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A hardly advisable, though enthusiastic speculation.
on 14 March 2006
After studying Shakespeare at University for some years--alongside the inevitable, nowadays fashionable syllabus on cultural approaches to literature, including Greenblatt's New Historicism--I was curious enough to risk a full reading of some of this scholar's papers, and the present speculative biography, in which I scarcely find one single virtue: its overwhelming enthusiasm.
But, alas, enthusiasm hardly justifies yet one more biography of Shakespeare, especially when there are solid, well-documented books on his life as, for instance, that updated, recent one by Mr Park Honan.
Greenblatt's job here was--like so many before him--to try and glimpse at Shakespeare's life and personality from the pages of his works, especially from the sequence of his Sonnets, that are simply--and with little scruple--assumed to be a faithful account of his love affairs.
As if a poet could'nt make up a poetic mask of love for himself (this may be particularly expected from the man who created an inmense number of vivid characters--some of them bigger than life itself--in his dramatic works).
The result of this bundle of conjecture, joined with a sufficient knowledge of the available sources--so painfully scant--, is a book to be little enjoyed by the connoiseur, and not good enough to be the only book a layman may read on Shakespeare.
If you want solid, sensible literary criticism, I suggest you turn to Hazlitt, Dr Johnson, Coleridge or the greatly talented A.C. Bradley. If you want a faithful, not a dreamy biography, read Park Honan's. And if you are new to Shakespeare, go on reading his plays, and practise the healthy habit of thinking for yourself.
Coda: I will restrain from giving my personal opinion on Greenblatt's New Histoticism in full. Let it suffice to say that I find its method questionable, and its depth of ideas much too limited by its ideological agenda.