Will o' the Wisp Aug 20, 2007
Anyone loving English must stand in atremble before Shakespeare, a man not Oxford educated or born wealthy and privileged. Instead, Great Will had the unheralded luck of being born to times of linguistic, religious and social ferment. Stephen Greenblatt does a great turn by loosening his ivy-league imagination on the subject of the circumstances that likely formed Ye Bard.
Isn't it rich? Although we have Shakespeare's astounding plays and sonnets, we know lamentably little of his actual doings, comings and goings. How indeed did a glover's son make a living as would-be gentleman and produce a body of work that stands immortal, both in English and across the world? Why is it that we reference a man so little known to us biographically instead of Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson or the flamboyant Christopher Marlowe?
Mr. Greenblatt recreates the boisterous Elizabethan stew that produced such a delectation as "Will in the World." Perhaps Will o' the Wisp is the applicable metaphor. The author stitches a highly informed patchwork of educated surmises that detract not a whit from the wonderment of a singular Shakespeare. Will in the World reminds us that in the right hands, an imagination unloosed is boon to us all.
The mystery surrounding Will in his world adds to the concomitant wonderment of the Complete Works. The book is gloriously insightful, well ordered and does not pander. Chances are, even if the reader isn't a Shakespearean, he will find much of Hamlet and Lear, Ophelia and Desdemona preexistent in his subconscious waiting to be entreated. Shakespeare is simply that vital to our language and culture: we know him without knowing him.
The spell induced by Will in the World gaves this reader proximity to Shakespeare and his times, leaving the Bard's plain and magnificent humanity wholly accessible. The only response upon closing the book is to marvel willy-nilly, at the manifestation of genius.
(After reading Will in the World, do a friend, a student, a poet or player a favor: pass it on.)