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A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare:…
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A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599

by James Shapiro

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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
So, this book has been waiting on my shelves a long while for the receptive reading moment (you know how it is when you really, really know you are going to enjoy a book but the time has to be right). I have been growing increasingly fascinated by the idea of biography (see The Stranger’s Child and any early biography of Rupert Brooke), plus the ever-shifting emphasis on interpretation of works based on lives.
I was very impressed by Shapiro’s 1599 and this book, though tangential to the plays, is just as fascinating (he should stick to academia and book-writing though; he’s an unimpressive t.v. presenter with a headache-inducing voice). From the clever play on words of the title onwards, Shapiro writes refreshingly jargon-free readable prose as he presents the case for Shakespeare as the author of his plays, and describes the history of the various opposing theories and candidates. We see the growing need to identify the life with the work, to give to the Tudors modern sensibilities. Most of all, we see a refusal to accept that a glovemaker’s son could have the imagination to piece out his imperfections with his thought; a snobbish, patronising attitude that belittles the fine grammar-school education of the time and the passionate curiosity that continues lifelong self-education (indeed, one is led to think that Sir Derek et al. have had their brains abducted by aliens...and sadly, I have to include my beloved Henry James here). Shapiro describes how the Baconians and Oxfordians etc. had practically given up their ghosts in the late 50s, when, astonishingly, the anti-Wills suddenly gained academic credence and are apparently being taught in degree courses. It has also become acceptable in academic circles to read the life from the work, and i am now questioning my unquestioning acceptance of Greenblatt’s Will in the World and wonderful Michael Wood’s Shakespeare t.v. series, both of which interpreted Shakespeare in this way. Another point raised which I find uncomfortably close to home is that the obsession with literary lives stops us reading the actual works, or as Shapiro more elegantly – and topically in this year of the 50th anniversary of The Bell Jar -- puts it: ‘many literary biographies are supplanting the fictional works they are meant to illuminate, to the point where Ariel and The Bell Jar struggle to find a readership that books about Sylvia Plath’s marriage and suicide now command’. Later in the same chapter he makes another important point: ‘In the end, attempts to identify personal experiences will result only in acts of projection, revealing more about the biographer than about Shakespeare himself’. Shapiro makes telling points about our general growing scepticism and the belief in conspiracy theories leading to a readiness to imagine all sorts of bizarre ideas about various secret children of Elizabeth (if only the dates could be manipulated, as so many have been in the course of fitting Oxford and others to the playwright’s role, so that Shakespeare could have been one, farmed out to the glovemakers’ family!). An excellent, thoroughly-researched and absorbing piece of literary detective work. ( )
  Roseredlee | Jun 24, 2015 |
Highly recommended--sheds new light on the year 1599 and the consequences of social history, especially politics, in Shakespeare's works. Helpful in the classroom as well. ( )
  AlisonLea | Jan 10, 2015 |
I read James Shapiro's 1599 three hundred and six years after its subject, the year it came out. It is the best written book on Shakespeare I have read in decades, and since Shakespeare is only known because he wrote so well, Shapiro's is the the most Shakespearean book on Shakespeare. From the first page account of the deconstruction (no, not the French mind-game, but a carpentry event) of The Theater
at night to prepare for the construction of the Globe miles south and across the river, this book reads like gripping narrative in parts.
When I saw James Shapiro at the Shakespeare Association of America, he told me he had spent three years revising it. So here is an ideal model for scholars, one unlikely to be followed under the pressures for publication. Research and write for years, then revise for three more. ( )
1 vote AlanWPowers | Sep 23, 2012 |
Knockout. Explains how WS got the complexity of viewpoint into his writing; link between him as poet, dramatist, actor, businessman. Surprising amount of hard evidence of his activities which by implication knocks on the head the "other writer" nonsense. Also gives insight into the plays and the stresses of Late Elizabethan England. Lot of names and details but the reader is taken by the hand. ( )
1 vote vguy | May 16, 2012 |
i listened to this and the segments were about 12 minutes long. i stop listening about every 5 minutes. i have no pause and my machine starts at the beginning of each segment .
so this was a big problem and the book was hard to listen to and remember. ( )
  mahallett | Sep 21, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060088745, Paperback)

1599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England

Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen.

James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:44 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen. James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare's staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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