Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shakespeare again

I've just finished Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare, which I only started Tuesday morning and didn't read at all yesterday. It's been lovely to spend most of the afternoon and evening just reading.

I read Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue last summer, and found it vastly entertaining. Shakespeare is similarly entertaining and full of facts I feel compelled to relate to people. For example, considering this astounding statistic: in the year of William Shakespeare's birth (1564), the infant mortality rate was at nearly two-thirds. We're lucky Shakespeare wasn't one of them.

The main theme of the book is to keep it relentlessly factual. Bryson constantly points out how little evidence there is related to Shakespeare, and uses the length of the book as illustration to this--he is only able to fill 196 pages. And that's with relating the various myths and conjecture about Shakespeare's life, and then showing how unprovable they are. The book also spends time relating circumstances of Shakespeare's England, all of which adds greatly to appreciation of Shakespeare's life and achievements. There is a chapter devoted to discussion of the "real" Shakespeare, and the history behind the odd but persistent assertion that somebody else wrote Shakespeare's plays.

So if you feel you ought to know more about Shakespeare, this is an excellent book to read, as it is short, interesting, and usefully skeptical.

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