HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Big news! LibraryThing is now free to all! Read the blog post and discuss the change on Talk.
dismiss
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (2004)

by Stephen Greenblatt

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,877523,323 (3.9)108
The basic biographical facts of Shakespeare's life have been known for over a century, but now Stephen Greenblatt shows how this particular life history gave rise to the world's greatest writer.
Recently added byjrsiii50, private library, colortheory, Buchvogel, ChadEHarris, kerryp, Hvidraven, Dmgarland
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 108 mentions

English (49)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
I don't necessarily agree with all of Greenblatt's arguments, but he creates here a worthy portrait and discussion to add to the vast database of information and theories on Shakespeare's life and times. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
hard going
  AbneyLibri | Mar 14, 2020 |
OH WHAT A LOVELY BARD.

[Will in the World] - Stephen Greenblatt
[The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare] - Emma Smith
[Shakespeare's Language, Frank Kermode] - Frank Kermode.

Three books that might serve as an introduction to Shakespeare. All of them written with the general reader in mind, but all of them in my opinion would expect the reader to have some familiarity with the plays and the poetry.

[Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare] - Stephen Greenblatt
This seems to be one of the most popular books on Shakespeare with 2,768 people owning a copy and fifty reviews on Librarything. The preface to the book states that it aims to discover the actual person who wrote the most important body of imaginative literature of the last thousand years. This is a difficult task as there are no surviving contemporary biographies and as far as we know Shakespeare never wrote anything about himself. There are business transactions, there are playbills in which he is named, some petty legal affidavits, a marriage license, property transactions and a last will and testament, but nothing personal to the man. In addition to this there are a number of lost years especially in his youth when we know nothing about him at all. So what is there to write about? How do you fill up a book of 400 pages? Well! you do what other biographers have attempted in the past you mine the plays and the poetry for information, putting this in context with what is known about the milieu in which Shakespeare lived and worked.

One might think that the famous sonnet sequence might provide some information, but it would appear that Shakespeare did his best to keep his secrets even when he was writing sonnets about love. Shakespeare does not name the youth who he is encouraging to start a family, he does not tell us the name of the young man to whom he addresses the love sonnets or the dark lady to whom other sonnets are addressed, we might think that he kept these secrets on purpose. There are no authorial interventions in the plays giving us his personal viewpoint and precious few references to him that might give an inkling to his character by his contemporaries. All this means that attempts to discover the actual person must be pure conjecture and that is the problem with the aims of this book: the reader loses sight of the man himself, this is not to say that Greenblatt loses sight of his quarry, this is not the case at all, he writes endlessly on what he might have done, where he might have been and what he might have thought, but it is at the end of the day just educated guesswork.

The book does examine in some detail the relatively few facts that we know about Shakespeare, and more to the point it provides a contextual background to the protagonist. Greenblatt describes the world of the Elizabethan theatre, he describes the society, he fills in bits of history; all the time thinking about how these thing may have impacted on Shakespeare. He searches through the plays to find references to events that may have shaped the plots, the dialogue and the speeches of the characters. In particular he looks for events or incidents that Shakespeare may have witnessed and how they might have influenced what he wrote down for his characters to say in the play, but there is nothing very specific. An example is the burial of his son Hamnet in 1596 at Stratford-upon-avon. Greenblatt assumes that Shakespeare attended the burial and assumes that he was so deeply affected, that when he came to write his play Hamlet in 1601 the name of the central character so like the name of his son encouraged him to write with a new inward expressiveness. Critics do see Hamlet as a kind of turning point in the oeuvre, the play where Shakespeare began to illustrate the inner thoughts of his characters by their speeches and their actions and Greenblatt may be correct in his assumption but equally he could be way off the mark.

There are just too many 'what if' moments. What if Shakespeare was a closet catholic like his father may well have been, could he in those missing years between being resident in Stratford-upon-Avon and turning up as an actor in London have been a tutor in the north of the country, and if so could he have met with, or come under the spell of the Jesuit Edmund Campion who was preaching to the faithful in Lancashire in 1580-1. Would he then have been shocked and scared by the savage executions of Campion and his followers. There is not the slightest evidence for any of this, it is just pure conjecture and Greenblatt tells us so, but after erecting these edifices the reader could get the impression that Shakespeare was a man who may have been troubled with questions of faith.

The big plus in reading the book is that Greenblatt paints such a vivid picture of Elizabethan society and although little of this was new to me I still enjoyed the way the author wove this mine of information into his story. He occasionally gets seduced by the texts of some of the plays, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth for instance, but he always has something original to say about them. In an Afterword to his book Greenblatt says:

Shakespeare seems to have felt no comparable desire to make himself known or to cling tenaciously to what he had brought forth. The consequence is that it is not really necessary to know the details of Shakespeares life in order to love or understand his plays

That being said I still enjoyed Greenblatts adventurous ride through the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean era in pursuit of the elusive master playwright. I could not help, but to be carried along with it all and so 4 stars.

[The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare] by Emma Smith
This seems to me to be an introduction for the student approaching a deeper study of Shakespeare but the writing of Emma Smith is so lively and interesting that it could certainly be enjoyed by the more general reader. There are chapters on Characters and how Shakespeare approaches them, on performance and how actors can interpret the words in the script, a chapter on the texts in general, how they have come to us and how they have been edited, Shakespeares language: did anyone really talk like that? Structure of the plays, sources and history. Smith uses examples from the plays themselves to make her points often concentrating on one play per chapter. At the end of each chapter there is a 'Where Next' section that points to practical things to do to further appreciate the subject matter and books for further information.

There is an awful lot of information crammed into this book, but very little that is dull and boring. It is presented in such a way as to make the reader think on what is being presented. I found this to be an excellent read and so again 4 stars.

[Shakespeare's Language, Frank Kermode]
This book examines how Shakespeares language developed throughout his career. It is aimed at the general reader rather than the scholar and Kermode is careful to explain the more technical terms that are used. Fifteen of the later plays are given a chapter each, while the earlier plays are covered in a part one that is given just a quarter of the book space. I am reading through part one of this at the moment and like very much how Kermode marshals his thoughts about the language of the plays. I will use this as a reference/introduction to the plays as I read them. ( )
3 vote baswood | Oct 16, 2019 |
Some stretches based purely on literary interpretation, but overall enjoyable and thought-provoking ( )
  maryroberta | Jun 30, 2019 |
On June 29, 1613, the King’s Players put on Henry VIII at the Globe Theater in Southwark. Miniature cannons were fired during a scene representing Henry VIII attending a masque at Cardinal Wolsey’s house; some bits of wadding lodged in the thatched roof of the theater and set it on fire. Fortunately, the fire was slow, and there was plenty of time to rescue costumes, props, and manuscripts before the Globe burned to the ground. The rescued manuscripts included the only copies of Henry VI, Part 1; Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, King John, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. That’s how close we came.

Will in the World is an uneven but ultimately worthwhile biography of Shakespeare. The problem all Shakespeare biographers have – and what provides fuel for centuries of “Who Wrote Shakespeare?” theorists – is that other than the plays, poems and sonnets there is precious little documentation on the man. We know that he was baptized in Stratford on April 26, 1564 and that he was married, still in Stratford, sometime in late November or early December 1582. He had children in 1583 (daughter) and 1585 (son and daughter twins). Sometime soon after the birth of his twins he left Stratford and went to London, where there are sparse records of him; some business transactions, minor lawsuits, property tax receipts. He did well at his trade, amassing enough money to buy substantial properties in Stratford and a building in London. He retired to a comfortable manor in Stratford sometime between 1611 and 1616; he was buried in Stratford on April 25, 1616.

This is all author Stephen Greenblatt has to work with; he has to fill it in with assumptions, hearsay from contemporaries and near-contemporaries, and, of course, inferences from the writings. Some of the assumptions, hearsay, and inference is reasonable; some is more speculative. Greenblatt goes furthest out on a limb trying to figure out what Shakespeare was doing as a child and young adult. There was a school in Stratford, and it’s reasonable Shakespeare attended it; he had to learn his small Latin and less Greek somewhere. He may have had some sort of run-in with a noble neighbor over poaching. His family fortunes seem to have declined; his father John, a glover, worked up gradually through public positions (one of his jobs was official ale taster) until he was bailiff (essentially mayor) of Stratford and then gradually loses prominence until he’s no longer mentioned in public records. Shakespeare’s marriage has provided a lot of material for speculation; he put up a £40 bond to avoid having the banns read and seems to have had marriage licenses for two different women (the question is if the William Shagspere licensed to marry Anne Hathwey on November 28 1582 is the same as the William Shaxpere licensed to marry Anne Whatley on November 27 1582, and if Anne Hathwey is the same as Anne Whatley; i.e., are there two, three, or four different people involved). The marriage question is one of the places I’d like to see some numbers; Greenblatt notes that the £40 bond represented a huge sum of money; two year’s salary for the Stratford schoolmaster. However, although he explains why the bond was necessary (you were supposed to read the banns on three successive Sundays to see if anyone objected, and Anne Hathaway was already three months pregnant) he doesn’t say how common this was; were such bonds routine or rare?. Similarly he proposes that the name “Shakespeare” in its numerous orthographic variants was common for the place and time, to provide a possible explanation for the multiple marriage licenses, he doesn’t say how common; are there a couple of other Shakespeares, or a dozen, or tens, or hundreds? Given the scanty evidence, Greenblatt accepts the relatively common position that Shakespeare and his wife didn’t really get along. The general idea is that her pregnancy made it a fowling-piece marriage; her family was relatively well-to-do and would have pressured the Shakespeares to do the right thing. They did have children, of course; however after the twins were born in 1585 there aren’t any more, even after Shakespeare’s only son died in 1596. There’s no evidence that Shakespeare even visited Stratford between 1586 and his retirement to there in 1611 or after. A lot is made of the fact that all he left to Anne was his “second best bed”; in fact Greenblatt notes that nothing was left to her in the original will at all; the bed bequest was added in a later codicil, as if Shakespeare had to be nudged to remember her with something.

Greenblatt doesn’t know quite what to do with Shakespeare in between his wedding and his arrival in London (or even exactly when that arrival was). Was he working as a glover, working as a tutor in some noble household, wandering around the country, or what? There’s a whole chapter, based on sparse to nonexistent evidence, suggesting that Shakespeare was up in the north of England working in some capacity (presumably tutor) for a cryptoCatholic family. Not impossible but not well supported either.

Once Shakespeare’s in London, Greenblatt can start using his writings as evidence for various hypotheses. The catch, of course, is Shakespeare’s writings are like the Bible; if you are sufficiently determined and willing to disregard context you can find support for just about anything you want. Thus the questions Catholic/Protestant, misogynist/philogynist, straight/gay/bi are all discussed with support for one position or another drawn from the plays/poems/sonnets but there’s no real conclusion.

Still, there’s a lot of good stuff here – background on the religious controversy in England; James I’s fear of witchcraft, and the role of actors in contemporary life (I learned that “role” is derived from “roll”; because play manuscripts were bulky and scarce, actors were given a roll of paper with only their lines and entry cues rather than the whole play). I also discovered there are several “unknown” Shakespeare plays floating around; Sir Thomas More, which exists in a single manuscript copy penned in multiple hands (Hand “D” is supposed to be Shakespeare); The Tragedy of Gowrie, banned after two performances and with no extant copies; The Two Noble Kinsmen, a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher; and the lost (maybe; might be a play renamed as The Second Maiden’s Tragedy) History of Cardenio, another Fletcher/Shakespeare collaboration.

Worth it, then, just to see the range of speculation available for the Bard of Avon. ( )
2 vote setnahkt | Jan 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
A young man from a small provincial town--a man without independent wealth, without powerful family connections, and without a university education--moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time.
Quotations
A pack of paper that, neatly folded and cut, yielded about 50 small sheets, would have cost at least fourpence, or the equivalent of eight pints of ale, more than a pound of raisins, a pound of mutton and a pound of beef, two dozen eggs or two loaves of bread.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.9)
0.5 1
1 5
1.5 1
2 22
2.5 1
3 64
3.5 24
4 190
4.5 26
5 89

W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393050572, 039332737X

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 148,010,478 books! | Top bar: Always visible