Saturday, August 21, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

1 book I read: Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

2 words that describe the book: Speculative biography

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Well, this is nonfiction, so I'm going to tell you about some people we met.

William Shakespeare - The man who inspired this whole book. His story of going from glove-maker's son to the greatest playwright in history is one that has fascinated generations.

Anne Hathaway - Shakespeare's wife who was several years his senior. No one knows whether their marriage was a happy one, but they had three children and she spent most of their marriage in Stratford-upon-Avon while he lived in London. If what Shakespeare bequeathed her in his will is any indication -- his second-best bed -- then the marriage wasn't all roses and sunshine.

Christopher Marlowe - Nearly the exact same age as Shakespeare, Marlowe hit his play-writing stride earlier in life, finding great success. There are indications that Shakespeare admired and even envied Marlowe's success -- There are several allusions to his work in Shakespeare's plays -- but no real evidence the two had any direct contact. Marlowe's unfortunate early death (Barfight? Political murder?) cleared the way for Shakespeare to become the preeminent playwright of his generation.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked that, since no one really knows any of the details, some of this biography reads like a novel. You're never really sure what's real and what's not, which you usually don't want in a work of nonfiction, but somehow the uncertainty works for a Shakespeare biography.

I liked that, even though Greenblatt used Shakespeare's work to inform his biography, and even though there are very few real records to go on, this whole biography wasn't just speculation drawn from Shakespeare's works. I've seen biographies that say, "Shakespeare's relationship with his mother must have been bad because he writes X in Y play." Uh, no. Not necessarily. Greenblatt didn't do that, which was refreshing, to me.

I didn't like how some of the chapters were laid out. Greenblatt would start a chapter talking about a historical event or social construct of Shakespeare's times, then move on to talking about one or a few of the plays. Then, he would go back to the historical event. I know this book is supposed to be about Shakespeare's life and not a historical criticism of his work, but I would have liked to see some of the history tied in a little better with the reading of the plays. Sometimes, I forgot what historical event I was supposed to be connecting to the plays.

I liked that I got to learn a little more about several of the other playwrights who were contemporaries of Shakespeare, but we don't really hear much about. Sure, we all hear about playwrights such as Marlowe and Ben Jonson, but I never really knew much about the minor players such as Thomas Dekker and Thomas Heywood.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 5 stars. I would recommend this book to any fan of Shakespeare and his plays.

The Whys and Wheres: Borrowed from my dad

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge


Jenners said...

I'm just loving the "speculative biography" genre! I guess that is what all biography is when you think about it.

Mary said...

It sounds like such an interesting book. Thanks for telling us about it.

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