shakespeare Bill Bryson
Book Review, Historical, Non-Fiction

Shakespeare written by Bill Bryson

bill_bryson_shakespeare Bill Bryson is the official Mr Know-it-all. And here he comes up with a book on Shakespeare, a man who generates as much controversy about himself as he does praise for his work…

Now, a book that tries to bring the Bard forward as a historical figure would suffer from a serious problem – the book cant be more than a few pages long!!! There is almost no authentic historical records of the man, save for a few fragmentary information – court records and such…

What the book does well is in bringing both humour and historical background to the theme. Bryson has a catchy style of writing and that helps the subject along as there is not much material to put flesh on the characters of the era.

We are introduced to the world that Shakespeare inhabited – a world of growing English imperialism, the golden age of Elizabeth and the golden age of English theatre but a world where life expectancy hovered around the mid-thirties, where plague was the scrouge that was all too common and the world in general was a place where you would sooner die of starvation than of any wars, which were all too frequent as well…

As Bryson notes wryly, the greatest achievement of Shakespeare wasshakespeare91 not that he wrote his plays but that he survived at all!!!

Great men are as much a product of their talents as much as they are of their times, usually even more so…Shakespeare born a hundred years earlier or later would have in all probability died an unknown death – previously due to lack of any avenues to show his talents, later due to the closure of all theatres owing a wave of fundamentalism (Puritanism). Shakespeare was indeed lucky…

In more ways than one, as we see. Many of the works of his contemporaries are now lost, men who were considered at par or greater in talent than Shakespeare in his time. His work was preserved by the diligent efforts of two men to whom history owes profound thanks.

We are taken on a tour of Shakespeares life, from his childhood to adulthood to his death. The problem is that much of its conjecture and not hard facts. Record keeping was a science that developed after the Bard’s days. We dont know how he really looked like (there are conflicting portraits), we dont know how he spent his days, what his likes and dislikes were, whom he really married, what his relationships were, his influence in his works, his views on the things around him – nothing to put a shape to him. We dont really even know in what orders his plays were written!!! We do know however that Shakespeare and his friends were terrific plagiarists!!!

globe With all that handicaps, its a wonder that Bryson is able to hold our attention for so long. Except for a brief part of the book, near the end part where the book drags under the weight of excessive details, the book is interesting. You get a feel of the world that produced the ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ and you get an idea what kind of a man Shakespeare might have been…

‘Romeo and Juliet’ was dismissed as too melodramatic in its time by some critics. History is kind to those whose work survive!!! Bryson also devotes time to talk about some of the fanatical researchers, thanks to whom we know what little we know of the Bard.

As for the controversies, Bryson is a believer and hence a defender of the faith. So dont expect an objective argument. That comes at the very end of the book and is not the central theme, so Bryson is obviously confident that the man existed in all his glory.

So, if you are not looking to get the meat of the controversy, and just looking to have a good tale told to you, a tale that reads like a historical mystery, then go for this book.

Its an enjoyable read…Bryson scores again!!!

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