Synopses & Reviews
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 and the beneficiary of Bryson's genial nature, his engaging skepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivaled in our time.
"Considering the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Shakespeare, relatively little is known about the man himself. In the absence of much documentation about his life, we have the plays and poetry he wrote. In this addition to the Eminent Lives series, bestselling author Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) does what he does best: marshaling the usual little facts that others might overlook for example, that in Shakespeare's day perhaps 40% of women were pregnant when they got married to paint a portrait of the world in which the Bard lived and prospered. Bryson's curiosity serves him well, as he delves into subjects as diverse as the reliability of the extant images of Shakespeare, a brief history of the theater in England and the continuing debates about whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote Shakespeare's works. Bryson is a pleasant and funny guide to a subject at once overexposed and elusive as Bryson puts it, 'he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron forever there and not there.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Bryson] makes so much of the fact that so much has been made from the singularly few known facts of the Bard's life that one might say this thin volume's raison d'etre is to identify the many paradoxes surrounding all things Shakespeare." Kirkus Reviews
"[Bryson] does the job quite wonderfully by sticking to the facts about Shakespeare's life....Bryson splendidly concludes a splendid book by demolishing the claims for [Shakespeare's authorship by] Bacon, Marlowe, Oxford, and all." Booklist
"In 196 engaging pages, Bryson accomplishes quite a bit. He clearly delineates what can be known from the small amount of documentation and what has been made up and blown up from thin air." San Antonio Express-News
"Bryson's unassuming and enjoyable survey is a useful introduction that students and playgoers will find handy. It is the work of a man who clearly loves Shakespeare and is bold enough to hold the conviction...that he actually wrote the immortal texts that bear his name." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Bryson's is an accessible and lighthearted look at the Bard of Avon....Yet his lighthearted erudition makes reading this book a page-turning delight. Shakespeare 'is at once the best known and least known of figures,' and Bill Bryson has entertainingly explored that contradiction." Hartford Courant
New York Times bestselling author Bryson explores the life and works of Shakespeare in an entertaining and erudite biography. Crafted as a travelogue of sorts, the book includes Bryson's conversations with those who know the Bard best Shakespearean actors and academics.
In this new installment in the critically acclaimed Eminent Lives series, Bryson explores the life and work of Shakespeare in a typically Brysonian fashion. That is to say, he has crafted a travelogue of sorts, narrating his quest for the Bard.
About the Author
Bill Bryson, bestselling author of A Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, and In a Sunburned Country, received the Aventis Prize in 2004 for A Short History of Nearly Everything. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, he now lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and children.