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Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare Paperback – 2 Jun 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (2 Jun. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712600981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712600989
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 458,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"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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4.4 out of 5 stars
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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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