Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (College Textbook Edition)

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Stephen Greenblatt, esteemed scholar and General Editor of the newly published Eighth Edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, brings Shakespeare’s world alive in this acclaimed biography, now available as a college paperback with 12 color plates and access to online commentary and discussion questions.
Interweaving a searching account of Elizabethan England with a vivid narrative of Shakespeare’s life, Greenblatt reveals in lively, accessible prose how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life—full of drama and pageantry, and also cruelty and danger—could have become the most important playwright of all time.
Will in the World can be packaged with The Norton Shakespeare (one-volume cloth or separate genre volumes in any configuration) for only $5 net. Contact your local Norton representative for more information.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393928808
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/19/2006
  • Edition description: College Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,244,186
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, he is the author of eleven books, including The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the 2011 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize); Shakespeare's Freedom; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World; Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture; and Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. He has edited seven collections of criticism, including Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, and is a founding coeditor of the journal Representations. His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize, for both Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England and The Swerve, the Sapegno Prize, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Wilbur Cross Medal from the Yale University Graduate School, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, editor of The Norton Shakespeare, and prizewinning author of many academic books, including Hamlet in Purgatory.

Author biography courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Greenblatt:

"As a child, I loved to read so much so that I can remember my mother calling to me, ‘Stevie, you'll ruin your eyes. Put down that book and come watch I Love Lucy.' "

"My father was a marvelous, virtually obsessive storyteller."

"Though I have spent much of my adult life thinking about Shakespeare, my first encounter with Shakespeare was a disaster. In junior high school, I found As You Like It quite possibly the most tedious and annoying thing I had ever read."

"I have interests and hobbies outside my work, of course, but the crucial thing to say is that I don't experience a great divide between my work and my pleasure. On the contrary."

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    1. Hometown:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 7, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1964; B.A., Cambridge University, 1966; Ph.D., Yale University, 1969

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fine work about the finest writer

    Greenblatt's outstanding work about Shakespeare effectively accomplishes what many scholarly books do not. This is a solid study that is very readable. As all Shakespearean scholars are, Greenblatt is forced to put together few facts to create a living breathing playwright. Each chapter captures an era of Shakespeare's life using plausible suppositions and supports it with the Bard's own works. Greenblatt's true scholarship shows, but he does not let it be hidden by obtuse language and obscure machinations. The role of Marlowe in Shakespeare's life as well as his views of Jews in Renaissance England are particularly solid chapters. My favorite, though, is the work on Macbeth and its relation to James I. It is not often that one wants to return to a scholarly book, but this is one of those. A comfortable, sturdy read that opens doors to the greatest writer in the English language.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2012

    Of the six biographies of Shakespeare I have read, this was the

    Of the six biographies of Shakespeare I have read, this was the least satisfying, in that it relies less on hard evidence (of which there is too little) than on the author's speculative powers. Every time the author proposed some rationale for why Shakespeare had done something, I kept thinking that there were many alternate and equally reasonable explanations. I wish he had chosen to write a work of historical fiction - like Wolf Hall - instead of a somewhat sketchy biography.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent book for the non-Shakespeare scholar who loves Shakespeare

    Another book that called out to me from the bookshelves of an airport bookstore - and another book that absolutely did not disappoint. Greenblatt's writing is engaging and engrossing. He sets the stage (pun, I suppose, intended) of Elizabethan England as a vivid backdrop to the events of Shakespeare's life. Though, as other reviewers pointed out, the thinness of the data force the author to engage in conjecture, it is fascinating conjecture. Additionally, Shakespeare's writing is delightfully woven into the conjecture, and I found myself again awestruck at his writing - as awestruck as I was the first time I truly began to appreciate it. I highly recommend this book - keep in mind, I'm no Shakespeare scholar, but I suspect that is precisely the audience for which it is intended.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2008


    I have to agree with Keane Whitinger's comments on this book. I saw the author speak about his book and it sounded very promising. It's interesting enough but does reach quite far in some conclusions. There's nothing wrong with extrapolation. My work depends heavily on it. But that extrapolation must be cautious and well founded. In my case lives could depend on it, so perhaps I come down too hard on the author. I did begin to note the sheer volume of 'perhaps', 'might', 'may' and it was surprising. I suppose we all would like to know much more about Will and his motivations, feelings and other things that affected the creative process. Just go into this magical mystery tour with eyes open.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2004

    Riveting and imaginative biography

    Stephen Greenblatt's writing takes the reader into the Elizabethan world. The details are fascinating and the connections to Shakespeare's life and his plays are illuminating. The reader is drawn into this world in the same way that one is drawn into a richly detailed novel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2004

    The play is still the thing -- but for fun this is king

    This study of the mysterious grocer who changed and shaped the English language in between selling cabbages offers legitimate insights into Shakespeare, and a great deal of well bolstered teasing besides -- as will always be the case when anyone tries to assemble a definitive portrait of Shakespeare. It's not that far removed from trying to present a convincing history of Santa Claus. For my money, the best picture we have of the Bard is in his playful and prolific work. Still, I really enjoyed this book. A very interesting memoir/biography that goes into strange territory and does beautiful things with language is a book called IN THE GHOST COUNTRY dabbling that most elusive arena, the human haunted mind.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2004

    Good, but perhaps reaches too much

    We know but a few pages of biographical information about Shakespeare, and the rest muct always be extrapolated. This author uses the not umerited theory of rooting Shakespeare within the intersecting ripples of effect and cause of his age, of which we now do in fact know a great deal. Many of conclusions are sudden and surprising and almost irrefutable- the coincidence of the name Hamlet and Shak's own deceased infant son Hamnet, for instance-but the book does begin to stretch at times, particularly when an entire exhaustive list of motivations in Shak's early life is revealed. Then again, this does proveide an interesting read, which must be the case when comfronted with a hefty tome about a giant and enigmatic figure we know so little about. Read the sonnets and plays first; read the scholarship second; for far too often scholars overlook the sheer privations and struggles and exuberances of the creative act itself.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 26, 2011

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