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A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (June 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060088745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060088743
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 3.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The year 1599 was crucial in the Bard's artistic evolution as well as in the historical upheavals he lived through. That year's output—Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and (debatably) Hamlet—not only spans a shift in artistic direction and theatrical taste, but also echoes the intrigues of Queen Elizabeth's court and the downfall of her favorite, the Earl of Essex. Like other Shakespeare biographers, Columbia professor Shapiro notes the importance of mundane events in Shakespeare's art, starting here with the construction of the Globe Theatre and the departure of Will Kemp, the company's popular comic actor. Having a stable venue and repertory gave Shakespeare the space to write and experiment during the turmoil created by Essex's unsuccessful military ventures in Ireland, a threatened invasion by a second Spanish Armada and, finally, Essex's disastrous return to court. Shapiro is in a minority in arguing for Shakespeare initially composing Hamlet at the same time Essex was plotting a coup; there's little textual or documentary evidence for that dating. Still, Shapiro's shrewd discussion of what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest play, particularly its multiple versions, rounds out this accessible yet erudite work.
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.

From The New Yorker

Instead of relying on the meagre evidence about Shakespeare's personal life, Shapiro's biography examines how public events left their mark on the four plays-"Henry V," "Julius Caesar," "As You Like It," and "Hamlet"-that Shakespeare wrote during 1599, the year in which the thirty-five-year-old playwright "went from being an exceptionally talented writer to one of the greatest who ever lived." The approach proves illuminating for the overtly political plays. Lines in "Henry V" allude to a rebellion in Ireland that Elizabeth I had recently sent the Earl of Essex to suppress. Chapters on "As You Like It" and "Hamlet" revert to more conventional textual analysis, interlarded with biographical speculations and digressions; for instance, Rosalind's journey to Arden may derive from Shakespeare's annual trip to Stratford to see his wife and daughters, and the "limbs with travel tired" of the twenty-seventh sonnet perhaps reflect the poor condition of English highways.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Very well organized and researched, very engaging.
T. A. Fisher
This book must be tasted a bit at a time, it is one of those rare books that one goes back to page after page, each time understanding more and more of the Bard.
Dr. Terrence McGarty
If you do not currently place yourself in one or more of those categories, you will do so after reading this book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

113 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Christopher W. Coffman on October 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This wonderful book will be a classic. It combines specific new historical information discovered by Shapiro's original research--yes, new information can still be found on Shakespeare!--with an insightful reading of the great plays he wrote just before, during, and immediately after his annus mirabilis 1599.

For those who enjoy juicy, well-researched historical detail on the Bard's life and times (such as Frank Kermode's -The Age of Shakespeare-), Shapiro goes to the next level in this book. He depicts Shakespeare's life as he lived it during one momentous year, 1599, a decision that is not arbitrary. Shapiro's close focus on that year succeeds in illuminating much about Shakespeare's imagination that was previously obscure. And what a year it was--producing the break-through plays Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet.

Shapiro describes how the year began as Shakespeare and his co-investors surreptitiously and hurriedly worked to save their financial investment by dismantling a theatre building on a site where they had lost their lease, in order to rebuild it as The Globe on the south side of the Thames. Shapiro then explains better than I have read anywhere else the nature of Shakespeare's relationship with the Court of Queen Elizabeth, and how his performances before the Queen and his understanding of the royal taste affected his decisions when he wrote his plays.

Shapiro provides fresh insight into how Shakespeare's financial prospects and artistic choices that year were interwoven with the rising, and then the plummeting, fate of Robert Devereaux, the tragic Earl of Essex.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on December 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Two rather obvious conclusions leap off the pages of just about every book ever written about William Shakespeare: That his plays reflect the turbulent times in which he lived, and that very little is known for certain about his life.

James Shapiro, a much respected Shakespeare scholar and professor at Columbia University, has applied his enormous fund of Shakespearean knowledge and his zeal for historical research to these home truths in a novel way. He narrows his focus down to a single year in Shakespeare's life and teases out of the four plays that occupied the Bard in that year a number of stimulating conclusions.

As a feat of sheer scholarly research, Shapiro's book is a mind-boggling performance -- his bibliography runs to 41 pages --- and his conclusions, while obviously personal and open to debate, will make readers go back to those four plays equipped with new tools for decoding them.

In 1599 Shakespeare finished "Henry the Fifth," wrote "Julius Caesar" and "As You Like It," and shaped his first version of "Hamlet" --- four truly great plays. He was also involved in the construction of the Globe Theater (of which he was part owner) and busy acting on its stage. Offstage noises in his life (though very much onstage for most Englishmen) were the ill-fated English expedition to subdue a rebellion in Ireland, the threat of invasion from a second Spanish Armada, a host of intrigues and plots at the court of Queen Elizabeth, England's attempt to shoulder its way into the lucrative East Indies trade, and even his own domestic affairs back home in Stratford.

Dealing with all this gives Shapiro's book a divided focus.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By F. Scott Valeri on November 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Having read many of the Shakespeare biographies published over the last eight years, in my opinion, this may be the best. Shapiro does a virtuoso job of exploring the epic historical events of 1599,coupled with the daring personal events in Shakespeare's life(the risky new venture with the Globe)to bring the reader closer to the life of the Bard than any biography other than the brilliant Will in the World. He intensely explores the four groundbreaking plays written in this year ( Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As you Like It, and Hamlet ) and in the process brings you deeper into Shakespeare"s mind than you would think possible. At the same time his scholarship is so restrained that at no time do you feel that he is "fantasizing" the life.This may be as close as it is possible to get to the elusive playwright.
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36 of 50 people found the following review helpful By WILLIAM H FULLER on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"No," I tell my students, "Shakespeare did not write in Old English. Beowulf was written in Old English. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Shakespeare's language was firmly in the Modern English linguistic period." I then confess the obvious, that the language has indeed changed in the four centuries since Shakespeare wrote, but, as Shapiro's book clearly demonstrates, much else in society has not. Such demonstrations, while not Shapiro's goal, are, to me, among the strong points of his book, so let's take a peek at those first, shall we?

Looking at the year 1599 in Elizabethan England, we are struck by more than a few parallels with contemporary world affairs. We see a national leader intent on invading another country, Ireland in the earlier case. We observe ill-starred Essex leading an invading army which utterly fails to subdue the Irish. We look on in astonishment as the English quake in fear of a reported Spanish invasion and as they block the streets of London with chains and illuminate the night with burning lamps to thwart enemy infiltration under cover of darkness. Potentially, of course, that may have been somewhat more pragmatic than creating a new government department and a rainbow-hued series of "threat levels." One can only recall the French axiom "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose," or "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Little in human nature, it seems, has changed in the past four hundred years.

Shapiro's book also helps pierce the mask of literary demigod behind which Shakespeare has been hidden by generations of admiring teachers and bewildered students. We see a man who produced plays through hard labor and laborious revision.
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