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Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare [Kindle Edition]

Stephen Greenblatt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Amazon Review

Why should we read Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World? There have been innumerable biographies of William Shakespeare, but the greatest of all writers remains the great unknowable. We know about the petty business dealings, the death of his son, his career as a man of the theatre, and (of course) the seemingly contemptuous bequeath to Anne Hathaway of his ‘second best bed’. But any biographer is left scratching for much more than that--apart, of course, from adducing what can be read of the man's characters from his work (an enterprise fraught with danger). Shakespeare is not Hamlet, Lear or Benedict--though, of course, he is also, in a real sense, all three.

What makes Greenblatt's account the most valuable in many years (literally so, since famously massive advances were paid for it) is the synthesis of incisive scholarship, immense enthusiasm for the subject and an unparalleled ability to conjure up the Elizabethan world with colour and veracity. If the author's conclusion's about the genius at the centre of his narrative are open to question, Will in the World is none the worse for that--Greenblatt enjoys provoking the reader, and the result is an energetic conjuring of a brilliant man and those around him (Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson are evoked with enviable skill, as are such figures as the prototype for Falstaff, Robert Green).

With something of the vigour of the Bard’s writing, Greenblatt takes us through the bawdy, teeming Bankside district (centuries before it became a tourist destination), and the Machiavellian, dangerous world of the court--in fact, all the splendour and misery of the Elizabethan age--and at the centre of it all, its greatest artist. The Will we meet here may owe much to Greenblatt’s very personal interpretation, but the portrait is fascinating.--Barry Forshaw


"Riveting" (Independent)

"This compulsively readable and deeply imaginative book represents the most sympathetic investigation yet made into the ways in which Shakespeare's life experiences inform his writings" (Stanley Wells)

"Greenblatt's book is full of longing, a love letter to a man we will never know. It's a wonderful piece of work" (Simon Russell Beale)

"Thought-provoking...full of unexpected touches...beautifully written" (Andrew Marr Daily Telegraph)

"Really gives one a sense of being in touch with the man. Greenblatt's knowledge of the plays and the times is encyclopaedic" (Humphrey Carpenter Sunday Times)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 699 KB
  • Print Length: 442 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 039332737X
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (31 Mar 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712600981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712600989
  • ASIN: B0079GL7I2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #157,227 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and is the founder of the school of literary criticism known as New Historicism. As visiting professor and lecturer at universities in England, Australia, the United States and elsewhere throughout the world, he has delivered such distinguished series of lectures as the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford and the University Public Lectures at Princeton. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships and has been President of the Modern Language Association. Professor Greenblatt is the author and co-author of nine books and the editor of ten others, including The Norton Anthology of English Literature (7th edition) and The Norton Shakespeare.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trenchant 5 Nov 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a strongly written, thoughtful, sometimes a little too conjectural study of Shakespeare by one of the pioneers of New Historicism. Greenblatt understands the Renaissance milieu superbly, which allows plenty of valuable insights into the background to the plays, such as his knowledge of the glove trade and his Catholic sympathies. There are perceptive readings of the plays, but this is a book that visualizes Shakespeare as a person, rather than just as the mind behind a canon of texts. The chief value of the book is in its grasp of the relationship between the plays and the Elizabethan and Jacobean world.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The speculative approach 9 Aug 2005
By Murray
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Greenblatt's approach is to take the life of Shakespeare, about which we know so much less than we'd like to, and allow himself to speculate, based on his knowledge of the times and Shakespeare's works, in order to flesh out the bare-bones story.

In some cases this works, in others it doesn't. For me the most exciting chapters dealt with Shakespeare's being involved in the pellmell world of Elizabethan playwriting. When Shakespeare arrived in London to begin his career as a writer, he found himself caught up in a revolution in stage-craft, led by a group of Oxford wits, foremost among them being Marlowe, the inventor of the "mighty line". Greenblatt speculates on how Shakespeare, not university educated, would have fit in with this crowd first as an interesting newcomer, then as something of an upstart whose talent offended those (like Robert Greene) who were so obviously inferior to him.

A chapter that didn't work for me, on the other hand, was the one on Shakespeare's marriage. Greenblatt concludes, from evidence in the plays, that Shakespeare's marriage was an unhappy one. The trouble is, to make his point, Greenblatt has to ignore any alternative interpretations, and so although he admits he is speculating, there is no real feel that he is covering all the options. For instance, Greenblatt damns Shakespeare's infamous final will (in which he leaves his wife his second-best bed), without considering the alternative interpretation that this was a common occurrence for the time, the second-best bed being the one they had shared throughout their married life, as the best one was left for guests.

This is certainly not an exhaustive survey of Shakespeare's life.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Book for Amateurs and Professionals 13 Jan 2005
This book manages to be both an easy read for average readers plus appeals to Shakespeare experts. It is not necessary to read Shakespeare's plays to understand the present book - although the book motivates one in the direction of seeing them again or for the for the first time - but few books combine the present level of insight with the easy to read popular writing style as found here.
I have read a few other popular biographies on Shakespeare including the popular biography by Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare, written in 1970 and the 2003 book by Frank Kermode The Age of Shakespeare. These are aimed at average readers and they are both relatively easy to read and both give some insights into the man and his times. The latter book is similar in goals to the present book but it is much shorter and has a more awkward writing style than the present book.
The present book is far above these two earlier popular books, both in detail, information, insights, and ease of reading. Also, the bibliography at the rear that must contain at least 200 other references. The bibliography is in a "notes" format, it is about 16 pages long, and includes many comments and opinions by the author.
The outstanding feature of the present book is that it is very rich in detail and the author is able to interpret many things in Shakespeare's personal life by working backwards from phrases, characters, religious references, school references, alcohol, etc found in his plays and other writings. Following a rough chronological sequence, the author makes the link to Shakespeare's off stage life, including his father, his childhood, religion, later his children, business, marriage, etc.
Many readers will appreciate the book for all its detail. It has a lot of detail and photographs in the almost 400 pages.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By William Burn VINE VOICE
This book has been very well reviewed several times, with many people coming to different conclusions. Some are very enthusiastic for the book's lively style, and others find that same style itself a hindrance, encouraging Greenblatt to reach conclusions that are little better than idle conjecture. So what's left to say?

Well, I will make two cases for the merits of this book, but neither of them has anything to do with the book's claim to be a biography of Shakespeare. On that front it is pretty dreadful: there is a great deal we don't know, and to fill this much space with so little hard evidence requires a good deal of creative thinking to say the least.

However, this book does provide two very useful services. On the one hand it gives an engaging and lively account of the social and intellectual milieu in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, and on the other, it gives a useful introduction to the primary concerns of Shakespeare's work, grounded in a deep understanding of the culture in which they were produced. As such, it will be of use to a great many readers, from students of Shakespeare as an engaging starting point (to be given a good intellectual kicking later), to amateur readers looking for some up-to-date scholarship that is not couched in language which revels in its own obscurantism. If you want either of these, then this is a good book. It will not tell you what Shakespeare thought of his wife, because, to be honest, we'll never know.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Makes the most of the limited information available. Interesting and informative.
Published 1 month ago by Milly Jacobs
5.0 out of 5 stars Will in the world is a must
Clear, succinct and one of the best books on Shakespeare. Great for anyone with an interest in the Bard of Stratford.
Published 8 months ago by Martin Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant look into Shakespeare's world and the factors that made him...
Covers the historical, political and social aspects of England (London and Stratford) and what happened to Will during his life to give at least a view of why and how he became the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Retired Salesman
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasoned speculation
Biographies of Shakespeare that are both enthralling and (relatively) fiction-free are understandably rare. When done well, however, they add exhilarating new dimensions. Read more
Published on 9 Nov 2010 by Jon Chambers
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on Shakespeare out there...
This isn't really a straight-forward biography of Shakespeare - it's more an attempt to tease out biographical details from the plays themselves, more what the plays tell us about... Read more
Published on 27 July 2009 by C. Ball
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating reconstruction of a life
yes, there is loads of speculative guessing here about Will's life, but also gives an excellent feel for the young man's life arriving in the tumultuous big city of London;... Read more
Published on 4 May 2008 by DavidW.
5.0 out of 5 stars Raises the curtain on a hidden figure
I would agree with the reviews above. This is a very fine book that would serve anyone apporoaching a serious engagement with Shakespeare's play for the first time very well... Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2008 by Withnail67
4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling Speculation!
"Will In The World" draws the reader into the fascinating world of William Shakespeare. Drawing on the scanty information known about the Bard, author Stephen Greenblatt... Read more
Published on 1 Sep 2006 by James Gallen
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile exercise in creating a believeable Bard
As someone fascinated by the Shakespeare authorship question I enjoyed Greenblatt's attempt to flesh out the emotional life of the Stratford man, his motivations political,... Read more
Published on 25 May 2006 by Huck Flynn
2.0 out of 5 stars A hardly advisable, though enthusiastic speculation.
After studying Shakespeare at University for some years--alongside the inevitable, nowadays fashionable syllabus on cultural approaches to literature, including Greenblatt's... Read more
Published on 14 Mar 2006 by "der_niblungen_herr"
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