I work in the theatre industry and am quite partial to a bit of Shakespeare, so this seemed like a good choice for my first non-fiction book of the year.
The first chapter was mainly about how little is actually known for certain about Shakespeare, and while it was amusing enough, I did worry about how the book would unfold with so few facts. However, I shouldn’t have worried, because the book was so much more than a collection of facts about Shakespeare.
Bryson does bring together some of the things that are known about Shakespeare that historians and fanatics have found over the centuries from surviving records, along with more ideas that are little more than theories. But he adds great detail about the period in history with some real gems of information about Elizabethan and Jacobian society and theatre in particular. This is all presented with Bryson’s usual humour with which readers of his previous work will be familiar.
As well as learning a lot about that period, I enjoyed the parts about the words and phrases that Shakespeare introduced to the English language, and the final chapter “Claimants” which looks at (and dismisses) the various theories about who else may have wrote Shakespeare’s plays. The only weak point in the book was the section on the various folio and quarto editions of the plays, which was essential to a comprehensive survey on Shakespeare but just not as entertaining as the rest of the book.
Overall a great read and highly recommended especially to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare, history or the English language.