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Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 7, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ben Jonson claimed that Shakespeare "was not of an age, but for all time!" Conversely, noted British Shakespeare scholar Bate (The Genius of Shakespeare) attempts to prove that the Bard effectively represents the politically and socially complicated 16th-century environment and that his work can then—theoretically—illuminate his mysterious personal life with the notable exception of his marriage. While much is conjectured here, the scant biographical resources are well-used to painstakingly define Shakespeare's careers as actor, poet and playwright and to refute popular myths such as his purported retirement from writing. Bate's approach is more successful in confirming that Shakespeare typifies his age than in providing substantive biographical information based on hints hidden in the prolific body of work. Even so, Bate offers an excellent resource for students of English literature and the Elizabethan era in this thoughtful, well-researched and even playful explication of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets as they resonated in both the Elizabethan sphere and the less austere Stuart court while remaining relevant today. Illus. (Apr. 17)
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From Booklist

Whereas the recent crop of Bard biographies makes quite clear how obscure are the whereabouts of Shakespeare’s body during lengthy periods of his 52-year life span, Bate’s fifth Shakespearean book demonstrates that it’s much easier and no less fascinating to account for the poet-playwright’s mind. Using Jaques’ famous Seven Ages (i.e., life stages) of Man speech in As You Like It to plot the book, Bate runs to ground the sources of the ideas about and the concerns of each age that appear in the plays and poems. Shakespeare’s education, material circumstances, reading, and political and intellectual context affected him about equally overall, Bate shows, though each more or less greatly depending on the stage of life that was his immediate topic. Seasoned Shakespeareans already will know about how the works of Ovid, Plutarch, and Montaigne affect the poems and plays, but do they know how epicureanly skeptical Shakespeare was and from where that came? A book in which Bardolators may gratefully immerse themselves. --Ray Olson

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400062063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400062065
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Bate is well known as a critic, broadcaster, biographer and Shakespeare scholar. Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick, he is chief editor of *The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works* and the author of many books, including *Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare* and *John Clare: A Biography*, which won Britain's two oldest literary awards, the Hawthornden Prize for Literature and the James Tait Black Prize for Biography. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the British Academy, an Honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was made CBE in the Queen's 80th Birthday Honours List.

He is currently writing the life of Ted Hughes.

Customer Reviews

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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Stanley H. Nemeth on May 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Bate's latest book is undeniably impressive for its author's extensive knowledge of the literature, history, and intellectual currents of Elizabethan and Jacobean England and his reluctance, for most of the book, to oversimplify the figure in the Shakespearean carpet. As he says in a signal passage, "Shakespeare's plays use history, but they subsume politics into interpersonal encounters. They are not overtly polemical: they present questions and debates, not propaganda and positions." All one can say to that is, "Exactly so."

Bate, too, is a far more accurate reader of Shakespeare's plays than the authors of many new books on the Bard's "ideas" that have appeared in the last few years. As an antidote to the widespread, fashionable anti-nationalist, anti-colonialist readings of the plays or to those unduly freighted with considerations of only race or ethnicity, Bate persuasively redresses balances, reintroducing, for instance, the often ignored centrality of religious implications in the works of this essentially secular playwright. He accurately reminds readers, therefore, that Shakespeare's "Lear," unlike its source, is set in pagan, not in Christian, Britain, that his character Othello is not left the stereotypical Muslim outsider of the source, but is turned in fact into a Christian convert, and that "The Tempest" has more to do ultimately with worldly renunciation than with either colonialism or imperialism. In the case of "Lear" however, Bate in my view does not speculate with adequate depth as to why Shakespeare might have so changed his source material, but it's undeniably refreshing at any rate that he points it out.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Music Fan on December 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Soul of the Age is concerned with the intellectual, cultural, and personal influences and sources Shakespeare may or may not have been exposed to as a poet, playwright, student, actor, landowner, father, husband, company shareholder, etc. It also gives us a peek into Elizabethan and Jacobean English culture (at least the enclaves that Shakespeare would have found himself in). There are of course scores of other books and scholarly articles written on the same subject (by Bate himself even). It is nice to see an impassioned and unique articulation of the biographical speculations that have surfaced and sunk over the centuries. Bate has his own view of things, of course. Most of what he writes is surely speculative, as any critic, even he himself, will tell you. However, there are two types of speculation: what is probably a sure thing and what is dubious at best-- the "realm of wild surmise" he frequently mentions. To me it is a joy to read a learned scholar offer up so much human possibility (and humanity) about an author who enriched his works by doing just that.

I would like now to draw attention to the design of the book. For the most part Bate avoids paying strict attention to a set chronological sequence. He does follow a general course dictated by Jacques in his speech on humanity's ages from As You Like It. But this does not mean he refrains from mentioning a Jacobean-era play in the first chapter-- ostensibly about his infancy-- simply because it is anachronistic. As a result, this is a textually dense critical work intended for a popular audience, with numerous well- and lesser-known historical figures and events, poets and actors, plays and playwrights, inexorably referenced and discussed in rapid succession throughout single chapters and even pages.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Deasy on August 9, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Makes a wonderful companion to the author's earlier, "The Genius of Shakespeare". The pleasure derives from Bates' ability to delineate patterns and themes in the plays, staying attentive to each play's theatrical life. He is effortlessly academic about the period and its traditions, language and pre-occupations. Along with Wells, Greenblatt, Taylor and Kermode, he is among this era's Shakespearean scholars whose work will be enjoyed for some time to come.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here's the thing. Jonathan Bate holds no punches, and makes no promises. He is a guy interested in exploring the topic at hand. Shakespeare. A man who we know very little about.

From the start, and constantly throughout, Bate reminds his readers that we cannot fully know the truth, and we cannot base our claims on the plays as to who or what Shakespeare was or was not (and he backs up why we can't very well - read it!) We can only go on the surviving history of the time, and speculate.

This makes it hard to call this a biography, but rather I would say Bate analyzes the plays, the historical period, and what little evidence there actually is about Will himself to allow us to see that not only was Shakespeare a very real man, he also was completely capable of writing these plays because of his voracious appetite for reading, his rural upbringing, and yes - his grade school education (a more extensive and intensive education than most grad students get these days).

The format of the book (Jaques seven ages of man) makes it an interesting read that focuses less on a chronological life (though he does do his best to keep it in some sense of order) and more on the periods of his life that we can simply speculate made his plays endure.

If you're a scholar of the Bard (like me), or even just interested in trying to speculate on the mystique, this book is a great read and a great discussion. Just be sure you know the basics of his plays and sonnets, and at least a basic background of the historical period. Bate uses all of this to help paint his picture. This is not, NOT an introductory book, it is a book for those wishing to continue a discussion. It is for those already familiar with the works to at least some extent.

Otherwise, enjoy! My copy (bought used for 5 bucks) was in great condition. Arrived on time, and will be a hardcover I own and re read for many years to come.
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