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Publisher's Summary

Award-winning author Stephen Greenblatt is one of the most influential literary thinkers in the world. An acclaimed interpreter of Shakespeare's works, his ideas have changed the way countless people approach the classics. Now Greenblatt's uniquely brilliant voice delivers a magnificent biography of the Bard himself.

It is impossible to have any understanding of literature and not be familiar with William Shakepeare. He has influenced Western culture more than any other author. But how were Shakespeare's remarkable accomplishments even possible? How could a man without wealth, connections, or a university education move to London and quickly become the greatest playwright of all time? In this emerging narrative, Elizabethan England is reawakened, and we at last understand how Shakespeare became a legendary figure.

Don't miss Stephen Greenblatt talking about his book at the 2005 New York Times TimesTalk event, The Enigma of Shakespeare.
©2004 Stephen Greenblatt (P)2004 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

"This wonderful study, built on a lifetime's scholarship and a profound ability to perceive the life within the texts, creates as vivid and full portrait of Shakespeare as we are likely ever to have." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Timothy
  • Burlington, Ontario, Canada
  • 04-06-07

For Fans of History and Language

I took a chance on this book because, in spite of studying three or four of his plays in high school, I knew almost nothing about Shakespeare or his world. The author's depiction of the social, political and cultural landscape of Elizabethan England may be highly speculative as other reviewers have noted, but I found it interesting and credible. The notion that 15th century political elites were paranoid about the entertaiment industry shows that some things never change. It's easy to picture Shakespeare walking the fine line between political correctness and wicked satire.
The book is beautifully written and read. It's a little deep in places but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Outstanding book-on-tape

This book is outstanding from all key perspectives: it is well-narrated, it is well-written & organized, & it is a compelling piece of historical writing. I am confused by an earlier reviewer's idea that this is a degraded "politically correct" piece of work. I don't see that anywhere in the work. Clearly the author has sought to reconstruct Shakespeare's life & thought through the plays themselves & through historical works about the times in which he lived (historical works where he does not appear), & that is necessary since the track he left to us, 100s of years later, is 99.9% from his plays. But any reader of current literary biography knows that most of what appears in a great writer's work is semi-autobiographical, so there is no crime in speculating from the work-to-the-life. The author makes frequent use of caveats, so there is no attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. And their use enriches the work, it does not detract from it. One of the best books I've gotten from Audible.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Oswald
  • Newark, N/A, Germany
  • 10-24-04


One of the very best audiobooks I know. Very informative and well performed. You need, however, a real interest in Shakespeare's plays.
Vanceltic's review is nonsense. I don't like PC professors either. There is nothing of that in this book, however. Just well informed and well written background information.

31 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Stephen
  • Calistoga, CA, USA
  • 01-09-05

Will in the World

Although this is a "high dive" in that the paucity of information makes speculation inevitable, Greenblatt does an excellent job in bringing together what is known about Shakespeare and Elizabethan society to deepen our understanding of the political, religious, social and economic factors that must have influenced him. While "must have" and "might" reoccur often, on the whole the interpretion is sensible and practical. The PC charge is off the wall. This fellow must have been reading another book.

17 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good background information

You have to like reading about the historical environment surrounding creative works to enjoy this book. If you've ever wondered about Wm Shakespeare as a person you will like the detailed information in this book about his family, education and personal life. I don't understand how anyone could complain that this book is warped by political correctness. It simply pursues theories and possibilities about the poet and author. Of course some judgment was applied. The author admits frequently that the record is incomplete. It is well worth the read if you enjoy history.

31 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Flawed biography

Greenblatt is one of the prime movers behind the Norton Shakespeare, my favorite edition of the plays, and I really wanted to like this book. As a discussion of Shakespeare in general, it's well-written, imaginative, and insightful. (It's also very well narrated by Peter Jay Fernandez.) But as a biography, it's deeply flawed.

Greenblatt gives gobs of space to poorly-documented and (sometimes totally) speculative aspects of Shakespeare's life. For example, many pages are given over to an imaginary late-night "bull session" between the young Shakespeare and a Catholic priest in Lancashire. The speculation is entertaining, but it's based on little more than a similarity in names: there was a William Shakeshaft in Lancashire at the time. Could Shakeshaft have been the young Shakespeare? Maybe, but he's more likely to be a relative of one of the many Shakeshafts who were also living in Lancashire.

Similarly, we're treated to many pages describing Shakespeare's supposedly awful marriage (pure speculation) and his close personal (and possibly sexual) relationship with the Earl of Southampton (even more speculative, this time without even a second-best bed as justification).

The problem is that these fantasias come at the expense of some aspects of Shakespeare's life for which there is substantially more documentation. As the most glaring example, consider Shakespeare's involvement with the Mountjoy family in the early 1600s: there are pages and pages of depositions, one of them from Shakespeare himself, others from people quoting Shakespeare's conversation. Charles Nicholl wrote a whole book on the subject ("The Lodger," available elsewhere on Audible). Greenblatt never even mentions it.

There's a lack of balance here. You want to speculate? Fine. But don't do it at the expense of well-grounded, contextualized, basic facts about your subject's daily life.

19 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good reading and good Shakespeare insights

Even though I found some of the author's reasoning a push, and, although some of his conclusions smack of wishful thinking (we would all like the world's greatest author to be the world's greatest dad), the information was useful and well presented. The book never lapses into acedemic rhetoric. Greenblatt doesn't hit you over the head with his vocabulary or assume that you are a scholar before you read this book. If you are interested in Shakespeare, you will be interested in this story. If the hero hadn't written Hamlet, no one would care if his wife was illiterate.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

One of the Best Biographies of the Bard

As a conectural biography this is really pretty good. The author summarizes what is known about Shakespeare and then uses lines from the plays to speculate about what he may have been like socially, religously and politcally. The author also gives a detailed snapshot of the Elizabethian era. This book makes me want to explore Elizabethian and Jacobean drama and biography in more depth.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story


I loved this book! I wish it were twice as long. Though I know some of Shakespeare's work very well, through repeated reading, viewing and an excellent college class, I knew very little about the world in which he lived. To be honest, the movie "Shakespeare in Love" was my primary source of information, and I realize it might not be up to the strictest academic standards. Greenblatt's book was fascinating, comprehensive and just a delight. The book has been criticized for being speculative. Unfortunately, the amount that is known for sure about Shakespere's life is limited, and at this late date we are not likely to uncover more. Should we just stop there and say, that's it, too bad? Researchers in many fields-- paleontology, archaeology, astronomy, etc.-- put together clues and try to develop theories. In some cases they can hope for new evidence to confirm or disprove. In others we have to be satisfied with a degree of uncertainty. I think what Greenblatt presents regarding events and conditions in Shakespeare's day is interesting in itself and readers can decide for themselves how much to believe about the possible effects on his life and work. This book was really enhanced in the audio edition because the narrator acted all the quotations from the plays and other documents with his voice.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Just as good the third time

I've heard this three time now. The last time was after Anonymous came out because I couldn't see how anyone could think that Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare. I still can't.

This may be may favorite book on Shakespeare. This book covers how young Shakespeare became the Barb. The detail is amazing and the narration is outstanding.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful