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Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives) [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

1 April 2008 Eminent Lives

From bestselling author Bill Bryson comes this compelling short biography of William Shakespeare, our greatest dramatist and poet.

Examining centuries of myths, half-truths and downright lies, Bill Bryson makes sense of the man behind the masterpieces. As he leads us through the crowded streets of Elizabethan England, he brings to life the places and characters that inspired Shakespeare’s work. Along the way he delights in the inventiveness of Shakespeare’s language, which has given us so many of the indispensable words and phrases we use today, and celebrates the Bard’s legacy to our literature, culture and history.

Drawing together information from a vast array of sources, this is a masterful account of the life and works of William Shakespeare, one of the most famous and most enigmatic people ever to have lived – not to mention a classic piece of Bill Bryson.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (1 April 2008)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 000719790X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007197903
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years ,but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.


Photography © Julian J

Product Description

Review

‘A delight…A gem of a book.’ Mail on Sunday

‘Witty and infectiously enthusiastic.’ Spectator

'A brilliantly funny and gently insightful travel guide to 16th century England. Bryson is great at picking out of the morass of Elizabethan fact the small details that illuminate and amuse…he also uncovers from the world that surrounded the theatre some fascinating examples of Elizabethan eccentricity…As an abbreviated tour around the world of Shakespeare, this could hardly be bettered.' Sunday Times

‘Bryson uses an inimitably light touch and squeezes a vast subject down to manageable proportions…he is a warm and funny guide through the whole complicated morass of Shakespearean scholarship.’ Financial Times

From the Back Cover

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 — she spent months in silence at Bacon’s home, ‘absorbing atmospheres’ that bolstered her theory. With shades of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker-like basement 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 a home at the tips of our tongues. His Shakespeare is like no-one else’s — the beneficiary of Bryson’s genial nature, his engaging scepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivalled in our time.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
161 of 165 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare explained 14 Sep 2007
Format:Hardcover
This is a very entertaining and informative account of the life and works of William Shakespere. Although the book is short, there is much fascinating information packed into it. I found it particularly fascinating to read about the huge contribution Shakespeare made to the development of the English language, and the large number of words now in common usage that were originally coined by him. Many myths about Shakespeare are cheeerfuly debunked by Mr Bryson, like the one about his work as an author never being mentioned in his lifetime, and the one about less being known about him than other contemporary dramatists (apparently more is known about Shakespeare than any of the others). The final chapter, in which Mr Bryson cheerfuly disposes of the fantasies of those who claim that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, is particularly entertaining.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I wish it had been longer, since Bill Bryson writes about his subject so entertainingly. However, Mr Bryson has evidentl taken to heart Shakespeare's own aphorism "brevity is the soul of wit."
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104 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars De-bunking the Bard's de-bunkers 27 Sep 2007
Format:Hardcover
This is an easily readable and short life of Shakespeare written for a series called "Eminent Lives" and strangely coming after books on George Balanchine and George Crick!! In it Bill Bryson, in his inimitable witty style, tells us how little is known of WS's life but then goes on to examine what others have conjectured about it, pouring scorn on so many of the theories. I have read several attempts at Shakespeare biographies but still learned something from this [especially on the Bard's neologisms] but my favourite was the final debunking of the attempts to say the plays were written by someone else. Bryson does this so amusingly [can it be true that of the 5000 books written to prove Shakespeare's plays were written by someone other than Shakespeare, three were by Messers Looney, Silliman and Battey?!] that I was actually laughing as I read it. For example, on the claims for Marlowe to have been the real Shakespeare, Bryson writes "He was the right age ..., had the requisite talent and would certainly have had ample leisure after 1593, assuming he wasn't too dead to work."

So, Bryson has produced just what his publishers wanted, a brief biography that anyone can read and learn from, which appears both learned and well researched on the one hand, but also enjoyable and amusing on the other.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for Shakespeare fans! 11 April 2008
By SAP VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I bought this book because I'm a fan of Bill Bryson and history books generally. (And because it was half price, but that is neither here nor there.) I must stress that my only interest in Shakespeare is as an historical figure living in interesting times. That's why I bought it. His work is for far more literate and genteel people! But I absolutely loved this book. For what it is -- a witty introduction and guide to the whole Shakespeare experience! -- I thought it was faultless. Bryson tells us what we need to know and what we need to take with a pinch of salt (which turns out to be nearly everything!) and he does it in his own inimitable avuncular style. I haven't enjoyed a book so much (or felt so intellectual!) for a long time. So Bryson's done a good job. However, I have a bone to pick with the publishers. Why no illustrations? No portraits (admittedly there are no 'cast-iron' ones), no facsimiles of the oft-cited historical documents or scratchy signatures, no quaint maps. Nothing. I don't know why this happens with Bryson particularly, but I noticed it too in his A Short History of Nearly Everything. Perhaps they were trying to avoid tired old cliches. But I like to rest every so often and a picture can be good to mull over and collect thoughts.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hanky, A Hanky - My Kindom For A Hanky 16 Nov 2007
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
At one point Bryson asks the listener to imagine how wonderful it must have been to have been able to see Shakespeare on stage acting and speaking his own work. Listening to the author read his own work here I concluded it might not have been that great.

I have very many Bryson audio CDs and enjoy them all, but this suffers from a delivery that seldom rises above a drone. Frankly, he sounds like he had a heavy cold.

That said - and it does take a bit of getting over - the content is good. As with 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' it provides the listener with a very accessible and entertaining way into and through a lot of information and research.

I suspect Shakespeare experts will learn little, but if, like me, you studied a few plays at school and watch the odd - and some decidedly odd - movie adaptation then this will easily fascinate you.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Know less - know more 2 Jan 2008
Format:Hardcover
After reading this entertaining book I now know less about Shakespeare than I knew before. This is not a criticism of the book, more a criticism of the thousands of misleading and ill-researched books and essays about this mysterious (not necessarily deliberately mysterious) man.

Bill Bryson appears to have been meticulous in his research in that he only uses proven facts(i.e. documented from first-hand, un-disproven sources) to support this, necessarily, slim book. The reason why it's a slim book is that there are so few un-disproven sources available, public records being what they were in the 16th and early 17th centuries. He also shows the pointlessness of adducing anything about Shakespeare's character from his writing, since it's impossible to separate his own voice from that of his characters.

About Shakespeare, the man, little is known. Huge chunks of his life have been obliterated with the passage of time, which leaves it open to speculation, of which there has been no let-up since about two hundred years after his death. This has led to a conspiracy theorist's charter, which covers his sexuality (which could still have been 'three ways', given the lack of evidence, apart from his his being married and having three children, none of whom were ever questioned about their father) to his character (the evidence of which is ambiguous) and, even, to his very existence (at least as the writer). On this latter point cojecture is rife, but there is even less un-disproven evidence to support it (i.e. nil) and his non-existence as a writer would have required an impossible degree of secrecy by numerous literate and reliable individuals in London at the time, including members of two Royal households and his 'rival' playwright, Ben Jonson.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Bryson
Love Bryson. This is my least favourite but still entertaining
Published 5 days ago by Drum
4.0 out of 5 stars and so far useful for the purpose
Cover - 4/5 says what's in the tin

Purchased to help me write a short story competition entry. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Alexander Kreator
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good book
Published 11 days ago by Michael K. Chapman
3.0 out of 5 stars Bill Bryson at his best
This is a very entertaining book which, although brief,often hits the target of divergence between the legend and the facts by a quick reference to the source. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Gerald L
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great read
Published 16 days ago by Zen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great price - and in such good condition.
Published 19 days ago by Sue
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended
I was getting a bit tired of Bryson's writing but here he creates a compelling read. He collects information about Shakespeare and puts it all together as an informed, interesting... Read more
Published 1 month ago by H Clarke
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and well written by Bryson
Rather shorter than expected but still a very interesting book. Easy to read and well written by Bryson...as expected.
Published 1 month ago by SUB
5.0 out of 5 stars Good old Bill
Packed with interesting and sometimes pleasantly obscure information about Shakespeare, his times and his peers.
Bill Bryson is, as always, a good read.
Published 1 month ago by patsy
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative read
I love Bill Bryson's writing style - both in his travel books and his books on the English language. Read more
Published 2 months ago by RGT
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