Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare Paperback – 2 Jun 2005
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Why should we read Stephen Greenblatts 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 Bards 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 Greenblatts very personal interpretation, but the portrait is fascinating.--Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A vast shelf of biographies of the Bard exists, but this is the book I would take with me to a desert island" (Jay Parini Guardian)
"A work of wonderful erudition that can be read as an accessible introduction to the social and political milieu from which Shakespeare emerged, and as an elegant guide to the astonishing poems and plays themselves" (New Statesman)
"Both insightful literary criticism and a gripping piece of psychological detective work … Stephen Greenblatt has few equals as a Shakespeare scholar" (Metro)
"A delight, full of new insights and infused with a rich understanding of precisely why Shakespeare’s writing gives us such lasting pleasure … quite superb" (John Simpson Daily Telegraph)
"Thought-provoking … full of unexpected touches … beautifully written" (Andrew Marr Daily Telegraph)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Brilliant and inspirational reconstruction of Shakespeare's possible life. A wonderful insight into the world he inhabited.Published 28 days ago by Michael Bannatyne
There have always been significant and considerable gaps and lacunae in the historical record of the life of William Shakespeare. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Douglas Kemp
Makes the most of the limited information available. Interesting and informative.Published 23 months ago by Milly Jacobs
Clear, succinct and one of the best books on Shakespeare. Great for anyone with an interest in the Bard of Stratford.Published on 11 Jan. 2014 by Martin Smith
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 morePublished on 24 Jun. 2013 by Retired Salesman
Biographies of Shakespeare that are both enthralling and (relatively) fiction-free are understandably rare. When done well, however, they add exhilarating new dimensions. Read morePublished on 9 Nov. 2010 by Jon Chambers
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 morePublished on 27 July 2009 by C. Ball
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 morePublished on 4 May 2008 by DavidW.