Book Review for “Shakespeare: The World as Stage” by Bill Bryson.
Summary: “Bill Bryson’s biography of William Shakespeare unravels the superstitions, academic discoveries and myths surrounding the life of our greatest poet and playwright.”
Age Category: Adult; Type: non-fiction; Genre: historical.
My regular readers know that I don’t read a whole lot of non-fiction, but my husband is a huge fan of Bryson’s books, and since this one is about the man who was arguably the world’s greatest writer of all time, he figured it would be something I would enjoy. Well, I thank him for this, and it was certainly a good companion piece to follow up my reading of Maggie O’Farrell’s award-winning novel “Hamnet.” While Bryson has little to nothing to say about Shakespeare’s wife, he does a great deal of investigating into the man himself, with a good deal of debunking of many myths and theories along the way, which I certainly could appreciate.
See, I’m a purist. I believe that despite all the ideas that this hardly-educated man couldn’t have written all these marvelous plays and sonnets. I’m not buying that genius comes with education. Genius is something you’re born with, not something you learn. Yes, sometimes education does help things along the way, but I don’t think you can stifle genius, and I think that Shakespeare is evidence of that. This is why I DNF one novel based on one of these conspiracies (that being the one where some aristocratic woman wrote his plays and sonnets, but couldn’t use her own name, for obvious reasons. Yeah… no… not buying it, sorry).
However, let’s not dwell on these theories, because that wasn’t the bulk of this book. In fact, what Bryson tried to do here was more to give us as much information about this mysterious person, in as an encapsulated version as possible. The thing is, Shakespeare has been the subject of thousands of studies and intensely researched tomes, and most of them seem to have shed little light on who he really was, or what his life was really like. I think, however, that Bryson did quite a good job of compiling all of these bits and pieces, of which, apparently, there isn’t all that much, despite the many efforts of scholars and their lengthy investigations.
Essentially, Bryson built on all these studies to give us as much information as possible, and allowed for all the contradictions that those before him found and revealed. I found all of it fascinating, even if it was still frustrating to have so little remaining proof of who the Bard really was, which of course, wasn’t Bryson’s fault. Now, although I was hoping that Bryson’s famed humor would infuse this book, I have to say that it wasn’t actually a subject that lends itself to much comedy. Mind you, some of his comments about people who made up some of those theories about him not being the real author, did bring a smile to my face. But other than that, this isn’t really a funny book. Still, I did enjoy it from beginning to end, and that’s why I’ll give it a full five out of five stars, and recommend it to anyone interested in learning a bit more about this genius of a writer.
“Shakespeare: The World as Stage” by Bill Bryson was published in 2007. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), or Thriftbooks.com, as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.