Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson

This is a short biography of William Shakespeare, where Bill Bryson tries to apply his wit and intelligence to saying something new. His wit and intelligence are evident, and this is as good a stab at an impossible task as you are ever likely to find.

Frankly a biography of Shakespeare is not possible. All the incontrovertible facts can be written on one page. The rest is speculation and interpretation of sketchy evidence. All ‘biographers’ of Shakespeare have to pad out with historical background, and Bryson does this vividly.

Shakespeare remains an enigmatic and mysterious person, and the gulf between the bare facts of his life and the magnificence of the literary works ascribed to him can only be filled by appeals to the word ‘genius’. Bryson manfully tries to make sense of it all, and firmly takes sides against those who question the claim that the ‘Stratford man’ wrote those plays and poems. Indeed, he devotes a whole chapter to refuting the other ‘claimants’, to boost his book by a further 15 pages. At least he does not fall into the trap of ascribing words said in the plays as expressing Shakespeare’s personal views.

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