"What this book tells us about [Jonathan] Bate," wrote one British reviewer, "is that he has the gift of a true teacher -- able at once to educate and to entertain. He has the skill, grace and wit that his subject deserves." Bate's Soul of the Age eschews the "deadening march of chronological sequence" provided by cradle-to-grave lives. Instead, this "biography of the mind" of William Shakespeare plays adeptly on a structural device based loosely on Jacques's "Seven Ages of Man" speech in As You Like It. Bate's numerous insights about the Stratford Bard evidence his lifelong study of his writings. Indeed, we can agree with the Guardian reviewer who opined that Soul of the Age "offers riches enough to reaffirm Bate's reputation as one of our most original and assiduous Shakespeareans."
…[a] beauty of a book, rich in insight, immaculate in scholarship, a work that is destined, like Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, to become one of the standard sources on its subject.
The Washington Post
Ben Jonson claimed that Shakespeare "was not of an age, but for all time!" Conversely, noted British Shakespeare scholar Bate (The Genius of Shakespeare) attempts to prove that the Bard effectively represents the politically and socially complicated 16th-century environment and that his work can then-theoretically-illuminate his mysterious personal life with the notable exception of his marriage. While much is conjectured here, the scant biographical resources are well-used to painstakingly define Shakespeare's careers as actor, poet and playwright and to refute popular myths such as his purported retirement from writing. Bate's approach is more successful in confirming that Shakespeare typifies his age than in providing substantive biographical information based on hints hidden in the prolific body of work. Even so, Bate offers an excellent resource for students of English literature and the Elizabethan era in this thoughtful, well-researched and even playful explication of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets as they resonated in both the Elizabethan sphere and the less austere Stuart court while remaining relevant today. Illus. (Apr. 17)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
George Bernard Shaw mused, "Everything we know about Shakespeare can be got into a half-hour sketch," and this is the challenge Bate faces in writing this biography. Shakespeare's writings have survived through the ages, but much about the author has disappeared, so there is little on which to base a biography. Bate's previous work, The Genius of Shakespeare, was a "traditional" biography, relying upon facts and anecdotes to reconstruct the Bard's life. In this "intellectual" biography, Bate uses Shakespeare's own example of the seven ages of man for structure: survival and environment for the infant; book learning for the schoolboy; the nature of sexual desire for the lover; war and social unrest for the soldier; law and politics for the justice; wisdom and folly for the old man; and the art of facing death for the age of "oblivion." Bate is able to reveal the world in which Shakespeare moved and in the process lend depth to what would otherwise be a two-dimensional rendering of the man himself. This is not only an outstanding scholarly accomplishment but also a pleasure to read. Recommended for all libraries.
Mark Alan Williams
Few have anything new to say about Shakespeare, even fewer the ability to say it in refreshing ways. This exceptional book does both..Breaking from the traditional biography's unyielding march of chronology, British scholar Bate (Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature/Univ. of Warwick; The Song of the Earth, 2000, etc.) examines the social, political and cultural forces that shaped his subject's mind—he wants to know what it was like being Shakespeare. For his narrative framework, Bate looks to the "All the world's a stage" speech from As You Like It, in which "one man in his time plays many parts / his acts being seven ages": infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old man and, lastly, "second childishness and mere oblivion." What could have been an arbitrary, imposed structure instead proves a sturdy formal platform from which Bate freely soars, offering a fresh, colorful and exciting portrait of a man whose portrait has been painted countless times before. Why so much rhetorical argument in Shakespeare's plays? Bate points to the enduring effect of his schoolboy studies of Latin grammar. Why such sympathy for idiots and fools? The playwright felt out of place in London, a country bumpkin amid urban sophisticates. Why was Shakespeare so successful compared to his peers? Perhaps because he lived frugally, invested well and remained devoted to his family, while most of his competitors lived hard and died young. Bate's ability to shuttle back and forth between what he calls "the Shakespearean mind" and what scholar Patrick Cruttwell usefully called "the Shakespearean moment" keeps the pace and content engaging. Occasionally, the author indulges in academic hair-splitting or wastestime criticizing those who doubt William Shakespeare was a real person who wrote his own plays. (Does anyone care about that debate anymore?) More often, though, Bate is generous with his learning, insight and wit, and more than willing to explain thoroughly..Lucid, rich and erudite—essential for libraries, students and Bardolaters..Agent: Andrew Wiley/The Wylie Agency.
“Enthralling, the most eloquent evocation of Shakespeare one is ever likely to encounter.”—Times Literary Supplement, U.K.
“It is almost impossible to write something fresh about William Shakespeare. Yet Jonathan Bate has succeeded, with a sparkling and arresting portrait of the Bard and his world as discovered in his writings.”—The Economist (named one of the best books of 2008)
“Thoughtful, well-researched and even playful . . . An excellent resource for students of English literature and the Elizabethan era.”—Publishers Weekly
“Soul of the Age is the most artful, intriguing, and satisfying study of the mind of William Shakespeare we now possess. No other biography has used Shakespeare’s works so resourcefully to shed light on his life; few have so successfully mined the records of his life to illuminate the works. Each chapter shines with new discoveries, original insights, and dazzling prose. This is a major achievement from a master of Shakespeare studies.”—David Armitage, Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History, Harvard University
“Surprising, fresh and anything but le pot rechauffé . . . [Bate] has the gift of a true teacher–able at once to educate and to entertain. . . . After reading Soul of the Age I felt closer to the soul of Shakespeare.”—The Guardian,U.K.
“There can only be a handful of people in the world who know as much about Shakespeare as Bate, and it is intensely enjoyable to watch him bringing his knowledge to bear. He has the conjuror’s art of suspense, and you find yourself gasping with pleasure at the neatness of his conclusions. Few books pack so much new thinking about Shakespeare between their covers.”—Sunday Times, U.K.
“Bate is both a considerable scholar and an excellent writer, and he achieves a resonant and complex portrait, constantly alert to new lines of enquiry and unexpected connections. . . . [This] is a triumph of precision, learning and intelligent innovation.”—The Telegraph, U.K.