Becoming Shakespeare begins with his death in 1616 and relates the fascinating story of his unlikely transformation from provincial playwright to universal Bard. Unlike later literary giants, Shakespeare created no stir when he died. Though he'd once had a string of hit plays, he had been retired in the country for six years, and only his family, friends, and business partners seemed to care that he was gone. Within a few years he was nearly forgotten. And when London's theaters were shut down in 1642, he seemed destined for oblivion. With the Restoration in 1660, though, the theaters were open once again, and Shakespeare began his long ascent: No longer merely one playwright among many, he became the transcendent genius at the heart of English culture.
Fifty years after the Restoration scholars began taking him seriously. Fifty years after that he was considered England's greatest genius. And by 1800 he was practically divine. Jack Lynch vividly chronicles Shakespeare's afterlife from the revival of his plays to the decades when his work was co-opted and improved by politicians and other playwrights, and culminating with the Bardolatry of the Stratford celebration of Shakespeare's 300th birthday in 1864. Becoming Shakespeare is not only essential reading for anyone intrigued by Shakespeare, but it also offers a consideration of the vagaries of fame.
I'm not sure what I expected from this work, but I am an enthusiastic fan of nearly all things Shakespeare, so I thought I'd try it. It isn't a bad listen, but it's not really much about Shakespeare. The narrator is wonderful, and there are some interesting bits about various actors through the centuries and how different audiences relate to the Bard. Generally, though, I could take or leave this one. There are many more interesting books about Shakespeare and his life and times. If you want something introductory, for example, try a short biography by Bill Bryson.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
You don't need to know the plays and sonnets to enjoy this unusual book. There was little said about Shakespeare for several years after his death. Had his friends not published the first folio of his works seven years after his death, Shakespeare might still be little known. Becoming Shakespeare explains how the son of a glove maker became a superstar and the most loved author in English literature.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Becoming Shakespeare the most enjoyable?
This is solid history and solid literary criticism made into entertainment. It's how small minds and great minds, plus the accidents of history propelled greatness into human consciousness.
If you have any literary curiosity, if you've studied some Shakespeare along the way, if you wonder if Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and whether that matters, read this book. It's both fun and interesting.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I love historical books like this one, and the subject of Shakespeare seems particularly interesting to me. Time and circumstances work strange magic on many things and people, but on literature and literary masters, it can make a person a legend or a truly forgettable character. For Shakespeare, the circumstances and the passage of time are what created him and made him a most memorable literary and historical figure. Although successful and well known in his own time, he did not become The Bard until well after his death, much like Bach, who in many people's estimation is the greatest of composers, but who was not widely celebrated until many years after his death. Funny how that happens.
This was a very interesting book and I just might get around to reading/listening to it again sometime.
2 of 4 people found this review helpful