Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shakespeare: The World as Stage

I've recommended Bill Bryson's books several times before in this space, and I'm here to do it again. This one is perfect for the vaguely nerdy reader on vacation - a slim, brisk volume on what we know and don't know of William Shakespeare. There are hundreds of years' worth of speculation on who Shakespeare was, and yet we can declare almost none of the result to be unassailable fact.

There are plenty of stars in the firmament whose histories are equally mysterious, but few inspire the same fevered and sustained research. We allow many of our great lights' work speak for them without trying to parse out their personal histories, but Shakespeare is a man we want to know. I think this is because he has such intimate conversations with our hearts - discussions about honor and about love, justice and leadership, gender and power. Just as we work to know and love the people in our lives who can have those same conversations with us in the flesh, we want to know and love Shakespeare, the man who could produce these great treatises on the human spirit. If he was any less a man, we would be content with his ink, but we want to know his soul.

Bryson understands this, and I think he truly loves Shakespeare for his elusiveness as well as his truth. There is something wonderful about our questions about Shakespeare, and Bryson runs us through the theories with full appreciation for all of the possibilities. Shakespeare could have been a brawling boozehound, staggering home to crank out plays to pay his bar tabs. He could have been a faithful husband whose romances were inspired by the pain of his separation from his wife. He could have been almost anyone, and we don't know. Bryson's approach highlights these options, and his book is all the better for it.

This is a great little book for the beach-going Shakespeare fan. It's thin, funny, quick and well-researched. It's a terrific rundown of the historical and modern research on Shakespeare as well as an excellent index of information.


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  2. I love his stuff. I also kind of wish I was him.