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Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives) Paperback – 1 Apr 2008


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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: 13 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,642 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.


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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

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 171 people found the following review helpful By L O'connor on 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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106 of 110 people found the following review helpful By R. Creer on 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 By The Kinniburgh Kid on 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 By Michael J. Hunt on 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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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By P. G. Harris TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Nov 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is well worth buying and is an interesting and enjoyable read. Bill Bryson is always worth reading, his common sense and down to earth style are always entertaining. What better subject could he have than our greatest writer ? So the book is onto a winner and delivers. I found it an easy and diverting read on holiday. I learned things I didn't know, about Shakespeare's "missing periods", about his relationship with Anne, about the extent to which he was a Jacobean as much as an Elizabethan writer. I particularly liked the debunking of those who claim that Shakespeare didn't write "Shakespeare".

So why only three stars? Well, the book comes across exactly as what it is, a commission. "Bill, could you write us a brief book about Shakespeare?" As such it firstly it feels a bit cobbled together, a bit rushed off. Secondly it is rather lacking in depth. Thirdly it rather lacks structure jumping erractically between the specifics of Shakespeare's life and the generalities of the world around him.

I am probably being over critical, in that the book does exactly what it says on the tin and is well worth a read. I just feel that if the drive to write the book had come from Bill Bryson rather than being a commission, the end result would have been a deeper more satisfying work.

So in summary, recommended as a good light read, just don't expect too much.
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