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161 of 165 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare explained
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...
Published on 14 Sep 2007 by L O'connor

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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read which does what it says on the tin
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...
Published on 3 Nov 2007 by P. G. Harris


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161 of 165 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare explained, 14 Sep 2007
By 
L O'connor (richmond, surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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
By 
R. Creer (Cumbria, UK) - See all my reviews
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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 (Wales) - See all my reviews
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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
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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
By 
Michael J. Hunt "mjhunt21" (England) - See all my reviews
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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.

Even one 'fact' that I've always believed to be true about Shakespeare turns out only to be a 'best guess' - i.e. that he spent time before his arrival in London, as a player/tutor to a Lancashire Catholic family (the Hoghtons).

One major thing that I wasn't aware of before (there are also many minor things in this book that I wasn't aware of) is the hugely important role that two of his contemporaries played in preserving his works for posterity. Had it not been for Henry Condell and John Hemingse none of his marvellous plays would have been saved, and we English, and our wonderful language, would have been the poorer to a massive degree.

For those who believe that Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Derby, or a Frenchman called Jaques Pierre, or any one of dozens of 'contenders' for Shakespeare's throne, reading this book will be like taking a dip in the Thames in mid-winter - unless your constitution's up to it, don't go near it. Otherwise, it's a safe book to read if you are interested in the English language in general, or the theatre in particular.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read which does what it says on the tin, 3 Nov 2007
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
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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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare - all that is known in 200 pages, 12 Nov 2007
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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In recent years Bill Bryson has broadened his writing away from the string of best-selling humorous travel books for which he is best known, to other projects, notably his hugely successful `A Short History of Nearly Everything'. This slim biography of Shakespeare is another new direction. It is slim partly because that is the nature of the series of which it is part, but also because, as the author says, there is almost nothing known with certainty about Shakespeare's life, despite the extensive literature that exists on the subject. Bryson looks at the many theories and speculations of previous authors and gently debunks just about every one of them. The writing has his usual wry humour combined with authority that one has come to expect from the travel books and is a delight to read. At the end, we still know very little about the life of Shakespeare, but at least we know more about what is not known.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stalking the Bard, 26 May 2008
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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Iowa-raised and presumably corn-fed Bill Bryson is perhaps best known for his humorous travel essays about such places as England (NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND), Australia (IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY), the Appalachian Trail (A WALK IN THE WOODS), rural America (THE LOST CONTINENT), and, well, just about everywhere you can think of (A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING). His love of England, which I share, is what originally marked him as one of my favorite authors.

As one who obviously enjoys stringing words together and, moreover, has written books on the subject (THE MOTHER TONGUE and BRYSON'S DICTIONARY OF TROUBLESOME WORDS), it's not terribly surprising that Bill has combined his affections for England and its language in a volume about its greatest (play)writer, SHAKESPEARE: THE WORLD AS STAGE. And, of course, they're both named William.

Bryson admits up front that there's very little in the way of hard facts about William Shakespeare. But, in Bill's hands, that plus what can be deduced or inferred expands to a very satisfying and entertaining volume even for the culturally destitute reader who may not be a aficionado of the Bard's stuff. Like myself.

Bill sets the stage, so to speak, with a cursory examination of the English period contemporary with his subject: the monarchy of Elizabeth I, certain London structures (London Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral), the Thames, religious turmoil, public pastimes, the state of the London theater scene, the business of being a playwright, the structure of contemporary plays, and the art of bookbinding. With those considerations functioning as a contextual backdrop, the products of Shakespeare's life that can be directly studied - his parentage, plays, poetry, written vocabulary, will, and other rare public records in which he's mentioned - serve to flesh out the man to the extent possible. There's even a final chapter on the historical and modern claimants to the authorship of Shakespeare's works, which claims some otherwise accomplished people take seriously. (Just as the current Royal Family had Princess Di murdered. You think?)

The author's paramount strength is the congeniality of his dialogue with his readers. He could, no doubt, make the description of fabricating wire hangers amusing, interesting, and instructive. SHAKESPEARE isn't Bill's best work, perhaps because the scope of the subject matter is so narrow, but it does deserve a place on the bookshelves of his fans.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bardy good read, 18 Sep 2007
By 
Robert J. Prosser (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Short but enjoyable biography of Britains foremost writer. Bryson wisely stays away from pointless conjecture and unfounded speculation about The Bard and sticks to the facts scarce though they are. He concentrates instead what is known from records and contemporaries. Recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting surprise!, 4 May 2008
By 
Anne Davis (Gloucester UK) - See all my reviews
This is not my normal type of reading at all - I am much more inclined to read fiction and have never actually read a Bill Bryson. But I love anything to do with Shakespeare so was moved to buy it. And what a nice surprise I got! A great little book full of quirky and interesting facts about Shakespeare's time (such as better-off people wearing black as black dye cost more and people having black teeth as a result of eating sugar, but those who couldn't afford the sugar made their teeth black to make it look as if they could!!). Certainly a book to keep on the shelves to refer to again. I would definitely recommend it to any Shakespeare fans.
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