Title: Shakespeare: The World as Stage
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Non-fiction: Biography
At first glance, Bill Bryson seems an odd choice to write this addition to the Eminent Lives series. The author of ‘The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’ isn’t, after all, a Shakespeare scholar, a playwright, or even a biographer. Reading ‘Shakespeare The World As Stage’, however, one gets the sense that this eclectic Iowan is exactly the type of person the Bard himself would have selected for the task. The man who gave us ‘The Mother Tongue’ and ‘A Walk in the Woods’ approaches Shakespeare with the same freedom of spirit and curiosity that made those books such reader favorites. A refreshing take on an elusive literary master. (from Goodreads)
Thoughts: I seem to have a strange relationship with Bill Bryson. While either loved or very much enjoyed his Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, I was disappointed or underwhelmed by his I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away, Notes from a Small Island, and A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. I just assumed that Bryson was a hit or miss for me. But while reading the first couple of pages of this book I realized what the disconnect was! I tend to like Bryson’s strict non-fiction much more than when inserts himself into the story or when the book is about his own experiences. I’m not sure why but that’s how it works with me in regard to his writing for some reason. That being said, I don’t plan on avoiding those books of his that deal with things directly relating himself but still from now on it will be nice to be somewhat more aware of what my reception of the book is likely to be.
So, on to Shakespeare: The World as Stage. I liked it! The book is rather slim, as far as biographies go, but this makes sense: Shakespeare may be on the of the most beloved writers of the English language ever but we no painfully little about him. We don’t know his birthday, when he went to London to become a playwright, what he died of, or what he even looked like. As such, there is not much for the biographer to say about Shakespeare’s life. To compensate for the lack of hard facts about Shakespeare, Bryson talks about many different topics: the monarchy and James I’s ascension to the throne, the state of theater at the time of Shakespeare, the religious issues of the time (and the thoughts of some that Shakespeare may have either been Catholic or Catholic leaning), the construction of the Globe and other theater houses in London at the time, the plays and sonnets themselves, and the reputation of Shakespeare after his death, including those ‘Shakespeare conspiracists’ who believe that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write ‘Shakespeare.’
For such a small book and considering the ground covered in it, I found Shakespeare: The World as Stage both delightful and informative. It did exactly what I wanted: it was a good general introduction to Shakespeare, his life (what little we know of it), and his works. I’m thinking of maybe of trying to make Shakespeare a theme for my reading next year, and this book has gotten me excited for it! I’m looking to read other books on Shakespeare- either more biographies, profiles on his work, etc.– any suggestions?