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

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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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
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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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #838,731 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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: Paperback
Using the rhetorical device of the "Seven Stages of Man" from the "All the World's a Stage" speech in As You Like It, the author reviews 400 years of knowledge and speculation concerning William Shakespeare's life and mind. From his birth to his school days in Stratford, Shakespeare absorbed and reflected his social, geographical, and mental environment. References to these are found throughout the plays and poems. Shakespeare's career was unusual, not only for the writings, but also for his success as an author. Bates sketches the lives of several of his contemporary playwrights and shows that Shakespeare was neither unusual in his origins or education, nor usual in his financial success. Most of his fellow playwrights died in poverty, while Shakespeare, through canny investment, careful intellectual property management, and a strong foundation in Stratford, managed to die wealthy. Most interesting are the many references to Shakespeare as a playwright of stunning wit and success made during his life by contemporaries. Also, shortly after his death, the numerous poems of praise which accompanied the first folio, all written by his intimate friends, attest to his sweet nature, and brilliance.

Bates makes a good case for some interesting speculations on Shakespeares travels between London and Stratford. His appears to have made annual journeys home (about 100 miles) and spent considerable time in Stratford during the periods when the theaters were closed in London due to plaque or politics. He stopped on these trips in Oxford, and was known to the undergraduates there from early in his career. He even had a godson in Oxford who went on to have his own successful career in the theater, perhaps inspired in his youth by his godfather.
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