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Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Eminent Lives) Paperback – October 21, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 331 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Considering the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Shakespeare, relatively little is known about the man himself. In the absence of much documentation about his life, we have the plays and poetry he wrote. In this addition to the Eminent Lives series, bestselling author Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) does what he does best: marshaling the usual little facts that others might overlook—for example, that in Shakespeare's day perhaps 40% of women were pregnant when they got married—to paint a portrait of the world in which the Bard lived and prospered. Bryson's curiosity serves him well, as he delves into subjects as diverse as the reliability of the extant images of Shakespeare, a brief history of the theater in England and the continuing debates about whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote Shakespeare's works. Bryson is a pleasant and funny guide to a subject at once overexposed and elusive—as Bryson puts it, he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron—forever there and not there. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'A brilliantly funny and gently insightful travel guide to 16th century England. Bryson is great at picking out of the morass of Elizabethan fact the small details that illuminate and amuse!he also uncovers from the world that surrounded the theatre some fascinating examples of Elizabethan eccentricity!As an abbreviated tour around the world of Shakespeare, this could hardly be bettered.' Sunday Times 'Bill Bryson has always been able to spot a market; and there ought to be a market for his latest book!an accessible, sensible Life of Shakespeare!surely a fine gift for someone encountering Shakespeare for the first time!Bryson is shrewd!and as funny as you'd expect!he sets down all the important bits of evidence, and assesses them in a measured scholarly way. He's good value too.' Daily Telegraph 'Measured, sensible and, at times, as wryly humorous as you'd expect.' The Times 'Fast paced jaunt through Bardolatry!wittily evokes Elizabethan England.' Sunday Times 'A work worthy of one of the greatest writers in the English language.' Daily Express 'Bryson uses an inimitably light touch and squeezes a vast subject down to manageable proportions!he is a warm and funny guide through the whole complicated morass of Shakespearean scholarship.' Financial Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (October 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061673692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061673696
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (331 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. For twenty years he lived in England, where he worked for the Times and the Independent, and wrote for most major British and American publications. His books include travel memoirs (Neither Here Nor There; The Lost Continent; Notes from a Small Island) and books on language (The Mother Tongue; Made in America). His account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, was a huge New York Times bestseller. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A tough assignment; write a book on a topic about which we know almost nothing, the life of William Shakespeare. Better yet, make the book about the fact that we know very little about the life of William Shakespeare. Let that book compete with thousands of others about Shakespeare. Doesn't sound like a recipe for a successful book, but Bryson has truly pulled it off.

Here's how.

First off, Bryson doesn't shy away from the fact that we know very little about Shakespeare, instead, he uses it to his advantage. After laying out the facts we do have about Shakespeare, Bryson turns to a description of the world in which Shakespeare lived to explain why we know so little about the man. He really brings 17th century England to life and paints a picture in which you can imagine Shakespeare operating. It's really well done and ends up being fascinating.

Second, Bryson addresses the speculation that has risen up around Shakespeare's life to fill the void of knowledge that we face. Using the information we do have about Shakespeare and the times in which he lived, he categorizes the various Shakespeare theories into more fanciful and less fanciful piles and explains why they belong there. It makes for really interesting reading.

My familiarity with and interest in Shakespeare are average to below average, and yet I found this book to be fascinating, readable and informative. It's made me more interested in Shakespeare.

Highly recommended even for those who aren't deeply interested in Shakespeare.
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Format: Hardcover
I am one of those individuals who enjoy Bryson's work. When I read this author's books, I get the impression that he does not take himself all that serious, much in the same way I take myself. I can relate. This little volume on the individual who is probably and arguably the greatest of all our English writers is no exception. It, as others here have pointed out, is sort of a book about nothing. By that I mean, we know almost absolute nothing of the man, William Shakespeare. We don't even know for sure how he spelled his name due to the fact that he, himself, did not spell it the same all of the time. Bryson has taken nothing and turned out a work, 196 pages of work, of something. Now if you think that is easy, try it some time.

This is not a scholarly dissertation (thank goodness) which tries to pass itself off as the beginning and end of all that was ever written about the life of Shakespeare. It is a short study of just what we do not know about him, which we find, is quite a lot! I picked up absolutely dozens and dozens of facts as to what I did not know, and until I read this book, did not realize I did not know. In addition to this I picked up some wonderful trivia (and some information that was not trivial at all) concerning the era in which Shakespeare wrote, if indeed, he wrote during that era. I had no idea of the words and phrases, which happen to number in the hundreds, which were introduced to the English Language via Shakespeare. As one reviewer has pointed out, this is really not a biography, but rather a history lesson, a lesson of little facts that you would not normally be exposed to. Bryson has done his home work and we have all benefitted from his seemingly endless curiosity.

Now for those folks who are Shakespearian scholars.
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Format: Hardcover
Several reviewers have taken this book to task for what it is not. It is not a scholarly book and was not intended to be. It is part of the "Eminent Lives" series. The publishers tout the series as consisting of "succinct" essay-like books intended to be "short biographies for an age short on time." No book in the series (that I have seen) has any significant scholarly apparatus. They allow well-known writers to relate the basic facts of an "eminent" person's life and give their take on the person to the extent they think appropriate. They are like the serious essays you can find in magazines like the "New Yorker" but longer. This book fits the series's pattern.

The book relates all that is actually known about Shakespeare, points out the many things that are not known and touches on the major problem areas, including the authorship controversy. Like Jack Webb on the old "Dragnet" TV show, Bryson pretty much keeps to "just the facts" but does note many of the areas of speculation in which Shakespeare students routinely indulge. He does all this in a smooth and flowing prose and with energy and wit.

The book has no index, no scholarly footnotes and only a minimal bibliography of a few secondary sources. There is evidently little or no documentary research, although Bryson obviously read what books he should and interviewed a number of knowledgeable people for the book. He takes no position on any of the controversies except the question of authorship, on which he is a firm Stratfordian. The book is strictly about Shakespeare's life, however, and makes almost no effort to discuss the poems and plays as works of literature. Couldn't do that and keep it short.

This is an excellent book for someone who wants to begin to learn about Shakespeare's life and (to some extent) his times. And it is a fun fast read for those who want a handy and short summary of what is known and what some of the problems are.
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