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Much Ado About Nothing,
This review is from: Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives) (Paperback)
Although his name is oft bandied about as a must read this is the first time I've ever had the chance. Bryson that is not Shakespeare! This serves as a nice intro to Shakespeare the man with a "just the facts ma'am" approach. And as he admits, this slim volume is a testament to the fact that what we can take as absolute fact about Shakespeare is very little at all.
For a giant in literary terms Shakespeare has left very few footprints. However as Bryson points out this isn't as odd as it might sound, one can't reasonably expect records dating 400 years ago to either be in a sturdy condition or to be legible or even to have survived numerous calamities over the years from natural fires to German bombing campaigns. The fact that the actual early copies of manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays account for about 15 % of all surviving plays from the late Elizabethan / early Jacobean period is pretty remarkable in and of itself.
The author obviously allows room to discuss the speculation of other scholars or this would be a very very slim volume indeed, but he clearly demarcates between what is established fact and what is theory. From his early years we get the speculation of his education and whether he was a secret Catholic, to the sparse years in London before becoming an established writer taking in such romantic fancies that he sailed with Drake.
The one thing Bryson holds no stock in at all is the theory that Shakespeare is not the author of the plays and though he dutifully covers all the potential others he is quite clear on the lack of any tangible evidence that anyone other than William of Stratford wrote the plays