365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

274. Bill Bryson’s “Shakespeare: The World as Stage”

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Bill Bryson’s exceptional examination of the mysterious life of William Shakespeare, “Shakespeare: The World as Stage”, explores the aspects of Shakespeare’s life that we know about and offers theories about those which we do not. It is, at first glance, a typical biography of the famed playwright: one that regurgitates facts and statistics most of us learned in our AP English classes in high school and that gives an outline of the little-known life of Shakespeare.

But where Bryson has done something really extraordinary is in his style. While many biographies are written with all the charm and wit of a calculus textbook, Bryson’s language is conversational and warm, making it feel less like a lecture and more like a chat with a particularly learnedfriend. He goes above and beyond in order to make the book read like a volume one picked up for educational entertainment. This is especially appreciated when he is going over the well-known information about Shakespeare’s life, as it feels less like he is showing off how well he took notes in school and more like he is simply offering some information – vital to any biography that wants to actually be enjoyed.

The other thing that Bryson does that I found to be wonderful is how he recognizes other theories put forth by previous biographers, but takes the time to really analyze the likelihood of their validity rather than simply listing possibilities. His section about Shakespeare’s “Lost Years” is particularly well-written, so that those dark years of Shakespeare’s life feel just a little bit brighter.

Bryson’s obvious intelligence and diligent research shines through when he allows just a touch of humor to enter the book. He refrains from turning the book into comedic commentary, but there is just enough lightness there to keep the reader happily flowing from page to page, disappearing into the Elizabethan world that Bryson brings to life.

“Shakespeare: The World as Stage” ought to be made required reading for anyone who is studying the Bard. Any questions one may have had about the life of the man who wrote these immortal plays will find them – well, not necessarily answered with any definitiveness, but certainly explored in a way that will make the reader feel closer to the playwright. Though we may never know much more about the life of William Shakespeare, Bill Bryson certainly has a talent for making us feel as though he is a neighbor, however distant.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

July 2, 2010 at 7:50 PM

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