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A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 Kindle Edition
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- File Size : 1026 KB
- Publication Date : October 13, 2009
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 432 pages
- Publisher : HarperCollins e-books; Illustrated edition (October 13, 2009)
- ASIN : B000FCKH60
- Language: : English
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #304,750 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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James Shapiro focuses on one year in Shakespeare's life -- 1599. And what a year it was for Shakespeare -- highlighted by the building of the Globe Theater, in which he had an ownership stake, and the writing of four plays: "Henry the Fifth", "Julius Caesar", "As You Like It", and "Hamlet".
One of Shapiro's themes is that Shakespeare was a man of his times. To demonstrate that Shapiro profiles in rich detail the London and England of 1599 and the concerns that dominated public consciousness: the half-cocked invasion of Ireland by ill-supplied and under-trained troops (many of them impressed) led by Lord Essex; a feared Spanish invasion by yet another Armada ("the Invisible Armada"); political censorship and its chilling effect; and uncertainties as to succession as Queen Elizabeth aged and her reign approached its end. And then Shapiro shows how these public concerns were reflected in the plays that Shakespeare wrote that year.
As interesting as I found the history, I was more intrigued by Shapiro's discussion of the four plays of 1599. I am in the middle of a two-year project of reading all of Shakespeare's plays in chronological order, and I have recently read "Henry the Fifth", "Julius Caesar", and "As You Like It". In another week or so I will read "Hamlet" (for the first time since high school). My understanding of the first three plays was enriched considerably by Shapiro's discussion of them, and now I will have a few new things to look for when I read "Hamlet". I suspect, however, that the most valuable aspect of his discussion of "Hamlet" may be the various revisions and versions. (Shakespeare's first draft, which he finished near the end of 1599, was far too long to be performed, and since the eighteenth century the play has existed in "multiple, hybrid versions.") As for the other three plays, anyone who reads them seriously should find profitable what Shapiro has to say about them and how they represented the breaking of new ground, both for Shakespeare and for English theater.
A third aspect of the book concerns Shakespeare himself. Contrary to some authors looking for a sensationalist angle, a fair amount is known about him (including that he wrote most if not all of the plays commonly attributed to him), yet there are many frustrating lacunae in the biographical details. Complicating matters is that Shakespeare was rather reclusive and reticent about himself. Hence, those writing about him must fill in the gaps. I sense that Shapiro is better, "truer", at filling in the gaps than many. One of the personal traits driven home for me was how much Shakespeare was a man of business and how ambitious he was of social status.
Finally, Shapiro knows and imparts quite a lot about English theater of the era. Just one of his points: Shakespeare was writing for a very sophisticated and knowledgeable audience, inasmuch as it is "likely that over a third of London's adult population saw a play every month."
Whether you are interested in Shakespeare's London and times, or in the four plays of 1599, or Shakespeare himself, Shapiro's book should be rewarding.
I've read several books on the Bard, but this is my favorite so far, and I would highly recommend you read it.
It beggars belief that one individual can so command the adulation of generations of critics.
The other difficulty is that Shakespeare is almost invisible in the historical record. There was one husband and wife team that spent their careers reading every scrap of paper from Elizabethan England in search of him and found almost nothing. So any book about him is largely conjecture.
Shapiro, in his introduction, concedes this and tells us that he (wisely) has removed all the qualifying words (e.g. might, could, likely, speculate, and "I really don't have a clue, but it confirms my confirmation bias") from his book because if he left them in, as a judicious scholar should, it would be unreadable.
Mea culpa. I, an English major, have read more books about Shakespeare than any other literary figure. In fact, I have another all teed up and ready to go. This one was better than the standard run of bardolatry. Though, if you are just dipping into the sea of Shakespearian lit crit, it's probably too narrowly focused on a single year and only four of his plays.
Top reviews from other countries
He also shows how important plays were for the social life of the time and writes about the cold hard business of being a playwrite and operating a playhouse and theatre company. He tries to speculate on Shakespeare as a person which is admittedly hard to do since little is known about him.
My only critique is that this book is geared for an audience who really knows their Shakespeare and Elizabethean history. This is a similar critique I had of The Year of Lear (which I read before A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, but at least I was prepared this time around). I haven't read these plays since school and so it would have very helpful for Shapiro to have provided a basic plot outline of these plays before diving down into a detailed analysis of them. So it is challenging if you are not very familiar with these plays. Similarly he presumes we know all about the Irish Rebellion and I think a few pages providing background context to this conflict would have been helpful.
Nevertheless if you're a fan of Shakespeare, Elizabethean history or the history of English theatre, you will love this book.