Shakespeare – Bill Bryson


Published March 24th 2016 by William Collins (first published 2007)
Author: Bill Bryson
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-fiction, biography, history
Pages: 200
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Opening line:

“Before he came into a lot of money in 1839, Richard Plantagenet Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville, second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, led a largely uneventful life.”

Goodreads synopsis:

Bestselling writer Bill Bryson’s brilliantly readable biography of our greatest dramatist and poet William Shakespeare is updated to mark the 400th anniversary of his death.

Examining centuries of myths, half-truths and downright lies, Bill Bryson makes sense of the man behind the masterpieces. As he leads us through the crowded streets of Elizabethan England, he brings to life the places and characters that inspired Shakespeare’s work. Along the way he delights in the inventiveness of Shakespeare’s language, which has given us so many of the indispensable words and phrases we use today, and celebrates the Bard’s legacy to our literature, culture and history.

Drawing together information from a vast array of sources, this is a masterful account of the life and works of William Shakespeare, one of the most famous and most enigmatic people ever to have lived – not to mention a classic piece of Bill Bryson.

My review

Before reading this book, the last time I really thought about Shakespeare was in my second year of university (back in 2014) when we studied some of his plays. The one I remember most was Anthony and Cleopatra, because I didn’t like it. But I made a funny joke in the seminar and that’s really what I remember.

I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘fan’ of Shakespeare in that I don’t own a great deal of his plays, and the ones I do own are left over from study. I have a beautiful copy of the Sonnets, but haven’t read it. No, Shakespeare to me isn’t someone I want to read, he’s someone I want to watch and experience. I love watching his plays. My favourite? A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s my favourite play of all time and I’ll never tire of it.

So, this book. A friend of mine went to Stratford-upon-Avon recently and bought this book while he was there. It didn’t take him very long to read, so I asked if I could borrow it. Once in my hands, I began reading it straight away. I wouldn’t usually seek out a book about Shakespeare, but this one strikes just the right chord. This is the only Bill Bryson I’ve ever read, and I love his style and approach to the subject. He makes something as huge as Shakespeare digestible, interesting, funny and educating.

“The paradoxical consequence is that we all recognize a likeness of Shakespeare the instant we see one, and yet we don’t really know what he looked like. It is like this with nearly every aspect of his life and character: he is at once the best known and least known of figures.”

Each chapter is split up into chronological eras, taking us from the first glimpses of who Shakespeare might be, and then right through the years when he was alive and looking at the wider societal context to try and ascertain where he might have been and what he could have been doing. The general feeling with Shakespeare is that there are a lot of question marks, a lot we don’t know, but there are lots of people passionate about trying to answer these questions, and a lot of people (both past and present) who have carried out extraordinary amounts of research to try and find even the smallest bit of information that might reveal something new about him.

I’m not into history, but I am into literature, and I’m glad I came across this book because this book is perfect for anyone who wants to learn about Shakespeare from an unbiased perspective, and one that is there to explore and educate. Bill Bryson has done an incredible job, and I can’t find fault with the content or how the information has been presented. It had everything in it that I hoped to find. He’s not a ‘Shakespeare scholar’, but he speaks to people who are, and uses these sources to piece everything together and present it to his readers in an easy-to-read, well-written, understandable way.

If you’re curious about Shakespeare even a little bit, then of the vast amounts of literature about him, choose this one as your starting point.

Link to the book on Goodreads: Shakespeare

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