Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare

I finished Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare in a few days; it’s an easy read, and, like the best of Bryson, tells some good stories.
But it seems to take as its starting point the ‘fact’ that we know almost nothing about Shakespeare, and consequently, Bryson has nothing to tell. He does tell us about Shakespeare’s world, about some of his plays, about his theatres, about his contemporaries, but by claiming throughout that we know almost nothing about Shakespeare himself, Shakespeare comes out of the book like some sort of shadow or ghost.
It’s disappointing. A couple of years ago I read In Search of Shakespeare by Michael Wood. From that book I gleaned a remarkable amount about Shakespeare. Now Bryson says that no one knows enough to tell us anything, which is all rather a let down. He quotes lots of people who claim to know everything, but who are more speculators than fact-mongers.
The interesting thing is that he doesn’t include Wood in his reasonably extensive bibliography, even though Wood’s book was certainly around by the time Bryson wrote his book. Furthermore, Wood’s book was a companion (a very good companion) to a tv series.
I’m not alone in thinking that Bryson’s book is a bit of a fizzer. Check out Patricia Maunder’s review.
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