Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The World as Stage

Shakespeare: The World as Stage
© 2007 Bill Bryson
245 pages

Shakespeare: The World as Stage surprised me when it arrived. Such a slender little volume for a man whose legacy is strong even today!  Bryson’s aim is not to deliver a volume of literary criticism, or even to fix on some minor detail and create an revisionist vision of Shakespeare, but to stick to the facts.  As it turns out, there aren’t that many.  While we know bounds more about Shakespeare than many of his contemporaries -- and more of his works have survived him than them as well --  the man didn’t leave much documentation.    In creating a narrative that connects the few facts we have  -- birth,  employment as an actor, success as a  playwright, death --  Bryson also supplies background information about Elizabethan and Jamesian England, and concludes that Shakespeare’s greatest accomplishment was not “Hamlet”, but rather managing to survive childhood.   England was plagued by disease after disease, so much so that public records sometimes inserted the phrase (in Latin), “here begins plague”, as if to assure future historians that no, this isn’t an error, that many people really did die in that April with its shoures soote. 

If a reader is looking for a light history of Shakespeare that won’t lead them off the road into some niche theory of the bard,  Bryson here provides a concise, cautious, and enjoyable biography of the man and his times that will fill the bill admirably.


  1. i was once caught in the who-wrote- Shakespeare trap and it took many books and articles to get me out... there really is not much known about him, and no reason not to believe he wrote his own plays...

  2. It’s probably been 15 or so years since I read this book -- it might be the only Bill Bryson book that I read only one time. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention.

  3. Although I've only seen one of his plays performed on stage (Romeo & Juliet) I am a huge fan of Shakespeare. The man was a certifiable genius. No doubt about it.

  4. @Mudpuddle: Hear, hear!

    @As the Crowe Flies
    His non-travel books have an altogether different tone, don't they?

    I've had better luck than yours in seeing a few of the bard's plays, but even so I consider myself woefully ill-read when it comes to his material. Do you count seeing film productions at all?

  5. The film productions are often well done I find although whether or not they could be considered 'real' Shakespeare is probably up to the critic and how well they're made. Personally I've enjoyed a lot of the movie versions very much indeed. Shakespeare should definitely be listened to (or watched) rather than simply read - unless you do it out loud. The language is just too beautiful not to be vocalised.

    I do have a few books deep in the pile somewhere about the man and his times. Maybe I need to dig them out....? [muses]

    1. My most fave movie adaptation is Much Ado About Nothing (though I can do without Hero and Claudio). One of my favorite movies, ever. Macbeth is my favorite play overall.

  6. This is one of Bryson's books that I enjoyed and would read again if I re-read books. I am glad that this one kept basically to the facts and did not go into a mash-up of who Shakespeare might have really "been". I am a committed Stratfordian, through and through.


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