Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

by Stephen Greenblatt

Hardcover, 2004




W. W. Norton & Company (2004), Edition: 1st, 386 pages


The basic biographical facts of Shakespeare's life have been known for over a century, but now Stephen Greenblatt shows how this particular life history gave rise to the world's greatest writer.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LynnB
Few -- very few -- historical documents exist that would allow biographers to bring us the life of William Shakespeare. Reading this book by Stephen Greenblatt, I was struck with the thought of how much history we may have already lost by not telling and writing down the stories of our ancestors, famous or otherwise.

And Shakespeare is famous. So much so, that the lack of hard "evidence" hasn't dissuaded scholars from attempting to chronical his life; nor readers to peruse their writings.

Stephen Greenblatt has studied what little evidence there is, and accounts of life in England during Shakespeare's lifetime. He has analyzed Shakespeare's writings deeply. From all of this, he constructs a plausible account of Shakespeare's life. Yes, it is partly -- at times, highly -- speculative. Unavoiable, under the circumstances. But, reading this book has given me a much deeper understanding of the context for Shakespeare's writing and I know I will enjoy watching his plays performed so much more for having done so.
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LibraryThing member jstan9
Superb and supple biography linking Shakespeare's life with the plays. A remarkable acheivement. Entertaining, readable, sustained momentum, one revelation after another. Outstanding book.
LibraryThing member baswood

[Will in the World] - Stephen Greenblatt
[The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare] - Emma Smith
[Shakespeare's Language, Frank Kermode] - Frank Kermode.

Three books that might serve as an introduction to Shakespeare. All of them written with the general reader in mind, but all of them in my opinion would expect the reader to have some familiarity with the plays and the poetry.

[Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare] - Stephen Greenblatt
This seems to be one of the most popular books on Shakespeare with 2,768 people owning a copy and fifty reviews on Librarything. The preface to the book states that it aims to discover the actual person who wrote the most important body of imaginative literature of the last thousand years. This is a difficult task as there are no surviving contemporary biographies and as far as we know Shakespeare never wrote anything about himself. There are business transactions, there are playbills in which he is named, some petty legal affidavits, a marriage license, property transactions and a last will and testament, but nothing personal to the man. In addition to this there are a number of lost years especially in his youth when we know nothing about him at all. So what is there to write about? How do you fill up a book of 400 pages? Well! you do what other biographers have attempted in the past you mine the plays and the poetry for information, putting this in context with what is known about the milieu in which Shakespeare lived and worked.

One might think that the famous sonnet sequence might provide some information, but it would appear that Shakespeare did his best to keep his secrets even when he was writing sonnets about love. Shakespeare does not name the youth who he is encouraging to start a family, he does not tell us the name of the young man to whom he addresses the love sonnets or the dark lady to whom other sonnets are addressed, we might think that he kept these secrets on purpose. There are no authorial interventions in the plays giving us his personal viewpoint and precious few references to him that might give an inkling to his character by his contemporaries. All this means that attempts to discover the actual person must be pure conjecture and that is the problem with the aims of this book: the reader loses sight of the man himself, this is not to say that Greenblatt loses sight of his quarry, this is not the case at all, he writes endlessly on what he might have done, where he might have been and what he might have thought, but it is at the end of the day just educated guesswork.

The book does examine in some detail the relatively few facts that we know about Shakespeare, and more to the point it provides a contextual background to the protagonist. Greenblatt describes the world of the Elizabethan theatre, he describes the society, he fills in bits of history; all the time thinking about how these thing may have impacted on Shakespeare. He searches through the plays to find references to events that may have shaped the plots, the dialogue and the speeches of the characters. In particular he looks for events or incidents that Shakespeare may have witnessed and how they might have influenced what he wrote down for his characters to say in the play, but there is nothing very specific. An example is the burial of his son Hamnet in 1596 at Stratford-upon-avon. Greenblatt assumes that Shakespeare attended the burial and assumes that he was so deeply affected, that when he came to write his play Hamlet in 1601 the name of the central character so like the name of his son encouraged him to write with a new inward expressiveness. Critics do see Hamlet as a kind of turning point in the oeuvre, the play where Shakespeare began to illustrate the inner thoughts of his characters by their speeches and their actions and Greenblatt may be correct in his assumption but equally he could be way off the mark.

There are just too many 'what if' moments. What if Shakespeare was a closet catholic like his father may well have been, could he in those missing years between being resident in Stratford-upon-Avon and turning up as an actor in London have been a tutor in the north of the country, and if so could he have met with, or come under the spell of the Jesuit Edmund Campion who was preaching to the faithful in Lancashire in 1580-1. Would he then have been shocked and scared by the savage executions of Campion and his followers. There is not the slightest evidence for any of this, it is just pure conjecture and Greenblatt tells us so, but after erecting these edifices the reader could get the impression that Shakespeare was a man who may have been troubled with questions of faith.

The big plus in reading the book is that Greenblatt paints such a vivid picture of Elizabethan society and although little of this was new to me I still enjoyed the way the author wove this mine of information into his story. He occasionally gets seduced by the texts of some of the plays, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth for instance, but he always has something original to say about them. In an Afterword to his book Greenblatt says:

Shakespeare seems to have felt no comparable desire to make himself known or to cling tenaciously to what he had brought forth. The consequence is that it is not really necessary to know the details of Shakespeares life in order to love or understand his plays

That being said I still enjoyed Greenblatts adventurous ride through the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean era in pursuit of the elusive master playwright. I could not help, but to be carried along with it all and so 4 stars.

[The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare] by Emma Smith
This seems to me to be an introduction for the student approaching a deeper study of Shakespeare but the writing of Emma Smith is so lively and interesting that it could certainly be enjoyed by the more general reader. There are chapters on Characters and how Shakespeare approaches them, on performance and how actors can interpret the words in the script, a chapter on the texts in general, how they have come to us and how they have been edited, Shakespeares language: did anyone really talk like that? Structure of the plays, sources and history. Smith uses examples from the plays themselves to make her points often concentrating on one play per chapter. At the end of each chapter there is a 'Where Next' section that points to practical things to do to further appreciate the subject matter and books for further information.

There is an awful lot of information crammed into this book, but very little that is dull and boring. It is presented in such a way as to make the reader think on what is being presented. I found this to be an excellent read and so again 4 stars.

[Shakespeare's Language, Frank Kermode]
This book examines how Shakespeares language developed throughout his career. It is aimed at the general reader rather than the scholar and Kermode is careful to explain the more technical terms that are used. Fifteen of the later plays are given a chapter each, while the earlier plays are covered in a part one that is given just a quarter of the book space. I am reading through part one of this at the moment and like very much how Kermode marshals his thoughts about the language of the plays. I will use this as a reference/introduction to the plays as I read them.
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LibraryThing member rubyjand
Will in the World – How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt. 2004. Read in December, 2009.

The book represents my first meeting with Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt. It has proven to be a fruitful acquaintance and I often use Greenblatt's analyses in my texts these days.
There are three (at least) strengths in Greenblatt's approach to this book: he is a materialist historian with a profound knowledge of the period, he is a profound Shakespearean and he is a very good writer.
It's fun to read this book, which is jam-packed with historical details. He opens the book with one of them, the first two lines of a nursery rhyme Shakespeare's mother might well have sung to him, “Pillycock, pillycock, sate on a hill/If he's not gone – he sits there still.” This emerges some thirty or so years later, Greenblatt tells us, in King Lear when Poor Tom sings “Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill” (p.23).
Shakespeare is placed squarely in his time in this book, a time of violence, hierarchy, disease and poverty but also a time of great change and excitement. One of the paradoxes of this society “ - art as the source both of settled calm and of deep disturbance – was central to Shakespeare's entire career...” and “he was simultaneously the agent of civility and the agent of subversion” (page 48).
The book seems to cover everything. On the speculations on Shakespeare's religious beliefs the conclusion is: “If his father was both Catholic and Protestant, William Shakespeare was on his way to becoming neither” (page 113). On the question of love, Shakespeare's view on “intense courting and pleading and longing” is shown to be “one of his abiding preoccupations, [and] one of the things he understood and expressed more profoundly than almost anyone in the world” (page 119). In relating the very complex and generally negative view of marriage in the plays to Shakespeare's own marriage to Anne Hathaway, Greenblatt lands on a very unhappy interpretation which was later refuted by Germaine Greer in her Shakespeare's Wife and I will reserve comment until I get to that book.
But we're still only halfway through the book. Another example. On the anti-antisemitism of Shakespeare's day and the difficulty some modern readers have in reading The Merchant of Venice, for example, Greenblatt writes that “”something enabled him to discover in his stock villain a certain music – the sounds of a tense psychological inwardness, a soul under siege” (page 272) and “he wanted at the same time to call laughter into question, to make the amusement excruciatingly uncomfortable” (page 278). Even though Shylock is indeed a nasty character, “the play gives us too much insight into his inner life, too much of a stake in his identity and fate, to enable us to laugh freely and without pain” (page 286). Maybe I'm emphasizing this because Hal and I are in the middle of reading The Merchant of Venice right now, but these words I find applicable to almost all of Shakespeare.
I really must stop writing or I'll end up making this review as long as the book itself but Greenblatt's ending chapter, “The Triumph of the Everyday” must be mentioned. Shakespeare chose to live out his life far from the glamor and excitement of the London theater world and retired to Stratford for his last years. We don't know why but Greenblatt gives us a reasonable explanation, found in the plays themselves. Yes, Shakespeare loved the exotic, the dramatic, the fantastical and imaginative. But what makes him still read and loved is what he shows us of the everyday, “the ordinariness in the midst of the extraordinary.” Interspersed amongst his kings, queens, nobles, arch-villains and superheros we find the “small talk, trivial pursuits, and foolish games of ordinary people”. He returned home to his wife, his remaining children, his grandchild, his neighbors, as he so often had throughout the years, for the “strange, slightly melancholy dimension, a joy intimately braided together with renunciation...[the] strangeness that hides within the boundaries of the everyday” that characterizes all of his plays, and “that is where he was determined to end his days” (pages 388-390).
This book is vital for anyone interested in Shakespeare and his world.
First posted on rubyjandshakespearecalling@blogspot.com
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LibraryThing member delphica
(#4 in the 2008 book challenge)

This was fun in the way it would be fun to take a very good Honors Literature class in high school (except it would be fun in a different way, now that I am an adult, as opposed to the way it was fun when I actually took Honors Lit in high school and spent a great deal of time passing notes to my friend Kim about how to best coordinate our outfits for the upcoming weekend). Because we don't know very much about Shakespeare's life -- and I do in fact remember learning that in high school and thinking that was remarkably irresponsible of someone -- Mr. Greenblatt takes the approach of setting out the sorts of issues and occurrences that would have been present for any random guy living at the same time as Shakespeare, and then demonstrating how they might likely link up with the text. This is along with the few documented things that did manage to survive. The author does point out several times that through the ages, historians and critics have made all sorts of assumptions in order to fill in the blanks. In light of this, I found it rather endearing that Mr. Greenblatt himself got a little caught up in his extrapolations at times, but it seemed to come from a good place of genuine enthusiasm for the subject. Plus, I also enjoyed his willingness to kick back and enjoy the moment when events were unexpectedly funny.

Grade: A-
Recommended: to Shakespeare geeks, fans of Elizabethan history, and people who enjoyed AP English the first time around.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Could have been good, but was filled with unwarranted speculation on all aspects of Shakespeare's life. Stick to the facts, please.
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
This biography of William Shakespeare will not appeal to everyone, and parts of its ~400 pages did not appeal to me, but I am still very glad that I read it.

There is so much that is not known about Shakespeare but this author has done his research and also done his best to tie all the parts together. What I loved most about the book was seeing how so much of Shakespeare's writing reflected his life. The influence of the ongoing war between Catholicism and Protestantism, of his rather odd relationship with his wife, of his day-to-day life is apparent in his writing, and made his writings all the more meaningful to me.

What I didn't like is that some parts just plain bored me. There was too much detail in some areas for my tastes, and some parts I skimmed over. Occasionally, the book was a little too pedantic for me.

I read this as part of a group read for a book discussion group, and most of the people didn't finish the book, really did not care for it. It seems that the ones who did finish it, those who did like it, are either more familiar with Shakespeare's works or with theater in general. I loved it for how it made some of the plays I've read come alive for me, and I'm sure will add to my enjoyment as I read other plays and sonnets. Still, some parts were just too much dry toast.
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LibraryThing member gwernin
Elizabethan England is not really my period, but no English-speaking writer can be indifferent to Shakespeare. This book shows in careful detail how Shakespeare became the man he was (so far as genius can be explained by life experience), and how the plays he wrote proceeded from the things he saw and felt and did. I read it in sections before bedtime, and kept finding myself sitting up later than I'd meant to: each page leads to the next, each chapter to the one that follows, so smoothly and inevitably that I seldom got to bed much before midnight. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member kellan
Greenblatt is fascinating, brilliant, eurdite and yet accessible writer. His ability to bring the Elizabethan daily life alive is like watching a magic trick unfold, you dare not look away.

However in the end that obsessive knowledge cripples him. Because Greenblatt is not just a scholar, he is the world's definitive Shakespeare fanboy, and deeply, **deeply** woven into this work is that unquestioning love. Which is fine, and his ability to share that passion is what makes this work compelling, but you are also aware that many questions are left unexplored, many assumptions unexplored, and I personally pined for that missed opportunity.… (more)
LibraryThing member setnahkt
On June 29, 1613, the King’s Players put on Henry VIII at the Globe Theater in Southwark. Miniature cannons were fired during a scene representing Henry VIII attending a masque at Cardinal Wolsey’s house; some bits of wadding lodged in the thatched roof of the theater and set it on fire. Fortunately, the fire was slow, and there was plenty of time to rescue costumes, props, and manuscripts before the Globe burned to the ground. The rescued manuscripts included the only copies of Henry VI, Part 1; Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, King John, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. That’s how close we came.

Will in the World is an uneven but ultimately worthwhile biography of Shakespeare. The problem all Shakespeare biographers have – and what provides fuel for centuries of “Who Wrote Shakespeare?” theorists – is that other than the plays, poems and sonnets there is precious little documentation on the man. We know that he was baptized in Stratford on April 26, 1564 and that he was married, still in Stratford, sometime in late November or early December 1582. He had children in 1583 (daughter) and 1585 (son and daughter twins). Sometime soon after the birth of his twins he left Stratford and went to London, where there are sparse records of him; some business transactions, minor lawsuits, property tax receipts. He did well at his trade, amassing enough money to buy substantial properties in Stratford and a building in London. He retired to a comfortable manor in Stratford sometime between 1611 and 1616; he was buried in Stratford on April 25, 1616.

This is all author Stephen Greenblatt has to work with; he has to fill it in with assumptions, hearsay from contemporaries and near-contemporaries, and, of course, inferences from the writings. Some of the assumptions, hearsay, and inference is reasonable; some is more speculative. Greenblatt goes furthest out on a limb trying to figure out what Shakespeare was doing as a child and young adult. There was a school in Stratford, and it’s reasonable Shakespeare attended it; he had to learn his small Latin and less Greek somewhere. He may have had some sort of run-in with a noble neighbor over poaching. His family fortunes seem to have declined; his father John, a glover, worked up gradually through public positions (one of his jobs was official ale taster) until he was bailiff (essentially mayor) of Stratford and then gradually loses prominence until he’s no longer mentioned in public records. Shakespeare’s marriage has provided a lot of material for speculation; he put up a £40 bond to avoid having the banns read and seems to have had marriage licenses for two different women (the question is if the William Shagspere licensed to marry Anne Hathwey on November 28 1582 is the same as the William Shaxpere licensed to marry Anne Whatley on November 27 1582, and if Anne Hathwey is the same as Anne Whatley; i.e., are there two, three, or four different people involved). The marriage question is one of the places I’d like to see some numbers; Greenblatt notes that the £40 bond represented a huge sum of money; two year’s salary for the Stratford schoolmaster. However, although he explains why the bond was necessary (you were supposed to read the banns on three successive Sundays to see if anyone objected, and Anne Hathaway was already three months pregnant) he doesn’t say how common this was; were such bonds routine or rare?. Similarly he proposes that the name “Shakespeare” in its numerous orthographic variants was common for the place and time, to provide a possible explanation for the multiple marriage licenses, he doesn’t say how common; are there a couple of other Shakespeares, or a dozen, or tens, or hundreds? Given the scanty evidence, Greenblatt accepts the relatively common position that Shakespeare and his wife didn’t really get along. The general idea is that her pregnancy made it a fowling-piece marriage; her family was relatively well-to-do and would have pressured the Shakespeares to do the right thing. They did have children, of course; however after the twins were born in 1585 there aren’t any more, even after Shakespeare’s only son died in 1596. There’s no evidence that Shakespeare even visited Stratford between 1586 and his retirement to there in 1611 or after. A lot is made of the fact that all he left to Anne was his “second best bed”; in fact Greenblatt notes that nothing was left to her in the original will at all; the bed bequest was added in a later codicil, as if Shakespeare had to be nudged to remember her with something.

Greenblatt doesn’t know quite what to do with Shakespeare in between his wedding and his arrival in London (or even exactly when that arrival was). Was he working as a glover, working as a tutor in some noble household, wandering around the country, or what? There’s a whole chapter, based on sparse to nonexistent evidence, suggesting that Shakespeare was up in the north of England working in some capacity (presumably tutor) for a cryptoCatholic family. Not impossible but not well supported either.

Once Shakespeare’s in London, Greenblatt can start using his writings as evidence for various hypotheses. The catch, of course, is Shakespeare’s writings are like the Bible; if you are sufficiently determined and willing to disregard context you can find support for just about anything you want. Thus the questions Catholic/Protestant, misogynist/philogynist, straight/gay/bi are all discussed with support for one position or another drawn from the plays/poems/sonnets but there’s no real conclusion.

Still, there’s a lot of good stuff here – background on the religious controversy in England; James I’s fear of witchcraft, and the role of actors in contemporary life (I learned that “role” is derived from “roll”; because play manuscripts were bulky and scarce, actors were given a roll of paper with only their lines and entry cues rather than the whole play). I also discovered there are several “unknown” Shakespeare plays floating around; Sir Thomas More, which exists in a single manuscript copy penned in multiple hands (Hand “D” is supposed to be Shakespeare); The Tragedy of Gowrie, banned after two performances and with no extant copies; The Two Noble Kinsmen, a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher; and the lost (maybe; might be a play renamed as The Second Maiden’s Tragedy) History of Cardenio, another Fletcher/Shakespeare collaboration.

Worth it, then, just to see the range of speculation available for the Bard of Avon.
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LibraryThing member tchemgrrl
A bit frustrating, really. My brain is too scientific to find vague references in a monologue given by an unlikable character to be indicative of *anything*, much less who his drinking buddies were.

But I appreciate the effort, the breadth of sources, and the fact that just about every play and a large number of sonnets get referenced--it is a good way of humanizing him, and certainly got me interested in a few of the plays I hadn't read. I think I might have enjoyed it more in bits and pieces--read the Macbeth chapter while I read the play. A potential for re-read, even though the overall book didn't really do it for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member ck2935
An informative written journey on what external factors contributed to some of the greatest plays ever written.
LibraryThing member TJWilson
I flew through this book. It is very enjoyable if you are interested in Shakespeare. This is my first biographical reading of Shakespeare. It should be my second or third considering the educated guesswork Greenblatt throws around in this book, but I survived. Greenblatt is very detailed. I wonder how many times he has read each play. His eye doesn't let much slip by him. There are so many interesting theories and explanations that this book makes me want to go on a Shakespeare hunt. The only qualm I have now is which Shakespeare book I will read next? There five gagillion!… (more)
LibraryThing member DoghouseRiley
Neither a history book nor a work of fiction, but the author's fantasy about what Shakespeare's life might have been like. The author lost me at the end of Chapter 4: too much idle fantasy when I had hoped for a window onto Will's world. Bill Bryson's book on Shakespeare is better: all history, plus his self-deprecating humor.… (more)
LibraryThing member BruceAir
Critics have quibbled with some of Greenblatt's speculations about Shakespeare's life, but he delivers readable and detailed account of life in Elizabethan England. Read it before you attend a summer Shakespeare-in-the-Park production and you'll enjoy the experience a great deal more.
LibraryThing member Clif
The author brings together little-known historical facts and elements of Shakespeare's plays and connects them to his life and the prevailing 16th Century environment in which he lived. This book provides the best description of life for the common people in 16th Century England that I've ever been exposed to. The book also makes Shakespeare's plays very accessible to the modern reader and exposes the extraordinary depth of humanity depicted by his plays.

Read in May, 2007
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
I think that Greenblatt did a fantastic job of showing Will in the world as reflected in his plays and long poems. The only thing that I can fault him on is not mentioning the influence of classic theatre on Shakespeare. He repeatedly says that main characters in his big tragedies are not given motivation. He sees it as making them more human, more ambiguous. What I see is that he neglects the influence of big Greek tragedies and ' fatal flaws'.
"Hamartia, also called tragic flaw, (hamartia from Greek hamartanein, “to err”), inherent defect or shortcoming in the hero of a tragedy, who is in other respects a superior being favoured by fortune."

Shakespeare does not adhere strictly to that idea, and makes his characters sufficiently human, but I think that each of his tragic hero does possess a tragic flaw at the core of his being.
I am wondering why Greenblatt doesn't even mention it even once. Maybe because it was pointed out before, maybe because there is no evidence of Shakespeare reading Greek tragedies, maybe because he is trying very hard to show that Shakespeare had limited academic education and went for provincial rather than intellectual. Which is all true. Marlowe was way more intellectual than he was, but Shakespeare was not a country bumpkin, and he was very well read in everything that was available at the times, even if no books were found in his dwelling for tax purposes. Anyway, that's a mystery for me.
I liked the organization of the book, maybe because I do like literary analysis, and Greenblatt is looking very intently at the literary works and trying to learn about Shakespeare the man from them. I really liked that.
I wouldn't say it's a definitive work on Shakespeare, but it's a nice slant on his life and his work.
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LibraryThing member meandmybooks
Really interesting and fun. In describing events, conflicts, and culture in Shakespeare's world, Greenblatt freely admits at many points that he is speculating when he makes connections between events which may have occurred in Shakespeare's life or may otherwise have made an impression on him, and aspects of his work as a poet and a playwright. Even when the connections seemed particularly tenuous (such as whether Shakespeare worked briefly as a tutor in a wealthy Catholic household), the history was interesting to me, and even without a direct connection, I suppose someone as alive to his times as Shakespeare was would probably have been affected to some extent by what was “in the air.” The only chapter when Greenblatt's “supposings” seemed to get out of hand was the one on the sonnets. I found his arguments here inconsistent and unconvincing – he admits, for example, that Shakespeare's intentions regarding the order and relations between the sonnets cannot be known, not to mention the extent, if any, to which they were “personal” rather than imaginative (and commercial) art, and then he goes on to build an elaborate story based on his preferred interpretation. Still, he more than makes up for this in the chapters where he treats Elizabethan antisemitism and witchcraft, both of which were particularly well done and will add to my enjoyment next time I read “The Merchant of Venice” and “Macbeth.” Definitely worth a look for those who enjoy Shakespeare!… (more)
LibraryThing member kukulaj
I am no Shakespeare scholar, not by any stretch, so my response is that of a novice. I have read books about the general period though, e.g. about Giordano Bruno. So I have some prior vague ideas about the context.

This was a bit of a frustrating book... not the author's fault of course. We just don't have that much direct evidence about Shakespeare's life. Mostly everything is could have, might have, etc. But Greenblatt corrals a wonderful collection of tales from the whole length of Shakespeare's life. The book is mostly a chest of gems, bits of English history that line up with bits of Shakespeare's writing. We don't get a fabric - Greenblatt doesn't really follow paths beyond the Shakespeare link. Where were Ben Jonson's plays performed? We only hear about such matters if Shakespeare is acting in one.

It's a very nice chest of gems. For me probably the best aspect was how they reflect on Shakespeare's writing. I am certainly inspired to go read more of Shakespeare with this new source of illumination in mind! Curiously, this book doesn't really inspire me to go read more about e.g. the succession from Elizabeth to James. Yet I know that is a fascinating bit of history. That's just more evidence of the narrow focus of Greenblatt's book. It's a reasonable choice for an author. But that's the choice he made here.
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LibraryThing member antao
Nature Abhors a Vacuum: “Will in the World – How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare” by Stephen Greenblatt Is there a Shakespearean lover who does not know that there is precious little actual information about Shakespeare and as a result there are all these theories speculating about who he really was? I’ve read a few of them, and I’ve always considered these to be crap that show us more about the enthusiast of the theory than they do about Shakespeare. I have read many books about Shakespeare, but none have provoked a more mixed and reaction in me than Greenblatts’. There are some great weaknesses. Read on.
As I was reading this what came into my mind was that celebrated statement, I think by AL Rowse that he was prepared to stake his reputation on the claim that all the Dark Lady from the sonnets 127-154 was in fact Emilia Lanier. Never mind that it’s never been clear that Lanier was a dark lady, let alone the Dark Lady – or indeed, whether or not there was a real Dark Lady at all in real life. By Jove, what if Shakespeare actually made the whole thing up? What if Greenblatt wanted to give Rowse a run for his money when it comes to reinventing Shakespeare’s life? I’m quite astonished that it found a publisher at all let alone that someone paid close to a million dollars to have it published. I’m not talking about being littered with spelling mistakes or grammatical errors; the worst is the utter lack of scholarly accuracy (e.g., Shakespeare hating Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s Anti-Jewishness, the meeting in Lancashire between Edmund Campion and the teenage Shakespeare, Falstaff as being a tribute both to Robert Greene and to Shakespeare's own father, the attempt at simplifying and normalizing the complex sexuality of Shakespeare, etc.).
If you're into Shakespeare, read on.
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
Srsly dude, how have you not read this yet? Greenblatt is awesome.
LibraryThing member idiotgirl
A great read. Imagining Shakespeare. I'm always interested in biography. So this really pushes at the edge of the genre. There is so little "fact" to go on with Shakespeare beyond the majestic fact of the writing, the word.
LibraryThing member datrappert
This is an engrossing and convincing look at how William Shakespeare actually managed to have the knowledge needed to write his plays. It put me in Shakespeare's world better than anything I have read--though perhaps not as well as Shakespeare in Love!
LibraryThing member carterchristian1
Assuming the author is accurate this is one of the best explanations of the author I have read. Theattention to his early education,and the role drama and Latin played at his school and drama performed around him in his early years is especially interesting.
LibraryThing member DaveFragments
The early life of William Shakespeare.


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