Sunday, February 17, 2008

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson review by Athena

I listened to the audiobook. It's quite a short book about Shakespeare, but it covers many details and the lack there of of William Shakespeare's life. Bill Bryson is an author I've liked for years, and he is consistently an informative and shrewd writer. This was my first time reading a book of Shakespeare's life, but I've been aware of the debates of the doubts of his identity, sexuality, genius, etc. What Bryson sought out to do in the book is to avoid speculation that seems to run rampant among scholars and other biographies about Shakespeare. He evaluates and summarises the small amount of real information about Shakespeare we have at present. The book is a good as a brush up on the Elizabethan and early Jacobite eras. I learned quite a bit about the evolution of the human language, people, dress, and cities of the time. Bryson avoids making any big and blanket statements about the kind of man Shakespeare was, but he does shoot down theories about the idea that William Shakespeare was actually Bacon/ Marlowe/ Earl of Oxford/ your mother, etc. He also provides insights from historians and scholars either directly interviewing them or referencing their work. I think it is a really good introduction to Shakespeare that can provide grounding for further scholarly study about the man and the myth. A quick and recommended read. Crossposted from my blog

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Lodger Shakespeare on Silver Street

A new book has just arrived on the book shelevs.
The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street
By Charles Nicholl. There is a short video interview of Mr Nicholl at the bottom of the page.

One Mr Shakespeare that laye in the house...
In 1612 Shakespeare gave evidence at the Court of Requests in Westminster – it is the only occasion his spoken words are recorded. The case seems routine – a dispute over an unpaid marriage-dowry – but it opens up an unexpected window into the dramatist’s famously obscure life-story. Some eight years earlier, we learn, Shakespeare was lodging in the house of a French immigrant family, the Mountjoys, in the Cripplegate area of London. And while there he was called on by his landlady to ‘persuade’ the family’s former apprentice to marry their daughter.

Charles Nicholl applies a powerful biographical magnifying glass to this fascinating but little-known episode in Shakespeare’s life. Marshalling evidence from a wide variety of sources, including previously unknown documentary material on the Mountjoys, he conjures up a detailed and compelling description of the circumstances in which Shakespeare lived and worked, and in which he wrote such plays as Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear. Nicholl also throws new light on the puzzling story of Shakespeare’s collaboration with the hack-author and brothel-keeper George Wilkins.

In this subtle and atmospheric exploration of Shakespeare at forty, we see him not from the viewpoint of literary greatness, but in the humdrum and very human context of Silver Street, where to the maid of the house he was merely ‘one Mr Shakespeare’, renting the room upstairs. In The Lodger, one of the celebrated literary detectives of our day has created something all too rare – a fresh and original book about Shakespeare.

The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth- John Mutford's 1st Pick for The Shakespeare Challenge

I have a pretty rigid cycle of reading to which I've dedicated myself:

1. A Canadian novel
2. A non-Canadian novel
3. Non-fiction (from anywhere)
4. alternate between a book of the Bible or a Shakespeare play
(all the while working through a book of poetry)

My wife teases that I'm way to anal about it, but I've grown accustomed to the cycle by now, and for the most part, find that it has more flexibility than it first appears.

Anyway, when I first saw this challenge, I thought "no problem." Afterall, every 8th book I read is one of Shakespeare's plays anyway. Then I got bogged down in a couple 400+ page books and I've already missed a month of the challenge.

Finally though I've gotten around to reading the third part of King Henry the Sixth, and this marks my first of four plays for the Shakespeare challenge. I've treated the parts as three separate plays and my first two reviews appear here and here. This is my review of the third part as it appeared on The Book Mine Set:

Classy cover, don't you think?

Shakespeare was one of those rare breeds to make the third installment of a trilogy the best.

Unlike the first two parts, the third seems more streamlined. The plot still revolves around challenges to King Henry's throne, but all the subplots of earlier have pretty much subsided. Instead there seems to be much more interest in exploring themes of male roles in the family, especially in terms of inheritance and power.

Not to make it entirely a masculine story, Queen Margaret almost steals the show once again with her wickedness. After giving the Duke of York the news that his son has been murdered, she offers him a napkin stained with the son's blood to wipe away his tears. Then she has the duke decapitated and sticks his head upon the gates of York so that "York may overlook the town of York."

While that last line might seem like a throwaway, really not all that clever when you consider he was only named the Duke of York after the town, making the wordplay not all that playful, it was clever as a symbol. While Margaret is delighting in her own sinfulness, Shakespeare seemed to be toying with the idea of a sinister, or at least doomed, reflection. Fathers pass down legacies of revenge to their sons, brothers plot against one another, all the while having the same blood. He takes this up more blatantly later on in the play having two briefly appearing characters simply named A Son That Has Kill'd His Father and A Father That Has Kill'd His Son.

While the King Henry The Sixth trilogy ends here, I'm relieved for the first time that there'll be more to the story. King Richard the Third takes up where this one left off (fortunately with Queen Margaret still alive and kicking).

The Soundtrack:
1. Hand Me Down World- The Guess Who
2. Off With Your Head- Sleater-Kinney
3. Evil Woman- Electric Light Orchestra
4. Brother Down- Sam Roberts
5. Kings and Queens- Aerosmith

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Shakespeare's Global Globe

Shakespeare's Global Globe

This just came over the ex-Libris Mailing list. You DO need the latest FLASH to see this.
I have an old version of IE which is blocking me, but I have no problem using Mozilla Firefox browser.

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new website -- Shakespeare's
Global Globe ( -- that provides an instantaneous
visualization of all self-reporting readers of Shakespeare's plays on
the planet, viewable by region, genre and play. Upon arrival at the
site, visitors are asked to indicate which Shakespeare play they are
currently reading and where they are on the planet. The site then
locates that reader and play at a particular point on the globe, which
remains illuminated for two weeks. Site visitors can also explore
what other readers of Shakespeare are doing in different cities,
regions or continents using a range of display options.

The site was designed to explore regional reading habits in an
informal way, with an emphasis on ease of use and intelligibility. It
can be accessed from any location where there is an internet
connection, and the map of global readers is constantly updated, so
users can see new readers appearing on the map in realtime.

Please do take time to visit the site and, of course, if you are
reading a Shakespeare play at the moment, please go ahead and place a
digital pin on the global map!

This seems to be based out of Carnegie Mellon University in USA.