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1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare Paperback – 6 Apr 2006
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"'One of the few genuinely original biographies of Shakespeare.' Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph"
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, by James Shapiro, is an intimate history of Shakespeare, following him through a single year that changed not only his fortunes but the course of literature.aSee all Product description
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The author is trying to give a feel for one year through the history of the time and then looking at the plays to see how the events and politics of the time are reflected in the content. The year he has chosen is 1599 which was the year of the Earl of Essex's rebellion against Queen Elizabeth and a time when power and succession were much in the forefront of the minds of political thinkers. Shakespeare himself was part of the building of the Globe Theatre and obviously working hard, wanting his plays to be acceptable and popular. The author combines history, biography and literary criticism to give us a textured view of this year and what it meant to the people at the time and to Shakespeare himself.
I found the book hard going at first because it dumped a lot of information but I persevered and became engrossed in the story. I feel that I was left with a better understanding of the times and especially the plays and how they linked together. This is obviously a well researched book but the author has a clear narrative and understanding of what he wants to say and uses evidence appropriately.
An intelligent and unusual book.
He examines what was happening politically and culturally and how those events both manifest in the plays Shakespeare was writing that year, and also how they might have affected his future work. As he admits himself, this is mostly speculation and cannot ever be confirmed, but it's an imaginiative and original approach which works excellently.
Shapiro examines the 4 plays written in 1599 (Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet) and relates them to both Shakespeare's (assumed) thinking and external events. He re-reads the plays themselves in light of this and makes some excellent points. But this isn't a 'lit crit' book: it also delves into religion, Shakespeare's possible relationship with his wife and family back in Stratford, the Elizabethan theatrical world, and Elizabethan politics.
The one major gap for me was an exploration of the sonnets written around this time, and the (possible) implications for Shakespeare's personal life. There's nothing here about his emotional life (which admittedly would be pure speculation - but then a lot of this book is). That small caveat aside, this is an excellent, well-written, and entertaining book, as rewarding, I would guess, for the non-specialist as the specialist.
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