Kalliope Muse speaks to me

Emigrée from GR

Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Eminent Lives)

Shakespeare: The World as Stage - Bill Bryson If you wanted to know more about William Shakespeare, his life, his writings, his times…etc, you would have to embark in the reading of an endless amount of written material that would fill trucks and trucks. Alternatively, you could choose a more expedite path. If instead of rummaging through tons of printed paper one could find a capsule of uncorrupted and distilled Shakespeare, would you not pick this?And this is what Bill Bryson offers us with his book, Shakespeare The World as Stage.Why another biography on WS? Bryson himself says that the world does not need yet another biography but the series Eminent Lives by Harper-Collins did.And we are glad they did. They define this biography series according to Strachey’s stated objective of: “To preserve a becoming brevity which excludes everything that is redundant and nothing that is significant”.Bryson has then set himself to follow Strachey’s (and Harper-Collins) recommendation. He has strived “to see how much of WS we can know, really know, from the record”. In an almost investigative style and in a clear and dispassionate fashion, he presents to us in an orderly chronology the evidence that he has extracted. He also presents samples of the musings and multiple conjectures that have sprouted generously. But then, without much ado, dismisses them in a very elegant, and sometimes funny, way.So, his conclusion is that as so very little is known his book can be only 196 pages long. In reality there is some sugar and other flavors added to the capsule, for we can also taste quite a bit of extraneous material, such as Shakespeare’s times and places. We get to hear about urban development and palaces in London, about the state of its hygiene and health, about life expectancy and children death-rate, about the set-up of schools and academic curricula, about the making of books and theatrical practices, and about the functioning of the legal system, etc.For a better assimilation of the capsule, Bryson needs to correct our modern expectations, and remind us that to know so little about a sixteenth century craftsman is nothing out of the ordinary. Most of the material from the sixteenth century has been lost. What is most miraculous about surviving in Shakespeare is that, given the frightful odds, he withstood childhood and got to be an adult. Bryson insists on the very exceptional situation that so much of his works have survived, and this is thanks to the initiative of two of WS’s friends and colleagues, Henry Condell and John Heminges, who decided to publish the First Folio posthumously.The parts I enjoyed most were the discussion on the various remaining First Folios, and particularly the last chapter, the one on the Claimants. All success stories invite detractors. These come across as really foolish.We should be glad that Harper-Collins chose Bryson, whose writing style, so very limpid and fluid and clear, is entirely suitable for the making of this capsule.But of course, the capsule has not entirely satisfied my appetite. My curiosity has now been awoken and it will continue to sniff around the World and Stage of William Shakespeare.

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