Category: Bill Bryson

book review – Shakespeare


On one level this book about Shakespeare fails because it has very little to say with any sense of about him because so few concrete facts are accepted. But in terms of providing a travel guide to the 16th century and an example of how it is possible to be critical in historical debate without being unintelligible then Bill Bryson has produced a very enjoyable book.

Through the handful of agreed facts and historical glimpses of the great playwright Bryson takes you back to the London of The Globe and the world of Elizabethan England. This is an enjoyable journey with pleasant brushstrokes illustrating the past with a guide that is always happy to point out the hilarious and absurd as well as the important.

But alongside the search for Shakespeare and his world there is also a commentary on those that have gone into the intellectual wilderness on their way to proving wither that Shakespeare didn’t exist or that he was some kind of fraud.

Theories ranging from homosexuality to a man who hated his wife have been put forward by various historians. Those are some of the more mild propositions with a host of wacky ones that drove wither their champions mad or left them virtually discredited.

Bryson takes a swipe at most of these academics individually then in an almost exasperated tone wonders why it cannot be accepted that there was a genius named William Shakespeare who left the world such an amazing collection of plays.

One of the real stories that emerges from this book is just how miraculous it was that any of Shakespeare’s work survived. The First Folio put together a few years after his death by two friends John Heminges and Henry Condell was the major move in sealing the playwright’s legacy.

Very few plays from Shakespeare’s time survive and so the fact so many of his have is something to be wondered at. There are mentions of old copies of the Folio that are yet to be discovered and missing plays that provide not just the stuff that would fuel a literary Indiana Jones but also gets you dreaming of discoveries in an old junk shop or relative’s attic.

At the end of this book you might not be closer to trying to find that defining historical moment that answers all the questions on Shakespeare. But you are more familiar with his world, understanding of his achievements and gently reminded of the excesses that some academics will go to just to prove a mad theory.

Version read – Harper Perennial paperback

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book review – Shakespeare


On one level this book about Shakespeare fails because it has very little to say with any sense of about him because so few concrete facts are accepted. But in terms of providing a travel guide to the 16th century and an example of how it is possible to be critical in historical debate without being unintelligible then Bill Bryson has produced a very enjoyable book.

Through the handful of agreed facts and historical glimpses of the great playwright Bryson takes you back to the London of The Globe and the world of Elizabethan England. This is an enjoyable journey with pleasant brushstrokes illustrating the past with a guide that is always happy to point out the hilarious and absurd as well as the important.

But alongside the search for Shakespeare and his world there is also a commentary on those that have gone into the intellectual wilderness on their way to proving wither that Shakespeare didn’t exist or that he was some kind of fraud.

Theories ranging from homosexuality to a man who hated his wife have been put forward by various historians. Those are some of the more mild propositions with a host of wacky ones that drove wither their champions mad or left them virtually discredited.

Bryson takes a swipe at most of these academics individually then in an almost exasperated tone wonders why it cannot be accepted that there was a genius named William Shakespeare who left the world such an amazing collection of plays.

One of the real stories that emerges from this book is just how miraculous it was that any of Shakespeare’s work survived. The First Folio put together a few years after his death by two friends John Heminges and Henry Condell was the major move in sealing the playwright’s legacy.

Very few plays from Shakespeare’s time survive and so the fact so many of his have is something to be wondered at. There are mentions of old copies of the Folio that are yet to be discovered and missing plays that provide not just the stuff that would fuel a literary Indiana Jones but also gets you dreaming of discoveries in an old junk shop or relative’s attic.

At the end of this book you might not be closer to trying to find that defining historical moment that answers all the questions on Shakespeare. But you are more familiar with his world, understanding of his achievements and gently reminded of the excesses that some academics will go to just to prove a mad theory.

Version read – Harper Perennial paperback

Lunchtime read: Shakespeare

Bryson is happy to accept that there was a person called William Shakespeare and he was a genius responsible for creating some of the most well known works of English literature.

The problem is that there are plenty of others who seem to be hell bent on dedicating their lives and careers to proving that he wasn’t. Some of them went mad trying to talk up Bacon and Lord Oxford but Bryson very gently but firmly picks apart the other claims and leaves the reader holding the opinion that Shakespeare was and is the only real option.

For those who have an Indiana Jones side to their character there is a glimpse of a literary treasure trail with lost plays and manuscripts possibly out there somewhere to be had by a collector for a price that you can only guess at.

In the meantime the arguments will continue to roll on and Bryson’s book will be added to the pile of thousands.

A review will follow soon…

Lunchtime read: Shakespeare

The more you read about Shakespeare the more it strikes you that it is amazing anything of his life is left. If his plays hadn‘t been pulled together in the First Folio what would be left of him?

Most of what he left behind were questions providing academics with various life times work to argue over his sexuality, sequence of plays and his relationship with his family.

For almost every aspect of his life and work there is an academic that has made to their contribution to summarise and collect and interpret information. As a result you know how many new words Shakespeare introduced to the English language, how many references he made to various countries and how many different words he used across all of his plays.

What these things tell you is not just how hard working the great man was but just how important he has become and continues to be for anyone working in the world of English literature.

Final bit of this enjoyable book tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Shakespeare

Bryson paints a concise picture of the world Shakespeare would have encountered when he came to London. A City within walls with gates closed at certain hours and theatres that had to pack them in and do so on a regular basis just to make a paltry profit.

Eluding nearly all of the engravers, diary keepers and official signature catchers is Shakespeare who seems to disappear for years before cropping up only in second-hand references.

The fact he is not around does not seem to matter because this is an enjoyable Elizabethan travelogue with plenty of easily digestible history. Bryson exposes various historical debates, for instance was Shakespeare a Catholic? Did he travel to Italy? Without forcing himself or the reader to commit to any of them.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Shakespeare

Having missed most of the Bill Bryson travel books the attraction of this one was not just the recommended mentions here there and everywhere but the attraction of seeing how he would tackle well trodden ground.

The first chapter reveals that barely nothing is really known about Shakespeare other than just a few scant facts and most interpretations of his life were written after his death.

That opening surprises you because it would almost be possible to close the book right now there but Bryson manages to then move on to paint a picture of the world Shakespeare was born into, using the facts he has about the Bard’s family to explain his circumstances.

Bryson then starts to paint a picture of the world in the 16th century and it is done without any of the heaviness that usually dogs history books. The fact you don’t know a great deal about Shakespeare starts to become almost irrelevant because what takes his place is the world of Elizabeth’s England.

More tomorrow…