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Shakespeare: The World as Stage

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Overview

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 ...

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Shakespeare

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Despite the numerous works about Shakespeare, very little can actually be proven about his life, his works, or even his appearance. Bryson views Shakespeare's life through his own unique lens, pointing out what can't be proven (what he looked like, for instance) and speculating about the historical period in which he lived. If it seems strange that so little is known about Shakespeare, it becomes even more frustrating to learn that so little is actually proven about his times. His tombstone and memorial raise more questions and settle nothing about his life. The final section of Bryson's book explores the ongoing debate about whether or not William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon actually wrote the works attributed to him. Bryson masterfully shows why none of the contenders to his fame could actually have mastered the phrasing, style, wit, and meaning of the million words of text he left behind-except this man known as Shakespeare. Part of the "Eminent Lives" series, this entertaining gem is highly recommended for all audio collections.-Gloria Maxwell, Metropolitan Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A telling glance at one of history's most famously unknowable figures. As sometimes happens with expatriates, journalist Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, 2006, etc.) often turned his attention to his native America during his 20-year residence in England (Made in America, 1995, etc.). Apparently he's now been back home long enough to look the other way in this 12th volume in James Atlas's well-received Eminent Lives series. And who better fits the bill for this assortment of brief biographies than Shakespeare, the literary behemoth who practically defines the Western canon yet boasts a CV that could hardly be slimmer. As the typically wry Bryson observes, "It is because we have so much of Shakespeare's work that we can appreciate how little we know of him as a person. . . . faced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know." Bryson is just as happy to point out what we can't. To him, Shakespeare is the "literary equivalent of an electron-forever there and not there." Indeed, he 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, which Bryson candidly illuminates in several deft turns of phrase. That is as good a tack as any to take in this sort of Cliffs Notes-style overview of the rich afterlife and times of Shakespeare, recognized as great, Bryson claims, for his "positive and palpable appreciation of the transfixing power of language"-a point on which even those who don't believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare would agree, anda trait he happens to share with his biographer. Shakespeare redux for the common reader.
Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
In this short introduction, Bryson's investigation of the known elements of Shakespeare's life is combined with details about Elizabethan England, all in lively, readable prose.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060740221
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/23/2007
  • Series: Eminent Lives Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is the bestselling author of At Home, A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, winner of the Aventis Prize. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.

Biography

A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 50 )
Rating Distribution

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(24)

4 Star

(15)

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(6)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 50 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2008

    Not just another Shakespeare book!

    I think we have all read too much about Shakespeare over the years in high school and college classes. I wish I had had this book during those years because it would have made it so much more fun! This is not another book that is focusing on his writing - it looks at the man and his life in the context of the time period that he lived.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Good read

    This book does a nice job of separating the scant facts about Shakespeare from the mountain of speculation wrought by the industry he has inspired.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2012

    Better with pictures!

    The text is classic; it's my daughter's summer reading for school. But I'm so glad I spent the extra bucks to get the illustrated version! When they're talking about portraits and documents it's great to be able to see them for yourself!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 5, 2013

    I like Bryson, and I like Shakespeare. This makes for a good read for me!

    If you are a history buff like me, and interested in Shakespeare, this is a great read. Probably more of the backstory in one place in and easy fun read format than you will find anywhere.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    Another Bryson Classic

    I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson and am impressed with the range of his work from travelogue to memoir to historical narratives. This book offered a smoothly written account of what amazingly little is know about Shakespeare's life and evenly mixed in a critical review of all the speculations. Bryson manages to turn biography into somewhat of a page turner. I read it over two days of my Christmas vacation and wished there was more. The layout of this edition is fantastic with art, maps and photos that make the book all the more fun.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    Information yet entertaining read

    I found Bill Bryson's Shakespeare very informational. It was filled with facts, but written in an entertaining manner. I will be using some of the information in my English classes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Bryson's take on the life of William Shakespeare is a breezy re

    Bryson's take on the life of William Shakespeare is a breezy read that manages to get the few details we know for sure about the Bard's life across without a great deal of authorial wish-fulfillment or extrapolation. At just short of 200 pages, this is probably the shortest Shakespeare biography ever published, precisely because the author doesn't pretend to know things that are essentially unknowable unless some hidden trove of personal papers of Shakespeare's are discovered (which seems to be growing less likely as each decade passes). I found the book a fun read -- Bryson's accessible, snarky-but-sincere voice is in full evidence even though he's not writing about his own personal experiences the way he does in his travelogues and memoirs -- that gave me a decent sense of what we really know versus what we've only guessed at. Bryson also addresses, at the very end of the book, the various controversies about whether William Shakespeare the man was simply a stand-in for someone else as the author of the works, and uses what we do know (including modern linguistics analysis) to refute the more common theories (including Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    Hzhhctk

    I hate biography! Ewwwwww!!! How could anyone read that

    0 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 11, 2010

    I love Bill Bryson books!

    I was facinated by the English history in the time of Shakespeare. As usual Mr Bryson has done excellent background study for his subject and imparted them to the reader in a simple and interesting manner. It pulls together a complete picture of what life was like at the time. If you are at all interested in history this is so much better than what we learned in school.

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  • Posted November 17, 2009

    shakespeare The World's A Stage

    Very interesting, I find myself listening to it over again in the car on my commute because there is so much fascinating information.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2009

    Bill Bryson's Shakespeare (CD)

    This is Bryson at his best. We thoroughly enjoyed his wit and wisdom.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    Very Entertaining!

    As always, Bill Bryson has written an interesting, witty and intellectual book. I learned a great deal about the life of Shakespeare and what life in general was like while he was living. I will definitely listen to this book again after I've loaned it out to my friends and family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2009

    A fascinating look at Shakespeare

    There have been many books about Shakespeare, as Bill Bryson acknowledges in his opening pages. The beauty of Bryson's work is that he has compiled the essentials of what is known about Shakespeare's life into a compelling and well-written biography while succinctly debunking some of the inaccurate speculations or far-fetched theories about the parts of Shakespeare's life about which we know little. He also gives a reasoned argument for why Shakespeare is Shakespeare (i.e. how a man from Stratford could have written the plays, as well as why someone like Francis Bacon didn't.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2008

    Shakespeare

    One of tha many unknowable facts about William Shakespeare is the way he preferred to spell his name. As writer Bill Bryson highlights in his biography, i Shakespeare /i , there are only six surviving signatures by the playwright and poet, and he spelt his name differently on each occasion, from 'Wm Shakspe' to 'William Shakespeare'. Ironically, 'one spelling he didn't use was the one now universally attached to his name'. But as the Bard himself said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The thing is, for someone as important a literature figure as Shakespeare, what is known about him is lamentably little, and much of what is known is false. In his typically accessible manner, the Britain-based American author of the bestselling i Notes From A Small Island /i , has waded through reams of scholarly research to come up with this concise book, part of Harper Perennial's Eminent Lives series: 'The idea is a simple one: to see how much of Shakespeare we can know, really know, from the record. Which is one reason, of course, it's so slender.' That everything on the record has to be questioned is a point he makes from the start, even what Shakespeare looked like. The popular image of him - receding hairline, moustached and be-earringed - is based on only three likeness, two created after his death and one which cannot even be verified as an actual portrait of the man. While much of the arcana and trivia will seem familiar to anyone else who has studied Shakespeare and his plays at university, or someone who was even the slightest bit conscientious while sightseeing in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, Bryson's achievement here is in distilling all the existing facts and conjectures into snappy, immensely entertaining chapters. He is a passionate but unsentimental narrator, dutifully quoting figures demonstrating Shakespeare's significance - he is credited with introducing 2,035 words into the English language - while noting the playwright's penchant for plagiarism. He also unapologetically quashes long-held and beloved beliefs, such as that Shakespeare left his wife his second-best bed as a token of affection (the evidence, Bryson says, points to the conclusion that the Bard simply didn't care for his wife very much). He sensitively handles the debate over Shakespeare's sexuality, indulging in enough spicy gossip to keep things interesting - he hilariously describes a portrait of possible love interest Henry Wriothesley as 'showing him with flowing auburn locks draped over his left shoulder, at a time when men did not normally wear their hair so long or arrange it with such smouldering allure'. However, Bryson does get a bit too emotional at times, such as when he repeatedly refers to Shakespeare's friends, Condell and Heminges, as 'heroes' for compiling the First Folio, the first comprehensive collection of Shakespeare's plays. This makes up most of what the world has of his work, given that no manuscripts in his own hand have survived. Bryson's portrayal of the duo makes it seem as if they acted entirely out of altruism, and he does not for a momeny entertain the possibility that the friends might have done it at least partly for profit. Regardless of motive, it is true that posterity owes them a huge debt of gratitude. Even as Shakespeare remains an enigmatic figure, each restaging and reinterpretation of his plays sees his characters grow more and more vivid in the collective imagination.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 19, 2010

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    Posted February 4, 2011

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    Posted December 28, 2009

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    Posted January 16, 2010

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    Posted February 10, 2009

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    Posted February 17, 2011

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