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Shakespeare: The World as Stage | [Bill Bryson]

Shakespeare: The World as Stage

William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colorful muddle to reveal the man himself.
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Publisher's Summary

William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colorful muddle to reveal the man himself.

Bryson documents the efforts of earlier scholars, from academics to eccentrics. Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker-like basement room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed.

Bryson celebrates Shakespeare as a writer of unimaginable talent and enormous inventiveness, a coiner of phrases ("vanish into thin air", "foregone conclusion", "one fell swoop") that even today have common currency. His Shakespeare is like no one else's: the beneficiary of Bryson's genial nature, his engaging skepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivaled in our time.

©2007 Bill Bryson; (P)2007 HarperCollins Publishers

What the Critics Say

"Bryson is a pleasant and funny guide to a subject at once overexposed and elusive." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (733 )
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  •  
    Charles L. Burkins Bridport, VT United States 11-30-07
    Charles L. Burkins Bridport, VT United States 11-30-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Too Little, Too Short"

    Bill Bryson's voice (both actual and literary) shine through in this short work, detailing what is known and knowable about William Shakespeare. Because little is known about Shakespeare, this book has less of the amusing anecdotes that make books like "In a Sunburned Country" such a delight. It's quite frustrating to realize that we know so little about a figure so important to English literature. Still it is an interesting exposition on an interesting man, or rather, what we expect is an interesting man. The audiobook it self is only a little over 5 hours long, but (as of November 2007) there is an interview with Bryson appended on end for another bit. I liked it, but then I expect that I would enjoy Bryson writing about asparagus. The chapter where he discusses the various theories about Shakespeare not actually writing the plays of Shakespeare is the best part; but there the book ends. In the end it is a barely satifying book because of the paucity of the material, but it is a book that is well written and narrated.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cather Cumberland, VA, United States 12-09-07
    Cather Cumberland, VA, United States 12-09-07 Member Since 2005
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    "Bryson does it again..."

    Bryson admits up front that we know practically nothing about Shakespeare, but proceeds to tell what we do know, and how we know it, about the Bard himself, London, and the theatre world at the time. And he does it in classic Bryson style, finding the humor in everything.

    And clearly, he's having fun reading it. He should... it's a fun book.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12

    mostly nonfiction listener

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    "Concise and Wonderful"

    The world, or at least my world, needs more high quality concise books. Bryson's new Shakespeare, from the Eminent Lives Series, is one of the genres better examples.

    The Modern Library Chronicles is another imprint with some excellent texts. To quote from their page:

    "Modern Library Chronicles feature the world's great historians on the world's great subjects. Lively, accessible, and brief (most under 150 pages), these authoritative short histories are designed to appeal to general readers as well as to students in the classroom".

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine Decatur, IL, United States 01-24-12
    Catherine Decatur, IL, United States 01-24-12 Member Since 2010

    60-year-old retired library worker, some college , married 30 years, husband retired railroad yardman. one son, 18 years old. God does have a sense of humor!

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    "Don't know much about Shakespeare"

    Bill Bryson talks as much about what we don't know about Shakespeare (or Shacksper or Shakspere, etc.) as what we do know. It is informative in a negative sort of way, with digressions on Shakespeare scholars, life and theater in the Elizabethan and Jacobian ages, and a bit about who else might have written the plays. I recommend it.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cathleen Chicago, IL, United States 03-22-09
    Cathleen Chicago, IL, United States 03-22-09

    Late middle-aged constant reader who greatly prefers Audible "reads" to radio. I love all books -- Audible, eReader and print editions.

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    "A Walk in the Forest Arden"

    My first exposure to Bill Bryson was A Walk in the Woods and I enjoy it still. Shakespeare is a different book -- more journalism than recollection, but it is extremely enjoyable and a good "listen" -- the chapters lend themselves to logical breaks, etc. And it is very amusing!

    All of the historical detail is fascinating, and makes one wonder how we ever got the folio version of the plays at all. Probably the most interesting part for me was the debunking of all the "He didn't write the plays" theories.

    Very enjoyable.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Crystal TEMPE, AZ, United States 02-24-13
    Crystal TEMPE, AZ, United States 02-24-13 Member Since 2008

    Listener of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Intrigue (not romance), Historical Fiction and very eclectic in her literary wanderings.

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    "Unexpected Findings in a Quality Bryson Book"

    There's not much that can shock me about Shakespeare theories. I have a BA in English Literature. I've read all the plays, sonnets, even the ones suspected to be by Shakespeare.

    It seemed an odd topic for beloved Bryson to tackle and I was curious about his angle on it. I was pleasantly surprised, "What do we really know about the bard?" he asks in the first chapter.

    This was a refreshing and lively investigation into what's real and what's dreamed about one man's life. Solid topics, using all types of research from court records to paintings, Bryson gives a new eye on an ages old mystery. In the process, we learn about how many things have simply been made up by well meaning researchers for the past four hundred years!

    I found myself wishing there was more. I loved it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andy Spooner Loveland, OH 07-25-09
    Andy Spooner Loveland, OH 07-25-09
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    "Very enjoyable in the typical Bryson style"

    This one is more in the historical vein of "Mother Tongue" or "Made in America" (as opposed to memoirs like "In a Sunburned Country" or "A Walk in the Woods"). Not as laugh-out-loud funny as his memoir-style books, but entertaining and fascinating, I thought.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jt Ipswich, MA, USA 03-11-08
    Jt Ipswich, MA, USA 03-11-08 Member Since 2007
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    "Well done!"

    A concise yet satisfying trip through the life of the Bard, excellently written and structured.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sean Andres 10-31-07
    Sean Andres 10-31-07
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    "To be avoided."

    Being a die hard Bryson fan, it's hard to imagine this book came from him. The pitcher has lost his arm but stayed on the mound! A fantastically dull book. This is the buy of the year if one is interested in reading all he could never want to know about what can never be known about Shakespeare. A true shame it has Bryson's name on it.

    26 of 43 people found this review helpful
  •  
    HRD Kansas City 01-13-14
    HRD Kansas City 01-13-14
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    "Quick and light bio of Shakespeare"
    If you could sum up Shakespeare in three words, what would they be?

    Light, educational, well-read.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    N/A


    Which scene was your favorite?

    N/A


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    Bill Bryson is a good reader. The book itself is more light a connection of Shakespeare trivia than a scholarly book, but it is entertaining enough.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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