Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

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.

For years and years I have read about Shakespeare. He was the author that was the common denomination in all of my schooling, so he is always someone that I have been a bit interested in. I think he is a bit overdone, I have to say that, but just because I am tired of learning about his plays does not mean I was not interested in the man. It is so fascinating to me that he is one of the greatest playwrites of all time, but very little is known about him. We do not even know for sure if he existed, or if it was someone else that wrote all of his plays. Look at Alexander Graham Bell, though. He lived in a more modern time and the guy was believed to not be capable of anything involving electricity, but he invented the telephone. So, anything is possible.

Considering how many pages of play we have by Shakespeare, it is interesting how short this book is. It does not come close to the writing of the man it is about, but Bryson covers a fair amount of things. He writes it so that he covers many viewpoints, he even mentions all the people that were involved in the conspiracies through the ages. If you want a short look at the life of William Shakespeare, this is a book that I would recommend. It is a short introduction, but it also encompasses much of the information exisiting on the man. I always find myself thinking, did this man really exist, or are the conspiracy theories closer to the truth.

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