WILL IN THE WORLD: HOW SHAKESPEARE BECAME SHAKESPEARE by Stephen Greenblatt

It is difficult to imagine this being topped. Unless new information about Shakespeare comes to light, this will probably remain the definitive biography. Considering all the nonsense that comes up when Shakespeare is discussed, it is so refreshing to read a true scholar of the era calmly explain the nature of the world Shakespeare inhabited. The sections on the theater of Shakespeare’s time and on the group of contemporary writers (such as Christopher Marlowe, George Peele and Robert Greene) Shakespeare associated with are off the charts. He is also good at explaining the tortuous political, religious and economic events that Shakespeare would have experienced. Greenblatt is also a fine writer, clear and lively but also detailed and scholarly. Non-specialist readers will have no trouble following him while those experienced with Shakespeare and his age will never feel talked down to. Many have castigated Greenblatt for being too speculative. It’s true, he does indulge in quite a bit of conjecture. To me, this seems unavoidable considering the gaps in our knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and times. For the most part, Greenblatt’s conjectures are brief and eminently plausible. In one instance, when writing on Shakespeare’s possible relationship to Roman Catholic rebels against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, he seems to me to go over the top. However, Greenblatt is always totally honest about his speculation and provides alternative possibilities. He seemed to structure his book so the reader could practically ignore his conjectures without missing out on the heart of what he is trying to say. This is a masterpiece of scholarship that is also a vivid, wonderfully written biography. By the way, anyone who reads this book and STILL buys any of that anti-Stratfordian dreck is truly blind! 

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