Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

Another present from my husband. He was thinking of getting me this for Christmas but didn’t get around to it. He asked me if I’d like it, and I answered, confidently and cheerfully, that “I like anything by Bill Bryson my dear”. This is Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare, and he makes a point of telling us in the introduction that it’s a slim volume because he’s stuck to the facts, and there just aren’t that many of those. It’s an interesting and mildly humorous summary of what we really can claim to know about Shakespeare’s life, and towards the end a mildly sardonic debunking of the people who claim that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, someone else did. Bryson’s stance, incidentally, is that there is not a shred of evidence to support that idea. I think that this book is an excellent introduction to the subject. It’s short and easy to read, and discards a lot of myths surrounding the bard. However I’m always a little wary when someone who is not a professional scholar writes a book like this one. Can I be sure that his or her research is sound? Oh the anguish the anguish. Apart from that huge, fundamental query I have a few minor quibbles: one is that Bryson early in the book mentions the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s plays, the First Folio, yet it’s not until somewhere towards the end, when we’ve reached that point in time when the collection is assembled, that there’s a footnote explaining what a folio is. In my opinion that could have been stuck in a little sooner. Also I found it a little hard to read about an author who is all but invisible in history except for his works without actually having more of the works in the text, if you see what I mean. Possibly this biography then is best read to supplement a study of Shakespeare’s works. Anyway, I’m glad to have it. It may well come in handy in a few years if my daughters read Shakespeare at school.

I've worked two nights now but it's hard to read actually if you have to hold conversations with your colleague. This must be resolved somehow.

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