Joel Karpowitz, April 14, 2014 (view all comments by Joel Karpowitz)
If you're looking for a beginner's intro to Shakespeare's life, this is a great place to begin. Less "academic" than Greenblatt's also-fine Will in the World and anchored by Bryson's pleasant voice, this slim volume provides a just-the-facts approach to what we know (and don't know) about the most influential author to ever live. Bryson enjoys the "details"--how many signatures we have of Shakespeare's, where they can be found, what an appearance at court might or might not tell us--but he doesn't get bogged down in speculation, and he has a very low tolerance for those who want to spin out great biographies from making assumptions based on the content of the plays themselves. Bryson is instead content to point out where the plays seem to line up with what we know, and where perhaps they raise surprising questions. As with all his texts, he does not rely on histrionics or emotional appeals, but rather walks you through the author's life with a calm and slightly sardonic tone.
Incidentally, I was pleased that the last chapter is basically a pointed rejection of the "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare" theories that seem to be so prominent these days. I have little interest in the snobbish arguments that the Oxfordians and others seem to make, and I appreciated Bryson's wry rejection of those pointless theories. There's enough in the historical record to make a man, and there's enough in the plays and poems themselves to make a living and thinking and feeling human. Getting caught up in the silliness of "yes, but which human" seems to miss the point of what makes the plays so powerful.
selka, November 3, 2009 (view all comments by selka)
Lovely. With the novel premise of defining the very lean menu of things we “know for sure” about the Bard, it distinguishes itself from the hordes of Shakespeare biographies by avidly shunning speculation and conjecture. Bryson builds a concise, informative picture of Shakespeare's place in history in a very readable, entertaining, engaging way, while exploring how and where the "facts" we think we know about Shakespeare developed along the way, too.
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by Harper Collins,
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. 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.
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