We all had to learn a Shakespeare play or two at school and for many it would have put them of the Bard for a lifetime. His alien language and references to things that no longer seem relevant just does not cut it with the average 13 year old. Thankfully, I learned `Macbeth' and `Romeo and Juliet' at school - two pretty awesome plays. Perhaps my peers would have enjoyed the plays as much as I, had they known some of the context in which Shakespeare lived. This is exactly what Dr Neil MacGregor provides in `Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects', a book that uses surviving objects of the era to explain the turbulent times in which Shakespeare lived and how this would have impacted on his writing and his audience.
What `Restless World' basically does it paint a rich social history of late Elizabethan/early James 1st Britain. It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone from 1590-1620, but MacGregor does a great job in transporting you back there. The book is full of lush full colour pictures and is broken down into chapters that explore different aspects of life e.g. food, death. You learn how the latest fashions or political upheavals impacted on some of Shakespeare's most famous works.
As part of a Radio 4 show `Restless World' is just able balance being accessible with being academic. Personally, I found that the number of pictures filled up too much space and there could have been more written information. For the non-academic, `Restless World' is an accessible introduction into history during the time of Shakespeare; I would have liked a tiny more meat on its bones though.