Sunday, 22 June 2008

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives) by Bill Bryson


Ok, you like Bill Bryson, so maybe you think that you can try this despite the title? Correct.

I think Bill has undergone a personal epiphany which is now seeing the light of day in this book. The epiphany he had was while researching and writing "A short history of nearly everything", the epiphany was the scientific method and rational argument. Not just what we know but why we think we know it. No of course I am am not saying he was irrational before. But he never let a poor argument get in the way of a good story before. Or at least that's what his travel books feel like to me anyway.

Now he wields a sword of logic and a shield with a sceptical eye painted on it as he looks at what we do actually know about Shakespeare, and why we think we know it. What we do actually know about Shakespeare is in fact, "not a lot".

Bill tells us what we do know in an interesting and insightful way, with many a Brysonesque detour into interesting facts about the history, the people and the lifestyles of the time.

What he also gives us as added entertainment is a taste of the huge number and variety of "independent thinkers" who have come up with various theories about Shakespeare and his works over the centuries. "Independent" in this case meaning "independent" of the evidence.

So yes this book is well worth a go even if you have neither read Shakespeare nor read about the man nor read much about Elizabethan history before. Bill really is that good a tale teller, he really could pick any subject and make it entertaining.

The great achievement here is that he has done it whilst sticking to the facts.

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