The theatre for which Shakespeare wrote and acted was a cut-throat commercial entertainment industry. Yet his plays were also intensely alert to the social and political realities of their times. Shakespeare had to make concessions to the commercial world, for the theatre company in which he was a shareholder had to draw some 1,500 to 2,000 paying ...
The theatre for which Shakespeare wrote and acted was a cut-throat commercial entertainment industry. Yet his plays were also intensely alert to the social and political realities of their times. Shakespeare had to make concessions to the commercial world, for the theatre company in which he was a shareholder had to draw some 1,500 to 2,000 paying customers a day into the round wooden walls of the playhouse to stay afloat and competition from rival companies was fierce. The key was not so much topicality - with government censorship and with repertory companies recycling the same scripts for years. Instead, Shakespeare had to engage with the deepest desires and fears of his audience. Will in the World is about an amazing success story that has resisted explanation: it aims to be the first fully satisfying account of Shakespeare's character and the blossoming of his talent. There have, of course, been many biographies of Shakespeare. The problem each one faces is the thin amount of material surrounding his life. They lead us through the available traces but leave us no closer to understanding how the playwright's astonishing achievements came about. The real-world sources of Shakespeare's language - of his fantasies, passions, fears, and desires - lie outside the scope of these earlier books. Will in the World will set out to recover the links between Shakespeare and his world and with them to construct a full and vital portrait of the man. Its purpose is to know the magician himself, as well as his magic tricks, and to experience the touch of the real. It is a journey that centres on the perils and pleasures of Shakespeare's unfolding imaginative generosity - his ability to enter into others, to confer upon them his own strength of spirit, to make them live and breathe as independent beings as no other artist who ever lived has done.
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If you read the accolades of the research and writing of Stephen Greenblatt's 'Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare', they pretty much tell it all. If you love to read Shakespeare, go to the plays, and enjoy the seemingly timelessness of the themes, then you must read this deeply researched and insightful masterpiece.
Jul 4, 2009
Interesting and thorough new-age criticism
Greenblatt does well explaining how Shakespeare's known and possible past could have shaped success in an easy to read style. Essentially, the title tells you exactly what the book is about.
One critique of this book is my dislike of Greenblatt's long-winded side tracks. Yes, they were interesting and informative, but did not tell me much about Shakespeare. Another pet peeve has to do more with the type of criticism than anything else: sometimes fiction is just fiction. Just because a character in a Shakespearean play somewhat resembles someone alive during Shakespeare's time, does not necessarily mean that they knew each other or that the character is a "dig" on the real life person. Greenblatt gave this comparison between 1 & 2 Henry IV's Falstaff, and drunken playwright Greene.
I am glad I read this book. Knowing how life in London was in Shakespeare's time will help me better understand elements of the plays. Other than being long-winded, I find that Greenblatt did well with this book.
Aug 20, 2007
Will o' the Wisp
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.)
Publishers Weekly, 2004-07-19 This much-awaited new biography of the elusive Bard is brilliant in conception, often superb in execution, but sometimes-perhaps inevitably-disappointing in its degree of speculativeness. Bardolators may take this last for granted, but curious lay readers seeking a fully cohesive and convincing life may at times feel the accumulation of "may haves," "might haves" and "could haves" make it difficult to suspend disbelief. Greenblatt's espousing, for instance, of the theory that Shakespeare's "lost" years before arriving in London were spent in Lancashire leads to suppositions that he might have met the Catholic subversive Edmund Campion, and how that might have affected him-and it all rests on one factoid: the bequeathing by a nobleman of some player's items to a William Shakeshafte, who may, plausibly, have been the young Shakespeare. Nevertheless, Norton Shakespeare general editor and New Historicist Greenblatt succeed impressively in locating the man in both his greatest works and the turbulent world in which he lived. With a blend of biography, literary interpretation and history, Greenblatt persuasively analyzes William's father's rise and fall as a public figure in Stratford, which pulled him in both Protestant and Catholic directions and made his eldest son "a master of double consciousness." In a virtuoso display of historical and literary criticism, Greenblatt contrasts Christopher Marlowe's Jew of Malta, Elizabeth's unfortunate Sephardic physician-who was executed for conspiracy-and Shakespeare's ambiguous villain Shylock. This wonderful study, built on a lifetime's scholarship and a profound ability to perceive the life within the texts, creates as vivid and full portrait of Shakespeare as we are likely ever to have. 16 pages color illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Jill Kneerim. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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