Shakespeare: The World as Stage
© 2007 Bill Bryson
Shakespeare: The World as Stage surprised me when it arrived. Such a slender little volume for a man whose legacy is strong even today! Bryson’s aim is not to deliver a volume of literary criticism, or even to fix on some minor detail and create an revisionist vision of Shakespeare, but to stick to the facts. As it turns out, there aren’t that many. While we know bounds more about Shakespeare than many of his contemporaries — and more of his works have survived him than them as well — the man didn’t leave much documentation. In creating a narrative that connects the few facts we have — birth, employment as an actor, success as a playwright, death — Bryson also supplies background information about Elizabethan and Jamesian England, and concludes that Shakespeare’s greatest accomplishment was not “Hamlet”, but rather managing to survive childhood. England was plagued by disease after disease, so much so that public records sometimes inserted the phrase (in Latin), “here begins plague”, as if to assure future historians that no, this isn’t an error, that many people really did die in that April with its shoures soote.
If a reader is looking for a light history of Shakespeare that won’t lead them off the road into some niche theory of the bard, Bryson here provides a concise, cautious, and enjoyable biography of the man and his times that will fill the bill admirably.