To most people with an interesting in English literature or history (like me) Shakespeare is one of those inherently fascinating historic figures. His work is so endlessly influential, and there’s so much speculation about his life and inspirations. This biography of the man gives us everything that is definitively known, which is relatively little (but still intriguing enough).
Bill Bryson paints a colourful image of Shakespeare and the world in which he lived. At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that huge swathes of his life lie in complete mystery. Though what is known is enough to paint a rough picture of his background, how he might have developed an interest in the theatre, and then how his life unfolded in London. Without embellishing things too much, he manages to make it all seem very alluring – and I particularly liked a bit where he speculates about how it might have felt to be in the audience for the first performance of Hamlet, for example.
Outside of laying down the rough structure of Shakespeare’s life, he also looks into areas that have been the subject of much debate and theorising. For example, the subject of Shakespeare’s sexuality and why some people think that he may have had romantic or sexual relationships with at least one man, and also why some people think that Shakespeare may not have actually written his plays – it turns out, in the latter case, that it’s pretty much based on nothing but, potentially, classism, but even then it’s not clear why the theories are so widespread, when they’re based on practically no evidence.
As someone who had only a general knowledge of Shakespeare’s writing, but knew next to nothing about his life, I found this book to be engaging and informative. Perhaps if you’re already an expert, it won’t seem so interesting, but I think it was a fantastic introduction to the man’s life written in a charming and occasionally even humorous way. If you’re even a little interested in Shakespeare, I definitely recommend it.