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Editorial Reviews

James Shapiro's blunt American tones sound raw compared to the elegant enunciations of most Shakespeare recordings, but he conveys better than anyone the vigor, bustle, and commercial necessity of so much of Shakespeare's life and work. Focusing on a single productive year, a dramatic one in English history, Shapiro has the advantage of a cohesive narrative, something missing in most Shakespeare biographies. This tight abridgment mixes critical analysis, political and stage history, and Shapiro's own wonderful narrations from Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet, accompanied by a selection of scenes from their stage productions. Of these, Shapiro's narrations, if not the most dulcet, remain the most persuasive and satisfying.

Publisher's Summary

How did Shakespeare go from being a talented poet and playwright to becoming one of the greatest writers who ever lived? In this one exhilarating year we follow what he reads and writes, what he sees, and who he works with as he invests in the new Globe Theatre and creates four of his most famous plays: Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet.

James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare's staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599: sending off an army to crush an Irish rebellion; weathering an Armada threat from Spain; gambling on a fledgling East India Company; and waiting to see who will succeed their aging and childless Queen.

This book brings the news and intrigue of the times together with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.

This audio includes a selection of scenes from Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet featuring performances by Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, and many more.

©2005 James Shapiro; (P)2005 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Shapiro's shrewd discussion of what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest play, particularly its multiple versions, rounds out this accessible yet erudite work." (Publishers Weekly)
"Quite brilliant....It gives a whole large picture of his life, times, and achievement. Wonderful." (Andrew Motion)

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  • Overall

If you love Shakespeare will love this book. Shapiro looks at Shakespeare through a new lens and focuses his and our attention on his most creatively productive year. He helps us understand what shaped the man who wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Hamlet in one amazing burst of energy.
This is a fresh and refreshing look at both the four plays and the man and his times. I reccommend this listen for anyone who loves the Bard and/or anyone who loves these four plays. The 45 minutes of excerpts from these plays by the great actors is a nice bonus at the end.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Note!--Abridged version

What would have made A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare better?

It's all my fault for not noticing--but this is a much abridged version on audio. The reading--even though performed well (and presumably cut) by the author himself--leaves out most of the more fascinating parts of the superb book. So, I'd say this is one to do that old-fashioned thing with--read it!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


A terrific look at a pivotal year in Shakespeare's life: 1599. The year he wrote four key plays: Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. Shapiro does a wonderful job of placing Shakespeare in his historical context, with the construction of the Globe Theatre, the rebellion of Essex after the Ireland campaign, and the aging Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare leapt forward in artistic creativity and in terms of pushing out the boundaries of dramatic writing.

Shapiro does an excellent job in narrating his own book. The last 45 minutes of the recording are key passages from the four plays discussed in the text.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Exellent, helps one to see the context

I have read another book by this author. It is probably a good thing this one was abridged, given the author's tendency to long-windedness. This book was facinating, laying out the works of WS from 1599 in the context of the time.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful