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Shakespeare: The World as Stage [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 11 2007 Eminent Lives

William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colorful muddle to reveal the man himself.

Bryson documents the efforts of earlier scholars, from today's most respected academics to eccentrics like Delia Bacon, an American who developed a firm but unsubstantiated conviction that her namesake, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays. Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunkerlike room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed.

Bryson celebrates Shakespeare as a writer of unimaginable talent and enormous inventiveness, a coiner of phrases ("vanish into thin air," "foregone conclusion," "one fell swoop") that even today have common currency. His Shakespeare is like no one else's—the beneficiary of Bryson's genial nature, his engaging skepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivaled in our time.


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From Publishers Weekly

Considering the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Shakespeare, relatively little is known about the man himself. In the absence of much documentation about his life, we have the plays and poetry he wrote. In this addition to the Eminent Lives series, bestselling author Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) does what he does best: marshaling the usual little facts that others might overlook—for example, that in Shakespeare's day perhaps 40% of women were pregnant when they got married—to paint a portrait of the world in which the Bard lived and prospered. Bryson's curiosity serves him well, as he delves into subjects as diverse as the reliability of the extant images of Shakespeare, a brief history of the theater in England and the continuing debates about whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote Shakespeare's works. Bryson is a pleasant and funny guide to a subject at once overexposed and elusive—as Bryson puts it, he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron—forever there and not there. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Considering the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Shakespeare, relatively little is known about the man himself. In the absence of much documentation about his life, we have the plays and poetry he wrote. In this addition to the Eminent Lives series, bestselling author Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) does what he does best: marshaling the usual little facts that others might overlook-for example, that in Shakespeare's day perhaps 40% of women were pregnant when they got married-to paint a portrait of the world in which the Bard lived and prospered. Bryson's curiosity serves him well, as he delves into subjects as diverse as the reliability of the extant images of Shakespeare, a brief history of the theater in England and the continuing debates about whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote Shakespeare's works. Bryson is a pleasant and funny guide to a subject at once overexposed and elusive-as Bryson puts it, he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron-forever there and not there. (Nov.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. (This text refers to the Hardcover edition) --Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Treat Aug. 18 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Short, sweet and full of well researched tid bits you didn't already know about the unknowable Shakespeare. A great read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson at his best June 12 2013
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
You want to know all you need to know about the Bard? It's all right here, and entertaining as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My First Bryson book March 5 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Wonderfully written and superbly explained, if only all books were this easy to folow and read, could not put it down.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To be or not to be? Jan. 17 2008
Format:Paperback
I'm an ardent Bryson fan ...and although this is a departure from his normal fare, I still very much enjoyed it. I may not agree with his views on Shakespeare as the real author of the works attributed to the bard, but he tells his side of the story in an interesting and entertaining way as always. I'd recommend this to anyone who is unsure whether to follow Bryson off his normal beaten track.
As an aside, I'd also suggest you get 'Shakespeare My Butt!' and put it on your bookshelf next to Bryson's Shakespeare just to balance the 'did he or didn't he' debate - even if just for show!. Oddly enough, Shakespeare My Butt isn't about Shakespeare at all - but is a lot more Brysonesque (if that's a word) than this actual Bryson book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare: The World as Stage Feb. 18 2010
Format:Paperback
For anyone interested in understanding the immensity of Shakespeare's contribution to Western culture, I can think of no better place to start than Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as Stage. What makes this such a delightful read is not simply Bryson's capacity for being both informative and entertaining, but his ability to be genuinely awed by his subject and to communicate that sense of awe to his readers. He readily admits that there is much that is unknown about Shakespeare's life but he does a remarkable job of reconstructing the so-called "lost years" based on legal documents, references to Shakespeare by his contemporaries and insight gleaned from the plays and sonnets themselves. In addition, Bryson provides helpful background information on the political and cultural climate of Elizabethan England, including an illuminating overview of the London theatre scene and its major playwrights. Bryson's trademark wit and his passion for unearthing arcane facts makes this one of the liveliest accounts of Shakespeare's life and times ever written.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise and to the Point June 12 2009
By James Gallen TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
As readers of my Amazon reviews are aware, I have read several Shakespeare biographies. This one is short, concise and, thankfully, sticks to known facts. Unlike some, author Bill Bryson refrains from wild speculation based on a reference in a play or poem which is taken as revealing some hidden aspect in Shakespeare's life. If it cannot be found in the historical record, Bryson does not dabble in it. Because of the requirements of the series of which it is a part, Bryson has to use his words sparingly, but he still finds time to promote his ideas about Shakespeare and to oppose the concepts of others which he does not accept. At the end he does a thorough job of discrediting the claim that someone else must have written Shakespeare's works. There is not much known about Shakespeare's life and this book covers it. No other book is needed.
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