Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shakespeare: The World As Stage

Yesterday I read Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson. In this very small book, Bryson says he sums up all the real facts that we have about Shakespeare. There aren't many. We know the date he was christened but not the exact date of birth. We know when he married, how many legitimate children he had, what property he bought and sold, but not the first performance dates of the majority of his plays or what order his sonnets should be in. And we know almost nothing about his personality. Bryson tries to avoid extrapolating Shakespeare's personality and character from the text of the plays but he does talk about other analyses that do have some validity. He mentions the reason that Shakespeare had to know some Italian is because a few of his plays are cribbed from Italian works that had not been translated to English.

Bryson devotes a chapter to the "other author" theories and i have to say he's pretty convincing that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Apparently there was no controversy at all until the 1850's when an American woman, Delia Bacon, wrote a book implying that Francis Bacon wrote the Shakespeare plays. She came up with this idea by traveling to Bacon's hometown and picking up mental vibes. Ugh. He writes about the various conspiracies that would have to be in place for others besides Shakespeare to write the plays.

Overall this book is a nice overview of what we know, or don't know, about Shakespeare.

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