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Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare Hardcover – September 17, 2004
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There's no shortage of good Shakespearean biographies. But Stephen Greenblatt, brilliant scholar and author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, reminds us that the "surviving traces" are "abundant but thin" as to known facts. He acknowledges the paradox of the many biographies spun out of conjecture but then produces a book so persuasive and breathtakingly enjoyable that one wonders what he could have done if the usual stuff of biographical inquiry--memoirs, interviews, manuscripts, and drafts--had been at his disposal. Greenblatt uses the "verbal traces" in Shakespeare's work to take us "back into the life he lived and into the world to which he was so open." Whenever possible, he also ushers us from the extraordinary life into the luminous work. The result is a marvelous blend of scholarship, insight, observation, and, yes, conjecture--but conjecture always based on the most convincing and inspired reasoning and evidence. Particularly compelling are Greenblatt's discussions of the playwright's relationship with the university wit Robert Greene (discussed as a chief source for the character of Falstaff) and of Hamlet in relation to the death of Shakespeare's son Hamnet, his aging father, and the "world of damaged rituals" that England's Catholics were forced to endure.Will in the World is not just the life story of the world's most revered writer. It is the story, too, of 16th- and 17th-century England writ large, the story of religious upheaval and political intrigue, of country festivals and brutal public executions, of the court and the theater, of Stratford and London, of martyrdom and recusancy, of witchcraft and magic, of love and death: in short, of the private but engaged William Shakespeare in his remarkable world. Throughout the book, Greenblatt's style is breezy and familiar. He often refers to the poet simply as Will. Yet for all his alacrity of style and the book's accessibility, Will in the World is profoundly erudite, an enormous contribution to the world of Shakespearean letters. --Silvana Tropea
Interview with Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Greenblatt shares his thoughts about what make Shakespeare Shakespeare and why the Bard continues to fascinate us endlessly.
From Publishers Weekly
This much-awaited new biography of the elusive Bard is brilliant in conception, often superb in execution, but sometimes—perhaps inevitably—disappointing in its degree of speculativeness. Bardolators may take this last for granted, but curious lay readers seeking a fully cohesive and convincing life may at times feel the accumulation of "may haves," "might haves" and "could haves" make it difficult to suspend disbelief. Greenblatt's espousing, for instance, of the theory that Shakespeare's "lost" years before arriving in London were spent in Lancashire leads to suppositions that he might have met the Catholic subversive Edmund Campion, and how that might have affected him—and it all rests on one factoid: the bequeathing by a nobleman of some player's items to a William Shakeshafte, who may, plausibly, have been the young Shakespeare. Nevertheless, Norton Shakespeare general editor and New Historicist Greenblatt succeed impressively in locating the man in both his greatest works and the turbulent world in which he lived. With a blend of biography, literary interpretation and history, Greenblatt persuasively analyzes William's father's rise and fall as a public figure in Stratford, which pulled him in both Protestant and Catholic directions and made his eldest son "a master of double consciousness." In a virtuoso display of historical and literary criticism, Greenblatt contrasts Christopher Marlowe's Jew of Malta, Elizabeth's unfortunate Sephardic physician—who was executed for conspiracy—and Shakespeare's ambiguous villain Shylock. This wonderful study, built on a lifetime's scholarship and a profound ability to perceive the life within the texts, creates as vivid and full portrait of Shakespeare as we are likely ever to have. 16 pages color illus. not seen by PW.
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My only criticism is that I feel as though the title is misleading. "Will's World" might have been a better choice, because, while I feel that my understanding of Elizabethan culture has been strengthened, ol' Will himself still remains somewhat of a mystery!
So when this book first came out, within the first chapter I realized that Greenblatt has finally climbed the mountain - a biography, impeccably written, suffused with both love for and total understanding of the world from which Shakespeare came and the plays and poems he wrote, that makes Will a real human being, not a marble icon. Not even the legendary Samuel Schoenbaum could quite pull that off.
Years later, I'm re-reading it for the fourth time and finding it even better and worth this review. Quite reasonably, Greenblatt deals with that silly theory that a middle-class working man could not "write Shakespeare" without ever addressing it - when you've finished this book, you'll know as much as humanly possible about the man Will Shakespeare and know he DID write his own plays. More importantly, you can class him, like Michelangelo, as a working man born to that ineffable quality we call genius which cannot, by its very nature, be satisfactorily explained. But Greenblatt comes as close as any writer will ever come, I think, to finding the living man inside the legend and making choices that make sense as to what Will did, where he went, who he knew, and perhaps - just perhaps - how he felt as he wrote the most beautiful plays in the world.
complete biography, and expect to read only one book, I would chose something else. It is a quick read and gives a general overall description
of the times.
True, much of this is Greenblatt’s (brilliant) extrapolation. But each supposition is honestly flagged for readers with “perhaps”, “might have”, “may”.
An accessible, fascinating exploration of Shakespeare, his work, and his times.