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1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare [Paperback]

James Shapiro
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
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Book Description

6 April 2006

How did Shakespeare go from being a talented poet and playwright to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived? In this one exhilarating year we follow what he reads and writes, what he saw and who he worked with as he invests in the new Globe theatre and creates four of his most famous plays - Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet.

This book brings the news, intrigue and flavour of the times together with wonderful detail about how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman and playwright, to create an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New Edition edition (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571214819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571214815
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"'One of the few genuinely original biographies of Shakespeare.' Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph"

Book Description

An intimate history of Shakespeare, following him through a single year that changed not only his fortunes but the course of literature.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
180 of 186 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Making of a Genius 3 Jun 2006
By Gregory S. Buzwell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
I lived with this book for about a month. Everywhere I went the book went with me. I would read and re-read passages on the tube in the mornings and evenings; I read snippets during brief breaks at work and every evening I would ruffle through a few more pages before going to bed. 1599 is that rare beast - the erudite, informative history book with the narrative drive of a beautiful novel.

Beginning with an account of how an armed group of actors made their way through a snowy London night and stole the timbers of a nearby theatre, taking them back to the site of the Globe, the book goes on to set the scene for the year 1599, a year in which a great deal of unsettling events were taking place. Queen Elizabeth was nearing the end of her reign and the old issues of succession occupied the court, tied in as they were with questions of whether England would remain a Protestant country or revert to Catholicism. Rebellions in Ireland drained the royal coffers and diverted the attentions of one of Elizabeth's more awkwardly charismatic favourites, the Earl of Essex. Also across the seas Spain appeared to be assembling troops and ships for another attempt at invasion. An air of uncertainty held the country in a rather queasy grip and, feeding off these weeks and months of uncertainty, William Shakespeare penned the plays (Henry V, Julius Caesar, As you Like it and Hamlet) that saw him transformed from a highly talented playwright into the greatest writer in our history. Several books have explained, fairly enough, how Shakespeare's work transcends the age in which he was writing, but Shapiro does the reverse, showing how the events around him formed key elements in his plays and helped to shape his development as a creative force.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Why would you want to read a book on one year in Shakesepeare's life, written by an American professor? Forget any preconceptions that this introduction conjures. This is a truly amazing read for either the general reader or, I suspect, the academic.
1599 is the year in which The Globe (then called The Theatre) was 'pinched' over Christmas 1598 and transported, timber by timber, from its original site in Shoreditch to be rebuilt on the other side of the Thames in Soutwark - a task which was not to be completed till the following July.
It was a year in which Shakespeare produced 4 plays, saw the downfall of Queen Elizabeth's favourite, the Earl of Essex and during which fear of invasion by Spain was a real and present danger.
Professor Shapiro argues that this year was also a turning point in Shakespeare's writing, and makes a very good case. He points the reader toward the context in which Shakespeare was living and writing, takes us into the world of the theatre and the world at large and goes a long way toward solving the 'problem' of Hamlet as a bonus.
If I have one quibble it is an over-use of the word 'probably'; at times I think that the author strays into the realms of speculation a little too far, though to be fair he usually provides reasons for his assumptions.
This is a densely written book which more than repays the reading. Part history, part mystery, part biography I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Shakepeare's works and particularly to anyone who, like me, firmly believes that the plays were for playing, not study.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars imaginative and original 11 May 2007
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a standard biography of Shakespeare then this definitely isn't it: Shapiro eschews the usual methods of writing a life and instead concentrates on a single year in Shakespeare's life.

He examines what was happening politically and culturally and how those events both manifest in the plays Shakespeare was writing that year, and also how they might have affected his future work. As he admits himself, this is mostly speculation and cannot ever be confirmed, but it's an imaginiative and original approach which works excellently.

Shapiro examines the 4 plays written in 1599 (Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet) and relates them to both Shakespeare's (assumed) thinking and external events. He re-reads the plays themselves in light of this and makes some excellent points. But this isn't a 'lit crit' book: it also delves into religion, Shakespeare's possible relationship with his wife and family back in Stratford, the Elizabethan theatrical world, and Elizabethan politics.

The one major gap for me was an exploration of the sonnets written around this time, and the (possible) implications for Shakespeare's personal life. There's nothing here about his emotional life (which admittedly would be pure speculation - but then a lot of this book is). That small caveat aside, this is an excellent, well-written, and entertaining book, as rewarding, I would guess, for the non-specialist as the specialist.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the context of a watershed year 19 Feb 2010
This is the most fascinating and readable book on Shakespeare I've come across. Shapiro, to borrow a tired phrase, wears his learning lightly - there's no doubt he has a vast amount to say about the plays, but he focuses on the events of 1599, and keeps the narrative, even those bits which read like conventional literary criticism, taut and fluid.
Now whether or not you consider 1599 to be a breakthrough or threshold year in Shakespeare life is presumably a moot point. I don't know enough to comment, though Shapiro puts a very very convincing case. But what is certain about this book is that the author's determination to contextualise the plays of 1599 in the political events of that year makes for dramatic reading. The interlude where Shakespeare returns to Stratford allows Shapiro to bring in yet more historical evidence, some of it circumstantial but most of it plausible. There are some pages where history takes over from literature, but that's fine - to place the works in context does require some explanation, and Shapiro makes no assumptions about his readers' knowledge of Elizabethan history.
Others have criticised the author for neglecting the sonnets. But I'm sure that's deliberate for two reasons: 1) the chronology of those poems is very conjectural, and 2) their autobiographical content is dubious. I reckon Shapiro takes his cue from Jonathan Bate here, and so doesn't attempt to pin down a narrative in the sonnets. Many have tried, but none have done so convincingly. The plays of 1599 - Henry IV part 1, Henry V, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet - undoubtedly date from that period, so his reading of them as alluding to contemporary events is valid. To include the sonnets would have been too dubious.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it when I read it a while ago and will love it again when I get...
A really important year in Shakespeare's life. Getting close to Elizabeth's death and the start of King James, Some wonderful plays written then.
Published 2 months ago by J. C. Bennett
4.0 out of 5 stars My Sister-in-Law liked it
Which was the reason for buying it - I'm not a Shakespeare buff - but she is and reportedly loved it.
Published 6 months ago by Mr. K. Appleby
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'must read ' for any Shakespearean.
An excellently researched volume giving a fascinating insight behind the scene at The Globe. Thoroughly recommended to all Romeos and Juliets.
Published 9 months ago by Chris Robertson
5.0 out of 5 stars 1599
A marvellous survey for the graduate student or just the straightforward Shakespeare enthusiast. Compulsively readable, it wears its learning lightly.
Published 13 months ago by Wheeze
5.0 out of 5 stars 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
I can thoroughly recommend this wonderful book by James Shapiro. He has greatly increased my knowledge of the difficulties faced by writers who produced plays for the stage as a... Read more
Published 14 months ago by sophietrophy
3.0 out of 5 stars I had read quite a lot about Shakespeare before
there is so little actually known about Shakespeare that this approach ( one year as a starting point) was a good idea. But for me not too much that was new
Published 19 months ago by CBWHITTLE
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read
I bought this with trepidation as a present for my girlfriend. She has a degree in English Literature and is extremely well read.
I need not have worried! Read more
Published 19 months ago by John
5.0 out of 5 stars 1599 by James Shapiro
The extraordinary breadth as well as depth of scholarship makes this one of the most important books for all those who seek to understand Shakespeare in the rich contexts of his... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Christopher Wortham
5.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare
A pivotal year both for England and Shakespeare.
The current affairs dominating England at that time and woven into the works of 1599 help explain and enrich modern day... Read more
Published 20 months ago by A. Hayes
5.0 out of 5 stars Uniquely insightful
I've read/seen a very limited number of Shakespeare plays, so the primary concern for me was whether this book would be too specialized. It wasn't. Read more
Published 23 months ago by GP23
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