The Blurb (from Goodreads): A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? Stephen Greenblatt brings us down to earth to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, could have become the world’s greatest playwright.
This book was recommended to me as the best of a multitude of books about Shakespeare, and so I delved into it with a great sense of expectation. The first thing I realised was that I know a lot less about Shakespeare than I thought I did. Which is perhaps unsurprising given that so little is known about the Bard’s life. I think, however, that Stephen Greenblatt expects his audience to know the sketchy outlines of Shakespeare’s life and also to be au fait with the arguments of contemporary scholarship about his life and work. So I had to go and do quite a bit of Googling here and there to understand the wider picture. From that point of view, it’s probably not the best book for the general public who are relying on vague memories from school.
Nonetheless, the book is brilliant at locating William Shakespeare within his milieu, and at examining certain events in his life – such as the death of his son Hamnet – and how that might have influenced his work. I know a great many scholars do not like examining the artistic output of someone in order to draw inferences about their personal life … but I believe that you cannot separate art and life. Everything that happens to us has an effect upon us, and of course that works its way into our creative output too (though not always in the way you might expect).
It’s quite a dense book, and the chapters are long, so it took me a while to work through Will in the World – but I think it’s well worth the effort.
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.