Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

Amazon Product Description:

William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colorful muddle to reveal the man himself.

Bryson documents the efforts of earlier scholars, from today's most respected academics to eccentrics like Delia Bacon, an American who developed a firm but unsubstantiated conviction that her namesake, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays. Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunkerlike room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed.

Bryson celebrates Shakespeare as a writer of unimaginable talent and enormous inventiveness, a coiner of phrases ("vanish into thin air," "foregone conclusion," "one fell swoop") that even today have common currency. His Shakespeare is like no one else's—the beneficiary of Bryson's genial nature, his engaging skepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivaled in our time.

As you probably know, I love Shakespeare and I've also been reading a few Bill Bryson books. I guess that makes a book about Shakespeare by Bryson a complete no-brainer. In fact, I have ten books sitting on my desk just begging to be read and, you guessed it, this was my first choice.

There is just something about Bryson's style that is very relaxing and enjoyable to read. You just sit back and take it easy with one of his books and before you know it several hours have passed by and you've polished off the entire book.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Bryson gives us a pretty good introduction to the study of Shakespeare. Actually, he spends a lot of time talking about what we don't know about Shakespeare, but that's okay. The various mysteries of Shakespeare's life are quite interesting in themselves.

My favourite part was Bryson's discussion of the common words that were introduced to the language by Shakespeare and I would have gladly read more about that topic as Bryson seems to have a very strong knowledge of the English language (which he explores in his other books). I also liked the final chapter which attempts to put to rest the authorship question. I, like Bryson, get a bit annoyed by people who suggest that Shakespeare did not write his plays. It's just nice to hear it in the common sense manner in which Bryson writes.

This book will appeal to Shakespeare students or enthusiasts and would be a good starting point for somebody planning to take a course in his work. It has also made me want to watch Shakespeare in Love again as Bryson mentions a lot of the people who lived at the time and many of them came to life as characters in the movie.

I believe that I saw a copy at Best Eastern at The Mall, so any of my lit students who are interested could check there if they like.

Also, I would like to tell you that I found several copies of Rome and Juliet (you know...one of the best films ever made) at a movie shop in Kiulap - the one that is tucked away in the courtyard near Hua Ho. It's $6, but it is so worth it!

I'm giving the book 3.5/5 stars. I just felt like I wanted more. Bryson clipped this one to around 200 pages and I really wanted to hear him tell a few more stories and explore his ideas and opinions on more topics. For example, in one paragraph he asked the reader to imagine how it felt to be one of the people in the crowd watching Shakespeare live and even seeing him acting in the play. I would have enjoyed it if he explored that sort of imaginative idea a bit more.


William S. said...

Hi there,

got your link from google shakespeare news thread. i too wanted more from Bryson. i also wrote a blog about it.


all the best,


Who is Mr. Jason? said...

Hi Will,

Thanks for the link. By the way, as a fellow Shakespeare lover you might be interested in the work of Canadian professor Ian Johnston who has published his ideas on the Internet: