Shakespeare: The World as Stage
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Shakespeare: The World as Stage

4.0 52
by Bill Bryson
     
 

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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

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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
★ 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.
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061673696
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/21/2008
Series:
Eminent Lives Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
54,673
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson's bestselling books include One Summer, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home, A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here nor There, Made in America, and The Mother Tongue. He lives in England with his wife.

Brief Biography

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

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Shakespeare 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
VirginiaMS More than 1 year ago
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.
royandronnie More than 1 year ago
Bill Bryson, one of our national treasures, really gives it the old college try here, and it's not really a failure. But even with all his skill, he's hamstrung by the fact that there is very little solid evidence for the details of William Shakespeare's life. Ultimately, he can't beat that. It's readable--he could make the phone book readable--but it's a lot of stage dressing over a minor part. Not a keeper for me.
Talekyn More than 1 year ago
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).
DJ60085 More than 1 year ago
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.
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