Tuesday 31 January 2012

Shakespeare - Bill Bryson

Bryson doesn't pretend to be writing a complete biography of the Bard here. Instead he goes through all the myths and conspiracy theories surrounding the author and clears them up. In between he does reveal some facts that we do know about Shakespeare.

I have to be honest that I am pretty much a clean slate when it comes to Shakespeare. Until now I had no interest to learn more about the man behind those wonderful plays. I had of course heard of all the conspiracies surrounding him. Is he a man or a woman? Is he really Sir Francis Bacon? Did he steal the plays from others? I had no interest in reading into all those theories and simply washed them from my mind with a shake of the head. Shakespeare was simply Shakespeare. The man who has tortured school kids for decades. Having said that I obviously had some interest in his plays otherwise I wouldn't have taken part in the challenge. I think though that my ignorance was a good thing as it meant I could read this book with out having believed all those rumours surrounding Shakespeare.

The only image I did find it difficult to get out of my head was the Doctor Who version of Shakespeare. When Bryson mentions the bards exotic dark ladies in his plays and the dedicated sonnets to a dark lady I just kept thinking, bet that was Martha. Then when he mentioned the theory behind the play "Love's Labour's Won" I was again thinking of Doctor Who and that episodes story behind it (don't worry I am well aware that Dr Who is a fiction, it just amused me).

The entire book was very interesting. Lots of little fact about the man and it surprised me just how little we know about him. Something that Bryson says really isn't that unusual. He says that there were lots of play-writes back then and we are lucky to have the plays by Shakespeare that we do have. Imagine if his two friends had not created that first folio of his work? The part that entertained me was the small section on language. I knew Shakespeare had contributed a lot of words and sayings to our language but didn't realise how much. Astounding considering that English was relatively new back then and Latin was still the preferred choice. Words like "horrid" and "excellent". Also, sayings such as "vanish into thin air" and "with bated breath". These are just a few examples but it makes you realise just how grateful our authors of today should be to the Bard.

I don't feel the need to know every detail of Shakespeare's life. I know for some it is an obsession (one that Bryson claims has led to a lot of conjecture). I am happy with the little information the author was able to provide. However, I am not saying I won't read other biographies. I am more interested in reading other authors views on him and on his language. I think this is a fantastic book for any fan of Shakespeare. I also think though it's perfect for people like myself who managed to walk through life picking up very little.

I read this as part of Shakespeare Month 2012 hosted by Allie of A Literary Odyssey. The deadline has been extended to 10th of February but I am going to stick to the first one which is today. I don't want to sicken myself on him and not want to read more later. I will be open to joining another challenge later on if someone were to start it up. If you are interested in reading what others have to say you can see links to their posts here. I also read it for the Mixing It Up Challenge 2012 hosted by Ellie of Musings of a Bookshop Girl. This was for the biography category. Oh, and if you are interest (and why wouldn't you be) the Doctor Who episode I was talking about is called "The Shakespeare Code" and you can read more about it on the BBC website here.


  1. Dude, I am NOT a big Shakespeare fan, so this month has been relative torture for me (meaning torture akin to a slight amount of tickling, so not a lot), but then I was like "DOCTOR WHO PICTURE."

    Enough people have been reading and enjoying Bryson's book that I think I'm gonna check it out. And bonus points for Martha Jones thoughts.

    1. Lol, Shakespeare month will soon be over and that was my last post on it. I might do an overview later on but for now I'm done.

      Hee hee, I just couldn't get it out of my head. Every time the book mentioned The Globe (which was a lot) I would be thinking of the Doctor and Martha up on that stage. Not a bad thing to have stuck in your head mind you.