Shakespeare: The World as Stage.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I just love the way Bill Bryson writes. I picked this book up at the Heathrow airport on my way back home from a two week vacation in England. I was able to attend a play at the Globe in London and this book was a perfect continuation of my trip. It is a fascinating look at a wonderful piece of history.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
My first Bill Bryson book, and I really enjoyed it. I especially appreciated the "Claimants" section at the end, I felt he dealt with those theories very well.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I haven't read much Bill Bryson (one book, almost two decades ago) so I didn't exactly come to this as a fan. I'm can't say I'm a huge Shakespeare aficionado either. When I picked this up, I was looking for something engaging, well written and not overly long and I as it turns out, this proved to be just the ticket. The writing is breezy and easy to get into, the subject is fascinating and Bryson makes the most out of the fact that we actually hardly know anything about Shakespeare at all. The discussions of various theories and where they spring from makes up for the sparseness in verifiable facts. And to top it off we get some wonderful insights into Elizabethean (and early Jacobean) London and England. Highly enjoyable.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Short but enjoyable biography of Britains foremost writer. Bryson wisely stays away from pointless conjecture and unfounded speculation about The Bard and sticks to the facts scarce though they are. He concentrates instead what is known from records and contemporaries. Recommended.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very successful at what it sets out to do, which is to lay out succinctly what we do know about Shakespeare and to point out some of the conjecture that will likely never be more than that (and why). Mostly this is all information I'd already absorbed over the years (except, oddly enough, some of the information about the plays themselves), but it's great to have it in a small book with index and bibliography. Also, as per usual with Bryson, an enjoyable, witty read.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very readable and a clear, funny summary of what we know of Shakespeareread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Shakespeare: The World as Stage, by Bill Bryson, is a short account not so much of Shakespeare's life - very little is actually known - but more so about Shakepeare's work and times. This is a light and breezy history, very quick to read. It's the perfect introduction to Shakespeare and his times, and I can imagine that it would set the stage perfectly in a college-level introductory Shakespeare course. In the last chapter of the book, Bryson recounts the various theories that say Shakespeare did not write the poems and plays. After describing the most popular of these theories, Bryson pretty strongly comes out in favor of Shakespeare having written his own material.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is a really good read for any Shakespeare fan. I devour his plays, but I'm certainly not a scholar. Bryson presents his book in a very accessible way. I don't feel like I have to have read everything on the subject to understand what he's talking about.I'm also very impressed by the way he doesn't assume. Since we know so very little about William Shakespeare, it's easy to fall to rumors and hearsay about what people want to be true in his life. He presents the few facts and gives them background. He describes Elizabethan life and climate in a way I've never felt before. I feel I know where Shakespeare was coming from more and I like it. I would have appreciated a little more humor (since this is Bryson), but I guess the days of funny books are gone for this guy...read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bill Bryson is a distinguished travel writer, known for his eloquent and witty style. With 'Shakespeare' he tries himself on a historic character that is hardly in need of just another biography with the compounding handicap that only scarce information on the life of this most famous playwright was handed down through history. However, the result is astounding. What knowledge is lacking on Shakespeare himself, Bryson provides plenty of insights on contemporary life on the turn from 16th to 17th century England. As always, his outstanding eloquence captivates the reader. An excellent book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bryson's examination of what is known about the life of England's (and literarure in English's) most transcendent literary figure. Like all of Bryson's work, it does not disappoint.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Excellent entry in the Eminent Lives series of (relatively) brief biographies by good writers. If you're curious about the known facts and context of Shakespeare's life, this is a wonderful, highly readable introduction and Bryson is, as always, an entertaining and agreeable guide. He's not a fan of the "someone else must have written Shakespeare's work" theories and devotes a chapter at the end to debunking the various claimants, including the Earl of Oxford. So if you need to argue with someone who goes to see "Anonymous" and decides they know what really happened, this book could be helpful.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Refreshingly honest, Bryson admits that he has nothing new to say about Shakespeare from the very outset, and in fact spends most of the book demolishing some of the generally accepted facts about Shakespeare, pointing out the lack of evidence. It's useful for a casual reader and the casual interest in Shakespeare, but obviously you'd want to go elsewhere if you have an academic interest in it. It serves as an excellent rundown of what we do know about the Bard, though.

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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I listened to this as an audio book on a long drive. Very entertaining! Read by Bryson himself. This is funny and informative.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Although clearly not a scholarly book, this is a very accessible introduction to Shakespeare's life and works - funny in parts, and entertaining and interesting throughout.Also I was very impressed that Bill Bryson actually visited places like The National Archives etc, rather than just relying on the research done by other people.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In 'Shakespeare: The World as a Stage', Bill Bryson examines the few facts that are known about Shakespeare's life and plays, and puts them into historical context. He also discusses some of the more popular theories and myths.Bryson is, as ever, easy to read and entertaining. This slim volume is a very interesting introduction to the life and times of one of the most well-known figures in the English-speaking world. Most amazing to me was just how little is actually known, and even things we learned as gospel in school are just speculation.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
From the outset, Bryson explains that his intention for this book was to relate the few known facts about Shakespeare, and not to indulge in theories and suppositions, as it would seem most biographers of the Bard have done, which in turn explains why it is such a short book. I'm very new to Shakespeare, having only read one of his plays thus far—King Lear—and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm also not in the habit of reading very much non-fiction, but I found this short biography to be filled with interesting facts and amusing anecdotes. Many firsts with this book, as it was also my first book by Bryson, but I'll be looking out for more. The audiobook version narrated by the author was also quite delightful.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In a fast frolic through Elizabethan England, Bryson tells us what we know about Shakespeare (not much) and what we don’t (a lot). He runs through various theories and assumptions that critics have made about Shakespeare’s life, debunking the Shakespeare didn’t write it crowd. What makes this book fun (and longer than a chapter or two) is the the social history of Shakespeare’s day.For example, culinary taste ran to sweet syrupy sauce over everything, to the point where those who could afford it had blackened teeth, and those whose teeth were white painted them black for the fashion of it. It was a toothless, violent and mysteriously fevered as well as plague filled time. The population of England before the black death was 4.5 million. After the decimation, it took about 200 years to recover, just as Shakespeare was reaching his literary peak and theatre was the newest, best, most popular entertainment ever.Nobody knows why Shakespeare bequeathed his wife his second-best bed or who the young man was that he dedicated a number of love sonnets to. One popular guess is Southampton, who paid 5000 pounds to get out of his engagement (equivalent to 1 ½ million pounds today, or about 2 ½ million dollars), leaving him free to date boys.Bryson makes a point of saying that Shakespeare was the preeminent gay poet of his day because of those love sonnets, and contradictorily also the preeminent playwright of heterosexual romance. However, given that boys had all the female roles in the theatre, it seems to me pretty consistent. While in continental Europe women played female parts, in England women on the stage was considered far too risque and therefore illegal. Hence boys were women, which gave an underlying sexual ambiguity to the play’s romance, even more so in the plays where young male actors played young women pretending to be boys. Add to that the men playing men falling in love with them, confused until the unmasking of their lover as a boy woman. Gender bending has a long and fine history.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This was a difficult book for me to finish, even though it is not very long. The author makes the point very early (and emphasizes it repeatedly) that very little is known for sure about Shakespeare. From there, the presentation of the rest of the book is extremely dry. I was motivated to learn about Shakespeare so I stuck with it, but most of my fellow book club members did not. Only two of the group finished the book, while five started and found it too dry to continue. If you are looking for an interesting read, you'd be better off passing on this one.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A very entertaining and informative book. I must admit that I have never quite managed to make the leap of faith about Bill Bryson. I did enjoy his early travel books (in particular The Lost Continent and Neither Here Nor There), though perhaps I read too many within too short a period because I very quickly came to find him merely irritating, and rather unwholesomely smug. It is also true that, in some of my more sclerotic moments, I might have been heard to remark that he has a face I could never tire of kicking. I apologise - we all have our lapses but that was uncalled for (even if, perhaps, true).Anyway, all of my reservations about him have been completely swept away by this book. Here Bryson sticks to what he does so well - portraying facts in a lucid, engaging, immediately accessible and readily memorable manner. His analysis of Shakespeare's plays and verse shows a deep affection and respect for the beauty of the words, and he sets about recapitulating Shakespeare's life in a concise but compelling manner.I particularly enjoyed his final chapter which attempted to debunk some of the more outlandish theories about possible alternative authors of the plays. So much energy has been expended in this field (more than 5,000 books to date!) which seems ridiculous when it is unlikely that any definitive conclusion could ever be established. Just enjoy the works for what they are. After all, "the play's the thing…"read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A short, but well researched wizz through what little is known of the life of Shakespeare. An enjoyable read, with lots of interesting facts about late 1500 and early 1600 England as well as Shakespeare's workread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Of all the Shakespeare biographies this is the most sensible I have seen. Bryson is careful to make clear how little is known of Shakespeare and how most of what is said about him is speculation. The final chapter where he effectively eviscerates those who question Shakespeare’s authorship is, by itself, worth the read.The book is brief and to the point. And the point is a big book about the Bard’s life can’t be written without filling it with speculation. There is nothing mysterious or shady about the lack of information though. There is little information on anyone or anything from that era. There is but a single sketch of any Elizabethan theatre (and it isn’t the Globe) for example. The diary of a tourist (that didn’t speak English) provides a large portion of the information on drama of the period. After painstakingly following the tiny but of information on Shakespeare’s life, Bryson gives a brief history of the scholarship studying the great writer. This again points to many misdirect ions untruths and exaggerations. As mentioned above, Bryosn uses all of this information to easily discredit the theories around authorship. He provided the most detail to the theories around Bacon and today’s fashionable phantom, Oxford. Just like TV news sensationalism sells. There is little money in common sense, but this book makes far more sense than other, Shakespeare by Another Name for one.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Audio Version, read by the author.A nice concise biography of Shakespeare. Even though there is a paucity of direct information on the life of the bard, Bryson takes us for a breathless brisk walk through what information is actually known. He also uses his journalistic skills to position Shakespeare in his historical time. Nothing new or controversial but it is fresh.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
There's not necessarily a whole lot of biography in this short biography of William Shakespeare, simply because it tends to stick as close as possible to the known facts about the man, and there are precious few of those. But the mystery that surrounds Shakespeare's life is itself interesting, and so are the attempts of scholars to tease tidbits of knowledge and vast realms of speculation out of small scraps of historical information. Bryson also does a good job of giving the reader a vivid sense of what Shakespeare's time was really like, in all its vibrancy and squalor. And, as always, his writing is lively and readable. It's not laugh-out-loud funny as many of his books are; with the possible exception of the amusing final chapter in which he wittily slams conspiracy theories about who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, that's not the effect it's going for. But it is definitely entertaining, as well as educational.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bryson's passion for Shakespeare and his unique story telling ability make this narrative a really special work. It gave me so much more appreciation for the plays and got me rereading those that I knew and seeking out ones that I had never experienced. Even if you are not terribly interesting in Shakespeare today, you will be by the time you're finished this short book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Shakespeare: The World as Stage is the latest in the Eminent Lives series, a series of biographies about famous people by famous authors. With less than 200 pages of text, this is a very brief overview of a very famous man. However, as Bryson effectively demonstrates, it does present everything we actually know about the life of Shakespeare. Bryson takes an interesting approach to this biography by focusing on how it is we know what we do about Shakespeare while illustrating how little information has actually survived about probably the most famous playwright of all time. Bryson shows that a lot of the supposed facts about Shakespeare are merely guesses and often not very good guesses at that. Because the focus of this book is Shakespeare's life, there is very little discussion of his work. However the last, and probably best, chapter of the book is devoted to debunking the many myths that someone else or multiple people are actually responsible for the body of work we attribute to Shakespeare. Bryson's arguments in defense of Shakespeare are well-thought out, adequately supported and extremely convincing. While this wasn't as engaging as some of Bryson's other nonfiction works, it was readable and informative. A Shakespeare scholar wouldn't find anything new in this book, but I would without hesitation recommend it to anyone who wanted a brief introduction to the life of Shakespeare.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
As Bryson points out, there isn't much we truly *know* about Shakespeare. In this volume, he tries to give us 'just the facts'. The trouble with that is that he has to pad out those facts with other ones, about other aspects of Shakespeare's life and times, as otherwise the book would have been even shorter.It's a good read, though, as an introduction to the life of the most famous Englishman ever. As with his 'Short history of nearly everything', Bryson concentrates on the characters of the people he mentions - the unhinged nature of some of the members of the anti-Stratford camp, for example, or the personal life of James VI.As an archivist, I was pleased to see the focus on the raw materials of history - not to mention the presence of an actual archivist (one I know!) in the text.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Didn't enjoy it as much as his other works but his take on Shakespeare, his works and life was very interesting nonetheless. I wish you would do more about other prominent historical figures.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ok you like Bill Bryson, so maybe you think that you can try this despite the title? Correct.I think Bill has undergone a personal epiphany which is now seeing the light of day in this book. The epiphany he had was while researching and writing "A short history of nearly everything", the epiphany was the scientific method and rational argument. Not just what we know but why we think we know it. No of course I am am not saying he was irrational before. But he never let a poor argument get in the way of a good story before. Or at least that's what his travel books feel like to me anyway.Now he wields a sword of logic and a shield with a sceptical eye painted on it as he looks at what we do actually know about Shakespeare, and why we think we know it. What we do actually know about Shakespeare is in fact, "not a lot". Bill tells us what we do know in an interesting and insightful way, with many a Brysonesque detour into interesting facts about the history, the people and the lifestyles of the time. What he also gives us as added entertainment is a taste of the huge number and variety of "independent thinkers" who have come up with various theories about Shakespeare and his works over the centuries. "Independent" in this case meaning "independent" of the evidence.So yes this book is well worth a go even if you have neither read Shakespeare nor read about the man nor read much about Elizabethan history before. Bill really is that good a tale teller, he really could pick any subject and make it entertaining. The great achievement here is that he has done it whilst sticking to the facts.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An entertaining look at the the bard, from BIll bryson (in his mother tongue/made in america mode, rather than his travelogue mode). In which he mainly points out the paucity of the historical record re the other bill. Paints an intresting picture of Shakespeare & Shakespearean scholarship & spends the final chapter gently mocking those who believe the plays & sonnets were written by not Shakespeare. Its a quite enjoyable, but not very scholarly introduction to mystery that is the life of the bard.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

I love Bill Bryson. I love Shakespeare. It would make sense, then, that this should be one of my favorite books. It is not. Bryson's brief biography of the most famous writer of all time lacks the flair and wit of all of Bryson's previous work (excepting, perhaps, his first travel book that was written like a real travel book). To my knowledge, I have read all of Bryson's published works, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Even a Short History of Nearly Everything, a book about-- well, everything-- Bryson was able to take a mountain of facts and find a great deal of humor. Bryson's approach in this book is to look specifically at what we know for sure about Shakespeare and skip over all of the conjecture. Anyone who has read many Shakespeare biographies knows that nearly everything we think we know about the bard is mostly conjecture-- which makes short work for Bryson's biography. I do like the fact that Bryson's writing is terse and to the point, and that he dismisses outright everything other than what can be historically documented about Shakespeare. This book is part of a series of biographies written by others, and I suspect that has a great deal to do with the flat feel of this volume. I have read a lot of things about Shakespeare that were much less interesting, but coming from one of my favorite humor/travel writers, I was expecting so much more from Shakespeare: The World as Stage.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I just love the way Bill Bryson writes. I picked this book up at the Heathrow airport on my way back home from a two week vacation in England. I was able to attend a play at the Globe in London and this book was a perfect continuation of my trip. It is a fascinating look at a wonderful piece of history.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
My first Bill Bryson book, and I really enjoyed it. I especially appreciated the "Claimants" section at the end, I felt he dealt with those theories very well.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I haven't read much Bill Bryson (one book, almost two decades ago) so I didn't exactly come to this as a fan. I'm can't say I'm a huge Shakespeare aficionado either. When I picked this up, I was looking for something engaging, well written and not overly long and I as it turns out, this proved to be just the ticket. The writing is breezy and easy to get into, the subject is fascinating and Bryson makes the most out of the fact that we actually hardly know anything about Shakespeare at all. The discussions of various theories and where they spring from makes up for the sparseness in verifiable facts. And to top it off we get some wonderful insights into Elizabethean (and early Jacobean) London and England. Highly enjoyable.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Short but enjoyable biography of Britains foremost writer. Bryson wisely stays away from pointless conjecture and unfounded speculation about The Bard and sticks to the facts scarce though they are. He concentrates instead what is known from records and contemporaries. Recommended.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very successful at what it sets out to do, which is to lay out succinctly what we do know about Shakespeare and to point out some of the conjecture that will likely never be more than that (and why). Mostly this is all information I'd already absorbed over the years (except, oddly enough, some of the information about the plays themselves), but it's great to have it in a small book with index and bibliography. Also, as per usual with Bryson, an enjoyable, witty read.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very readable and a clear, funny summary of what we know of Shakespeare
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Shakespeare: The World as Stage, by Bill Bryson, is a short account not so much of Shakespeare's life - very little is actually known - but more so about Shakepeare's work and times. This is a light and breezy history, very quick to read. It's the perfect introduction to Shakespeare and his times, and I can imagine that it would set the stage perfectly in a college-level introductory Shakespeare course. In the last chapter of the book, Bryson recounts the various theories that say Shakespeare did not write the poems and plays. After describing the most popular of these theories, Bryson pretty strongly comes out in favor of Shakespeare having written his own material.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is a really good read for any Shakespeare fan. I devour his plays, but I'm certainly not a scholar. Bryson presents his book in a very accessible way. I don't feel like I have to have read everything on the subject to understand what he's talking about.I'm also very impressed by the way he doesn't assume. Since we know so very little about William Shakespeare, it's easy to fall to rumors and hearsay about what people want to be true in his life. He presents the few facts and gives them background. He describes Elizabethan life and climate in a way I've never felt before. I feel I know where Shakespeare was coming from more and I like it. I would have appreciated a little more humor (since this is Bryson), but I guess the days of funny books are gone for this guy...
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bill Bryson is a distinguished travel writer, known for his eloquent and witty style. With 'Shakespeare' he tries himself on a historic character that is hardly in need of just another biography with the compounding handicap that only scarce information on the life of this most famous playwright was handed down through history. However, the result is astounding. What knowledge is lacking on Shakespeare himself, Bryson provides plenty of insights on contemporary life on the turn from 16th to 17th century England. As always, his outstanding eloquence captivates the reader. An excellent book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bryson's examination of what is known about the life of England's (and literarure in English's) most transcendent literary figure. Like all of Bryson's work, it does not disappoint.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Excellent entry in the Eminent Lives series of (relatively) brief biographies by good writers. If you're curious about the known facts and context of Shakespeare's life, this is a wonderful, highly readable introduction and Bryson is, as always, an entertaining and agreeable guide. He's not a fan of the "someone else must have written Shakespeare's work" theories and devotes a chapter at the end to debunking the various claimants, including the Earl of Oxford. So if you need to argue with someone who goes to see "Anonymous" and decides they know what really happened, this book could be helpful.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Refreshingly honest, Bryson admits that he has nothing new to say about Shakespeare from the very outset, and in fact spends most of the book demolishing some of the generally accepted facts about Shakespeare, pointing out the lack of evidence. It's useful for a casual reader and the casual interest in Shakespeare, but obviously you'd want to go elsewhere if you have an academic interest in it. It serves as an excellent rundown of what we do know about the Bard, though.

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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I listened to this as an audio book on a long drive. Very entertaining! Read by Bryson himself. This is funny and informative.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Although clearly not a scholarly book, this is a very accessible introduction to Shakespeare's life and works - funny in parts, and entertaining and interesting throughout.Also I was very impressed that Bill Bryson actually visited places like The National Archives etc, rather than just relying on the research done by other people.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In 'Shakespeare: The World as a Stage', Bill Bryson examines the few facts that are known about Shakespeare's life and plays, and puts them into historical context. He also discusses some of the more popular theories and myths.Bryson is, as ever, easy to read and entertaining. This slim volume is a very interesting introduction to the life and times of one of the most well-known figures in the English-speaking world. Most amazing to me was just how little is actually known, and even things we learned as gospel in school are just speculation.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
From the outset, Bryson explains that his intention for this book was to relate the few known facts about Shakespeare, and not to indulge in theories and suppositions, as it would seem most biographers of the Bard have done, which in turn explains why it is such a short book. I'm very new to Shakespeare, having only read one of his plays thus far—King Lear—and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm also not in the habit of reading very much non-fiction, but I found this short biography to be filled with interesting facts and amusing anecdotes. Many firsts with this book, as it was also my first book by Bryson, but I'll be looking out for more. The audiobook version narrated by the author was also quite delightful.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In a fast frolic through Elizabethan England, Bryson tells us what we know about Shakespeare (not much) and what we don’t (a lot). He runs through various theories and assumptions that critics have made about Shakespeare’s life, debunking the Shakespeare didn’t write it crowd. What makes this book fun (and longer than a chapter or two) is the the social history of Shakespeare’s day.For example, culinary taste ran to sweet syrupy sauce over everything, to the point where those who could afford it had blackened teeth, and those whose teeth were white painted them black for the fashion of it. It was a toothless, violent and mysteriously fevered as well as plague filled time. The population of England before the black death was 4.5 million. After the decimation, it took about 200 years to recover, just as Shakespeare was reaching his literary peak and theatre was the newest, best, most popular entertainment ever.Nobody knows why Shakespeare bequeathed his wife his second-best bed or who the young man was that he dedicated a number of love sonnets to. One popular guess is Southampton, who paid 5000 pounds to get out of his engagement (equivalent to 1 ½ million pounds today, or about 2 ½ million dollars), leaving him free to date boys.Bryson makes a point of saying that Shakespeare was the preeminent gay poet of his day because of those love sonnets, and contradictorily also the preeminent playwright of heterosexual romance. However, given that boys had all the female roles in the theatre, it seems to me pretty consistent. While in continental Europe women played female parts, in England women on the stage was considered far too risque and therefore illegal. Hence boys were women, which gave an underlying sexual ambiguity to the play’s romance, even more so in the plays where young male actors played young women pretending to be boys. Add to that the men playing men falling in love with them, confused until the unmasking of their lover as a boy woman. Gender bending has a long and fine history.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This was a difficult book for me to finish, even though it is not very long. The author makes the point very early (and emphasizes it repeatedly) that very little is known for sure about Shakespeare. From there, the presentation of the rest of the book is extremely dry. I was motivated to learn about Shakespeare so I stuck with it, but most of my fellow book club members did not. Only two of the group finished the book, while five started and found it too dry to continue. If you are looking for an interesting read, you'd be better off passing on this one.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A very entertaining and informative book. I must admit that I have never quite managed to make the leap of faith about Bill Bryson. I did enjoy his early travel books (in particular The Lost Continent and Neither Here Nor There), though perhaps I read too many within too short a period because I very quickly came to find him merely irritating, and rather unwholesomely smug. It is also true that, in some of my more sclerotic moments, I might have been heard to remark that he has a face I could never tire of kicking. I apologise - we all have our lapses but that was uncalled for (even if, perhaps, true).Anyway, all of my reservations about him have been completely swept away by this book. Here Bryson sticks to what he does so well - portraying facts in a lucid, engaging, immediately accessible and readily memorable manner. His analysis of Shakespeare's plays and verse shows a deep affection and respect for the beauty of the words, and he sets about recapitulating Shakespeare's life in a concise but compelling manner.I particularly enjoyed his final chapter which attempted to debunk some of the more outlandish theories about possible alternative authors of the plays. So much energy has been expended in this field (more than 5,000 books to date!) which seems ridiculous when it is unlikely that any definitive conclusion could ever be established. Just enjoy the works for what they are. After all, "the play's the thing…"
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A short, but well researched wizz through what little is known of the life of Shakespeare. An enjoyable read, with lots of interesting facts about late 1500 and early 1600 England as well as Shakespeare's work
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Of all the Shakespeare biographies this is the most sensible I have seen. Bryson is careful to make clear how little is known of Shakespeare and how most of what is said about him is speculation. The final chapter where he effectively eviscerates those who question Shakespeare’s authorship is, by itself, worth the read.The book is brief and to the point. And the point is a big book about the Bard’s life can’t be written without filling it with speculation. There is nothing mysterious or shady about the lack of information though. There is little information on anyone or anything from that era. There is but a single sketch of any Elizabethan theatre (and it isn’t the Globe) for example. The diary of a tourist (that didn’t speak English) provides a large portion of the information on drama of the period. After painstakingly following the tiny but of information on Shakespeare’s life, Bryson gives a brief history of the scholarship studying the great writer. This again points to many misdirect ions untruths and exaggerations. As mentioned above, Bryosn uses all of this information to easily discredit the theories around authorship. He provided the most detail to the theories around Bacon and today’s fashionable phantom, Oxford. Just like TV news sensationalism sells. There is little money in common sense, but this book makes far more sense than other, Shakespeare by Another Name for one.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Audio Version, read by the author.A nice concise biography of Shakespeare. Even though there is a paucity of direct information on the life of the bard, Bryson takes us for a breathless brisk walk through what information is actually known. He also uses his journalistic skills to position Shakespeare in his historical time. Nothing new or controversial but it is fresh.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
There's not necessarily a whole lot of biography in this short biography of William Shakespeare, simply because it tends to stick as close as possible to the known facts about the man, and there are precious few of those. But the mystery that surrounds Shakespeare's life is itself interesting, and so are the attempts of scholars to tease tidbits of knowledge and vast realms of speculation out of small scraps of historical information. Bryson also does a good job of giving the reader a vivid sense of what Shakespeare's time was really like, in all its vibrancy and squalor. And, as always, his writing is lively and readable. It's not laugh-out-loud funny as many of his books are; with the possible exception of the amusing final chapter in which he wittily slams conspiracy theories about who really wrote Shakespeare's plays, that's not the effect it's going for. But it is definitely entertaining, as well as educational.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bryson's passion for Shakespeare and his unique story telling ability make this narrative a really special work. It gave me so much more appreciation for the plays and got me rereading those that I knew and seeking out ones that I had never experienced. Even if you are not terribly interesting in Shakespeare today, you will be by the time you're finished this short book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Shakespeare: The World as Stage is the latest in the Eminent Lives series, a series of biographies about famous people by famous authors. With less than 200 pages of text, this is a very brief overview of a very famous man. However, as Bryson effectively demonstrates, it does present everything we actually know about the life of Shakespeare. Bryson takes an interesting approach to this biography by focusing on how it is we know what we do about Shakespeare while illustrating how little information has actually survived about probably the most famous playwright of all time. Bryson shows that a lot of the supposed facts about Shakespeare are merely guesses and often not very good guesses at that. Because the focus of this book is Shakespeare's life, there is very little discussion of his work. However the last, and probably best, chapter of the book is devoted to debunking the many myths that someone else or multiple people are actually responsible for the body of work we attribute to Shakespeare. Bryson's arguments in defense of Shakespeare are well-thought out, adequately supported and extremely convincing. While this wasn't as engaging as some of Bryson's other nonfiction works, it was readable and informative. A Shakespeare scholar wouldn't find anything new in this book, but I would without hesitation recommend it to anyone who wanted a brief introduction to the life of Shakespeare.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
As Bryson points out, there isn't much we truly *know* about Shakespeare. In this volume, he tries to give us 'just the facts'. The trouble with that is that he has to pad out those facts with other ones, about other aspects of Shakespeare's life and times, as otherwise the book would have been even shorter.It's a good read, though, as an introduction to the life of the most famous Englishman ever. As with his 'Short history of nearly everything', Bryson concentrates on the characters of the people he mentions - the unhinged nature of some of the members of the anti-Stratford camp, for example, or the personal life of James VI.As an archivist, I was pleased to see the focus on the raw materials of history - not to mention the presence of an actual archivist (one I know!) in the text.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Didn't enjoy it as much as his other works but his take on Shakespeare, his works and life was very interesting nonetheless. I wish you would do more about other prominent historical figures.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ok you like Bill Bryson, so maybe you think that you can try this despite the title? Correct.I think Bill has undergone a personal epiphany which is now seeing the light of day in this book. The epiphany he had was while researching and writing "A short history of nearly everything", the epiphany was the scientific method and rational argument. Not just what we know but why we think we know it. No of course I am am not saying he was irrational before. But he never let a poor argument get in the way of a good story before. Or at least that's what his travel books feel like to me anyway.Now he wields a sword of logic and a shield with a sceptical eye painted on it as he looks at what we do actually know about Shakespeare, and why we think we know it. What we do actually know about Shakespeare is in fact, "not a lot". Bill tells us what we do know in an interesting and insightful way, with many a Brysonesque detour into interesting facts about the history, the people and the lifestyles of the time. What he also gives us as added entertainment is a taste of the huge number and variety of "independent thinkers" who have come up with various theories about Shakespeare and his works over the centuries. "Independent" in this case meaning "independent" of the evidence.So yes this book is well worth a go even if you have neither read Shakespeare nor read about the man nor read much about Elizabethan history before. Bill really is that good a tale teller, he really could pick any subject and make it entertaining. The great achievement here is that he has done it whilst sticking to the facts.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An entertaining look at the the bard, from BIll bryson (in his mother tongue/made in america mode, rather than his travelogue mode). In which he mainly points out the paucity of the historical record re the other bill. Paints an intresting picture of Shakespeare & Shakespearean scholarship & spends the final chapter gently mocking those who believe the plays & sonnets were written by not Shakespeare. Its a quite enjoyable, but not very scholarly introduction to mystery that is the life of the bard.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Load more
scribd