This audiobook was a perfect companion for a long road trip Bill Bryson, who has now written books on everything from the history of the universe to the origins of our domesticity to America in the 1920s and, perhaps most endearingly, stories of his various travels around the world, here turns his attention to William Shakespeare In this relatively slim volume it s less than 200 pages , Bryson researched what few facts are known about Shakespeare and synthesized them into chapters on his childhood, his lost years 1585 1592 , his time in London, his plays, his fame, his death and, finally, the strange claims that Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him.Like most Americans, I was first introduced to Shakespeare in high school, when we read Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and a few of his sonnets I ve read of his plays since then, but until now I have never read a biography of the man himself After reading Bryson s book, I feel like I know as much as any modern person can know, simply because so few facts have survived One Shakespeare scholar told Bryson that every Shakespeare biography is 5 percent fact and 95 percent conjecture Even the few surviving portraits that are purportedly of Shakespeare cannot be verified 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 I liked reading the details of Shakespeare s life, but I think my favorite chapter was the last one on Claimants Bryson thinks he has identified the person that started what he calls the anti Shakespeare sentiment, an American woman named Delia Bacon Bacon became convinced that Francis Bacon actually wrote Shakespeare s plays, and in 1852 she traveled to England to try to prove that Shakespeare was a fraud Of course, there is no evidence of this, nor of any other claimants writing Shakespeare s works, but some researchers continue to come up with theories Bryson picks apart the claims and shows what little merit there is to them The one thing all the competing theories have in common is the conviction that William Shakespeare was in some way unsatisfactory as an author of brilliant plays This is really quite odd Shakespeare s upbringing, as I hope this book has shown, was not backward or in any way conspicuously deprived His father was the mayor of a consequential town In any case, it would hardly be a unique achievement for someone brought up modestly to excel later in life Shakespeare lacked a university education, to be sure, but then so did Ben Jonson a far intellectual playwright and no one ever suggests that Jonson was a fraud When we reflect upon the works of William Shakespeare it is of course an amazement to consider that one man could have produced such a sumptuous, wise, varied, thrilling, ever delighting body of work, but that is of course the hallmark of genius Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works, and William Shakespeare of Stratford was unquestionably that man whoever he was I would heartily recommend this book to fans of English literature and history It has Bryson s trademark dry wit and humorous phrasings, so Bryson fans should also be satisfied The audio CD I had also included an interview with the author, which was delightful, as expected On a alarming note, I m nearly out of Bryson books to read Now that will be the winter of my discontent. A short, witty, highly readable biography of the Bard by one of the our best beloved writers Bryson doesn t go incredibly in depth with this work but I applaud him on that A lot of biographies can be bogged down by completely unnecessary information which causes the page number to rise to the thousands This 200 page biog contains about as much information as we casual readers need on Shakespeare I would definitely include it on a list as one of my most enjoyable biographies in recent memory. At First Glance, Bill Bryson Seems An Odd Choice To Write This Addition To The Eminent Lives Series The Author Of The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid Isn T, After All, A Shakespeare Scholar, A Playwright, Or Even A Biographer Reading Shakespeare The World As Stage , However, One Gets The Sense That This Eclectic Iowan Is Exactly The Type Of Person The Bard Himself Would Have Selected For The Task The Man Who Gave Us The Mother Tongue And A Walk In The Woods Approaches Shakespeare With The Same Freedom Of Spirit And Curiosity That Made Those Books Such Reader Favorites A Refreshing Take On An Elusive Literary Master It is by choosing a gift to the biography department that my eye has been attracted by this little pocket lost in the middle of other historical bios I knew the author for his humorous side, and I was intrigued by the gender gap, so I bought it for myself This book supposed to be antibiographical , because, of Shakespeare, one knows practically nothing This was the case with most of the known authors of the 16th century in England who left no trace of them either Apart from his plays, there are only signatures at the bottom of acts of baptism, marriage, birth, and minutes during a neighborhood suit brought by his father Three portraits of him were made But all that is very little This book tells us in great lengths that there is nothing to affirm, about the man Shakespeare was, on his emotional side, about his sexuality Many biographers have, however, speculated, and things very different He seems to have been a handsome man His mind was keen, he was sweet When he was an actor and actor in London, he had a busy schedule One can imagine without being mistaken that he was a very active man It is believed that he retired to his native village to write his plays When his plays were successful, he led a comfortable life Bryson imagines Shakespeare in the hard times of the 16th century The usages and customs and the historical context are really interesting to discover It was another world, which made me think of science fiction The diseases were multiple the plague, the syphilis, c In the 16th century, England experienced the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582, while she was pregnant A whole period remained obscure between 1585 and 1592 , it is the lost years, where the biographers are lost in conjectures in order to identify its course Some say he traveled to Italy, others say he was a traveling comedian I have greatly appreciated the passages in which the Elizabethan theaters, edifices different from other theaters, are described, and of which there are no traces left, apart from one or two rough drafts of drawings It s fascinating The theatrical activity was enormous at the time, which involved a lot of competition between the different rooms Shakespeare played comedy while writing plays We also talk about his great rival, C Marlowe In 1598 Shakespeare joined the troop of the Chamberlain, whom he would never leave They were actors of the king later It is also specified that for the majority of his plays, Shakespeare sought his ideas elsewhere, while sublimating the text But all the authors did that at that time Dream of a Summer Night, Love s Labour s Lost and The Tempest are three pieces only of his own I was fascinated to learn that Shakespeare created new words for his time as excellent, vast, lonely, frugal, I strongly advise this small book exciting and instructive, and that also fun of the genre of biography in general. This one is somewhat of a departure for Bill Bryson Shakespeare being a biography of sorts and Bryson being overwhelmingly and ostensibly a popular travel writer Although the central premise here is that, as Bryson freely acknowledges indeed almost relishes, is that what we do know about the life of William Shakespeare is surprisingly very, very little.What Bryson does do here is provide us with as his regular readers would expect a very witty, insightful, but unsentimental portrait of Shakespeare and his burgeoning and everlasting literary genius With Shakespeare what Bryson has successfully managed presumably consciously to avoid is the ground covered by the overwhelming majority of other books written Shakespeare the man ordinarily being either academic quasi academic tomes and as such impenetrable to all but Shakespeare literary scholars, or highly speculative popular writings based on the various conspiracy theories and myths that now surround the life, works and legend of William Shakespeare Here Bryson as usual entertains us with, amongst other things, various tales of those who have seemingly dedicated years of their lives attempting to get to the heart of and establish some hitherto unknown truths about Shakespeare and his works As well as being utterly frank about what we do or to the point do not know about William Shakespeare.As a reader of Bryson s books and somewhat of a Shakespeare obsessive it took me around 30 years to see theatre productions of all 37 of his plays many several times I had high hopes for this book and wasn t disappointed.Above all, what Bryson has given us here is a celebration and a very good one, of the staggering and awe inspiring literary genius that was and always will be William Shakespeare. We thrill at these plays now But what must it have been like when they were brand new, when all their references were timely and sharply apt Imagine what it must have been like to watch Macbeth without knowing the outcome, to be part of a hushed audience hearing Hamlet s soliloquy for the first time, to witness Shakespeare speaking his own lines There cannot have been, anywhere in history, many favored places than this.London Bridge, around the time of Shakespeare s death.a short biographyThe book is in the Eminent Lives series by HarperCollins These are brief biographies, roughly one half of an average biography, and considerably less than the doorstop biographies often written today The World as Stage comes in at 199 pages, so not a long read This is not a disadvantage for me at all and particularly for a biography of Shakespeare, a man about whom, Bryson never tires of reminding us, the provable facts concerning his life are not numerous Hundreds of speculations and theories have been proposed to explain the mysteries and fill in the unknowns the evidence for most of these is little than a fervent desire by the proposers that they be true.an enjoyable readBill Bryson not a historian, of course is a very entertaining writer His first big hit in the U.S was A Walk in the Woods But both before and after that came a wide, eclectic series of non fiction works He was born in the U.S., has lived most of his adult life in Britain, and has a dedicated fan base of readers on both sides of the Atlantic.The book is quite packed with delightful facts or near facts about Shakespeare and the England London of his day The size of London, the way it nestled inside the city walls, people packed in there like sardines the diseases that swept the city and England every few years, particularly the Plague the fact that the first theaters were made to locate outside the city walls, in a horrible suburbs filled with tanning houses, brothels, graveyards, and other dreadful establishments and waste areas that must have presented theater goers with a number of sensory olfactory challenges.Bryson presents a great number of interesting comparisons between the Shakespeare we know, and his fellow playwrights of the era John Fletcher, Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Decker, John Webster, Cyril Tourneur and others He informed me I knew it not that Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer, and appeared frequently in the plays he wrote which, by the way, were not his property In those days a play had to be registered before it could be performed, and it could only be registered to an acting company After that, the company owned the play, and it could only be performed by them.This sort of interesting stuff comprises the bulk of the book, and caused me to underline quite frequently.butThere are a couple of bad points about the book which occasioned my rating The penultimate chapter, titled Shakespeare s Death, is a hodge podge of stuff thrown together that varied considerably in interest, from my point of view his will the later deaths of his family the subsequent popularity of theater in London until shut down by the puritans in 1642 many pages devoted to the first publication of the folio edition of his works, and on and on with that folio topic etc What I found interesting in all this could have been done in half the thirty pages devoted to it, so seemingly to me a lot of padding.But this is a personal peeve, which certainly wouldn t be shared by all Far worse and perhaps a consequence of Bryson coming up against the stops for the publisher s short requirement was the fact that, for a non fiction work, the format of the book is dreadful There is no index There is no Table of Contents The headings at the top of the pages are identical, from first page to last Bill Bryson on the left page, SHAKESPEARE on the right Well that sure is useful, isn t it, just in case you forget what book you re reading, and don t care to look at the cover.In other words, there s really no way of finding anything in the book How many chapters are there What was that one called And where the hell was itWell, mount an expedition.But don t let that put you off A very worthwhile book Previous review Jerry Dantzic Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill Zadie Smith s AppreciationRandom review Shakespeare The Complete Works yes, really random Next review Nickel and Dimed On Not Getting By in America Really short, but really enjoyable It s not a surprise that this is short First off, it belongs as part of a series of concise biographies Secondly, there isn t much known about Shakespeare, so biographies of him should be short Why go on and on about something if there s nothing to go on about The larger of them tend to devote many pages to dissecting the plays Bryson does not That was a little bit disappointingbut only a little I ve spent enough time dissecting them I d rather just work on enjoying these days, not analyzing them I m glad Bryson touched on the authorship question Did Shakespeare write all this stuff I entertained the notion when I encountered it back in school, but having looked at the evidence and given it a good think, I ve come to the conclusion that it is a ludicrous question Bryson agrees and lays out why.Is this a scholarly work No But have you seen some of what passes for such I m okay with this It seems like sound logic deduced from absorbing sound work on the topic After all and for example one of the leading proponents of the anti Shakespeare movement was a woman who wanted to claim all of the plays for her cousin Sir Francis Bacon She was biased and, as it turns out, crazy Her book on the subject was widely dismissed at the time of publication as ridiculous, but the idea lingered, took shape and went on to have a long second life in quarters that rely on scanty evidence or none at all And yet they persist It all seems absurd.Anywhoodle Looking for a basic bio on Shakespeare Here it is The Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare, authenticatedas a true likeness by Ben Johnson When I worked as a secretary on a tabloid newspaper, many years ago, journalists writing stories based only only a few facts would say they were cooking with gas This is a cheerful and entertaining read where Bryson is doing just that so little is known about Shakespeare s life Yet I think he does a great job He talks about Tudor England and the general experiences of playwrights, actors and audiences during this period We are able to get an excellent flavour of the theatre scene in late 16th century, early 17th century London Bryson also talks about the research and scholarship attached to Shakespeare s works some of it an ever expanding celebration of extraordinary minutiae This cheers me up There are apparently people in this world a whole lot crazier than me This is a quick and entertaining read that will give anyone pleasure I end with some extracts from the book that I particularly enjoyed view spoiler The First FolioWhat we do have for Shakespeare are his plays all of them but one or two This is thanks in very large part to the efforts of his colleagues Henry Condell and John Heminges, who put together a or less complete volume of his work after his death the justly revered First Folio It cannot be over emphasized how fortunate we are to have so many of Shakespeare s works, for the usual condition of sixteenth and early seventeenth century plays is to be lost Few manuscripts from any playwrights survive Of the approximate three thousand plays thought to have been staged in London from about the time of Shakespeare s birth to the closure of the theatres by the Puritans in 1642, 80 per cent are known only by title.The madness of some scholarsFaced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know They have counted every word he wrote, logged every dib and jot They can tells us and have done so that Shakespeare s works contain 138,198 commas, 26,794 colons, and 15,785 question marks that ears are spoken of 401 times in his plays that dunghill is used ten times and dullard twice that his characters refer to love 2,259 times but to hate just 183 times.Geoffrey Bullough devoted a lifetime, nearly, to tracking down all possible sources for virtually everything mentioned in Shakespeare, producing eight volumes of devoted exposition revealing not only what Shakespeare knew but precisely how he knew it Another scholar, Charlton Hinman, managed to identify individual compositors who worked on the typesetting of Shakespeare s plays, by comparing preferences of spelling.The Library of Congress in Washington contains about seven thousand works on Shakespeare twenty years worth of reading if read at the rate of one a day.and the number keeps growing Shakespeare Quarterly the most exhaustive of bibliographers, logs about four thousand serious new works books, monographs, other studies every year.An aside..the madness of sugar in Tudor EnglandPeople of all classes loved their foods sweet Many dishes were coated with sticky sweet glazes, and even wine was sometimes given a generous charge of sugar, as were fish, eggs and meats of every type Such was the popularity of sugar that people s teeth often turned black, and those who failed to attain the condition naturally sometimes blackened their teeth artificially to show that they had had their share of sugar, too.The Box OfficeGeneral admission for groundlings those who stood in the open around the stage was a penny Those who wished to sit paid a penny , and those who desired a cushion paid another penny on top of that all this at a time when a day s wage was one shilling 12 pence or less The money was dropped in a box, which was taken to a special room for safekeeping the box office.Men playing female rolesWhile we often know a good deal about performers in male roles from Shakespeare s day, we know almost nothing about the conduct of the female parts We don t even know much about them in general terms, including how old they wereThis disdain for female actors was a northern European tradition In Spain, France and Italy, women were played by women a fact that astonished British travellers, who seem often to have been genuinely surprised to find that women could play women as competently onstage as in life.The golden age of theatreThe golden age of theatre lasted only about the length of a good human lifetime, but what a wonderously prolific and successful period it was Between the opening of the Red Lion in 1567 and the closing of all the theatres by the Puritans seventy five years later, London s playhouses are thought to have attracted fifty million paying customers, something like ten times the entire country s population in Shakespeare s day.To prosper, a theatre in London needed to draw as many as two thousand spectators a day about 1 per cent of the city s population two hundred or so times a year, and to do so repeatedly against stiff competition To keep customers coming back, it was necessary to change the plays constantly Most companies performed at least five different plays in a week.and used such spare time as they could to learn and rehearse new ones.Shakespeare was an actor, as well as playwrightShakespeare appears to have remained an actor throughout his professional life unlike Ben Johnson who quit as soon as he could afford to It can t have been easybut it would doubtless have allowed him assuming he wished it much greater control than had he simply surrendered a script to others, as most playrights did According to tradition Shakespeare specialized in good but fairly undemanding roles in his own plays The ghost in Hamlet is the part to which he is most often linked.Shakespeare s vocabulary scholarly madness Much has been written about the size of Shakespeare s vocabulary Spevack in his magnificent and hefty concordance the most scrupulous, not to say obsessive, assessment of Shakespearean idiom ever undertaken counts 29,066 different wordsbut that rather generously includes inflected forms and contractions If instead you treat all the variant forms of a word for example,take, takes, taketh, taking, tak n taken, tak st, tak t took tooke took st tookstas a single word or lexeme, to use the scholarly term his vocabulary falls back to about twenty thousand, not a terribly impressive number The average person today, it is thought, knows probably fifty thousand words That isn t because people today are articulate or imaginatively expressive, but simple because we have at our disposal thousand of common words television, sandwich, seatbelt, Chardonnay, cinematographer that Shakespeare couldn t know because they didn t yet exist.Anyway, and obviously, it wasn t so much a matter of how many words he used, but what he did with them and no one has ever done.Shakespeare created many new wordsHe coined or, to be carefully precise, made the first recorded use of 2,035 words, and interestingly he indulged the practice from the very outset of his career Titus Andronicus and Love s Labour s Lost, two of his earliest works, have 140 new words between them In plays written during his most productive and inventive period Macbeth, Hamlet, Lear neologisms occur at the fairly astonishing rate of one ever two and a half lines Hamlet alone gave audiences six hundred words that, according to all other evidence,they had never heard before.Among the words first found in Shakespeare are abstemious, antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, extract, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellent, eventful, barefaced, assassination, lonely, leapfrog, indistinguishable, well read, zany and countless others Where would be be without them The Globe TheatreToday s Globe Theatre, photographed by Ed O Keeffe.The Globe stood a hundred feet or so in from the river, and a little west of London Bridge The replica Globe Theatre built in 1997 is not on the original sitebut merely near it The members of Shakespeare s company owned the Globe among them..The Globe is sometimes referred to as a theatre built by actors for actors , and there is of course a good deal in that It had a distinction in that it was designed exclusively for theatrical productions, and took no earnings from other entertainments.The Globe itself didn t last long It burned down in 1613, when sparks from a stage cannon ignited the roof thatch But what a few years the were No theatre perhaps no human enterprise has seen glory in only a decade or so as the Globe during its first manifestation For Shakespeare this period marked a burst of creative brilliance unparalleled in English literature One after another plays of unrivalled majesty dropped from his quill Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure,Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra...We thrill at these plays now But what must it have been like when they were brand new, when all their references were timely and sharply apt, and all the words never before heard Imagine what it must have been like to watch Macbeth without knowing the outcome, to be part of a hushed audience hearing Hamlet s soliloquy for the first time, to witness Shakespeare speaking his own lines There cannot have been, anywhere in history, many favoured places than this hide spoiler If you wanted to know about William Shakespeare, his life, his writings, his times etc, you would have to embark in the reading of an endless amount of written material that would fill trucks and trucks Alternatively, you could choose a expedite path If instead of rummaging through tons of printed paper one could find a capsule of uncorrupted and distilled Shakespeare, would you not pick this And this is what Bill Bryson offers us with his book, Shakespeare The World as Stage.Why another biography on WS Bryson himself says that the world does not need yet another biography but the series Eminent Lives by Harper Collins did.And we are glad they did They define this biography series according to Strachey s stated objective of To preserve a becoming brevity which excludes everything that is redundant and nothing that is significant.Bryson has then set himself to follow Strachey s and Harper Collins recommendation He has strived to see how much of WS we can know, really know, from the record In an almost investigative style and in a clear and dispassionate fashion, he presents to us in an orderly chronology the evidence that he has extracted He also presents samples of the musings and multiple conjectures that have sprouted generously But then, without much ado, dismisses them in a very elegant, and sometimes funny, way.So, his conclusion is that as so very little is known his book can be only 196 pages long In reality there is some sugar and other flavors added to the capsule, for we can also taste quite a bit of extraneous material, such as Shakespeare s times and places We get to hear about urban development and palaces in London, about the state of its hygiene and health, about life expectancy and children death rate, about the set up of schools and academic curricula, about the making of books and theatrical practices, and about the functioning of the legal system, etc.For a better assimilation of the capsule, Bryson needs to correct our modern expectations, and remind us that to know so little about a sixteenth century craftsman is nothing out of the ordinary Most of the material from the sixteenth century has been lost What is most miraculous about surviving in Shakespeare is that, given the frightful odds, he withstood childhood and got to be an adult Bryson insists on the very exceptional situation that so much of his works have survived, and this is thanks to the initiative of two of WS s friends and colleagues, Henry Condell and John Heminges, who decided to publish the First Folio posthumously.The parts I enjoyed most were the discussion on the various remaining First Folios, and particularly the last chapter, the one on the Claimants All success stories invite detractors These come across as really foolish.We should be glad that Harper Collins chose Bryson, whose writing style, so very limpid and fluid and clear, is entirely suitable for the making of this capsule.But of course, the capsule has not entirely satisfied my appetite My curiosity has now been awoken and it will continue to sniff around the World and Stage of William Shakespeare. This is a very strange and frustrating book It reads like a lighthearted text book for teenagers high school except that it has no index a cardinal sin for any non fiction book It is about a wordsmith, but the first chapter focuses on what he may have looked like Its mission and content is to tell us about Shakespeare, yet it tells us in exhaustive and repetitive detail that almost nothing is or can be known about the man a wealth of text but poverty of context.Irrelevant FactsThere are pages of disjointed facts about life in Elizabethan and Jacobean England Some of them are staggeringly banal At the top of the social heap was the monarch and others are weirdly specific e.g the laws about hat wearing Absence of FactsAll the way through, Bryson alternates between cagtaloguing all the unknowns of Shakespeare s life and trying to describe it consequently, his text is heavily sprinkled with probably and other, even weaker caveats It makes it all seem rather pointless and distracts from the few interesting insights he does have He describes his subject as ever elusive , despite stressing the fact that we know far about Shakespeare than almost anyone else who lived at that time Equally contradictory is the claim that More than for any other writer, Shakespeare s words stand separate from his life but surely we can t know that because, as Bryson keeps saying, we know so little about his life Bryson identifies three options for researchers in the absence of hard facts pick minutely over legal documents to speculate or to persuade themselves they know than they actually do It s not clear which option Bryson took As he says, A devoted reader can find support for nearly any position he or she wishes in Shakespeare.Vocabulary Words and PhrasesThe only really interesting points were that estimates of Shakespeare s vocabulary are usually huge overestimates because they include each variant of word form and spelling take, takes, tak n, taken etc It s not the size, but what he did with it that mattered his true skill was as a phrasemaker, demonstrated by the fact that 10% of the entries in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations are from his works Related to that, Shakespeare is credited with coining huge numbers of words, but in truth, it s often just that his texts are the oldest authentic documents to use them we don t know if he actually coined them, or they were common parlance down his way as Blackadder said to Dr Johnson in my favourite episode Ink and Incapability but the link isn t to that line Fortunately this was a quick, easy read I only read it at the behest of my father in law I am not a big Bryson fan, rarely read biographies and am not a huge history enthusiast either Reading it has not changed those preferences.