As a very impressionable college student, I fell instantly in love with literature and the insights I gained from various authors' perspectives--Jane Austen, Eudora Welty, Chaucer to name a few. However, when I first learned that "all the world's a stage," I was especially intrigued by William Shakespeare and his innate ability to see inside the human soul.
In college, I took a course solely devoted to studying Shakespeare's plays. I spent many late nights, disheveled and tired, listening to and reading "Much Ado About Nothing," "As You Like It," "Hamlet," "MacBeth," and "Romeo and Juliet" over and over again, until my eyes stung. So once I saw Bill Bryson's book on the shelf, I had an epiphany: I really don't know Shakespeare at all! After devoting time to reading, discussing, listening (thank goodness for CD Books!) and writing about his works, I really don't know anything about the playwright himself! How can this be?! But, after reading Bryson's biography of Shakespeare, I was relieved when I learned no one really does.
In Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson sets out to uncover what we really know about Shakespeare, and actually proves that much of what we think we know about Shakespeare is mere speculation. Furthermore, he discusses how conjectures often turn into "facts" due to the insatiable need to know more about the elusive character of the famous playwright. Bryson stresses how "there is nothing--not a scrap, not a mote--that gives any certain insight into Shakespeare's feelings or beliefs as a private person." Yet, we know that Shakespeare used 138,198 commas, 26,794 colons and 15,785 question marks in his works.
With little known facts about Shakespeare, Bryson does an excellent job of transporting the reader to the Elizabethan era and society: the monarchy, the social conventions, the food, the politics, and much more. For example, in sixteenth-century England, the threat of plague outbreaks--and various other diseases--were consistently a reality for the populace. If an Elizabethan did survive the plague, a similar, yet much more gruesome, fate was often realized by one accused of treason (You'll have to read the book to find out). Also, did you know that Elizabethans thought black teeth were fashionable?
I have always been a Bill Bryson fan, and I have always loved his clever approach to ordinary topics, such as walking the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in The Woods and the home in At Home: A Short History of Private Life. I promise this book will not disappoint, especially if you have always been curious about the life of William Shakespeare. If you are interested in learning more about William Shakespeare or another influential person, Cecil County Public Library has an excellent selection of biographies, ready for you to check out.
Recommended by Kristin Tidaback