“Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare” by Stephen Greenblatt (Norton, 2004)

Will the Worldstarstar

It’s been a while since I finished this book, but my take on it is still the same — mind you I did listen to the audiobook version as opposed to actually reading it. My complaint is that with the title, Will in the World, one would expect the book to be mostly about the great writer’s life from birth to death, as well as covering his works, and while the book does certainly do this, there is a lot more emphasis on his works, with citations in the multitudes; Shakespeare’s life is barely glossed over. A lot of this has to do with the fact that there is little evidence of his life, with most of his works surviving intact. Still, I wanted to know about his life and I didn’t get enough. The image the book paints is a writer who cared little for his family, leaving his wife and child in Stratford-upon-Avon and spending the duration of his life in London ignoring them.

What I did like about the book was the way Greenblatt went through Shakespeare’s life, revealing when certain plays were written and how they tied in with his life at that time, and possibly why he was writing them in the first place. It gave further meaning to the bard’s works. It was also interesting to discover that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare, while renowned as a great playwright, had no competition: Marlowe and the other playwrights had all died, some quite mysteriously.

Overall, the book was lacking in informing the reader of Shakespeare’s life, and in not being very linear in covering his life, one was often left confused as to what point in his life one was at. There were also a couple of times — perhaps this is more the case with the audiobook version — where there was a long citation from one of the plays and I was left wondering why the author had used such a long quote and what the point of it was.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 8th 2005 ©Alex C. Telander.

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