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Shakespeare / Bill Bryson.

By: Bryson, Bill.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookSeries: Eminent lives: ; Eminent lives: Publisher: London : HarperPress, 2007Description: 200 pages ; 21 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780007197897 (hbk.); 0007197896 (hbk.).Subject(s): Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Biography | Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 | Dramatists, English -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Biography | Dramatists, English -- BiographyDDC classification: 822.33
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

Bill Bryson's biography of William Shakespeare unravels the superstitions, academic discoveries and myths surrounding the life of our greatest poet and playwright.

Includes bibliographical references.

Includes bibliography (p. 197-200).

Includes bibliographical references (p. 197-200).

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Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Shakespeare Chapter One In Search of William Shakespeare Before he came into a lot of money in 1839, Richard Plantagenet Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville, second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, led a largely uneventful life. He sired an illegitimate child in Italy, spoke occasionally in the Houses of Parliament against the repeal of the Corn Laws, and developed an early interest in plumbing (his house at Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, had nine of the first flush toilets in England), but otherwise was distinguished by nothing more than his glorious prospects and many names. But after inheriting his titles and one of England's great estates, he astonished his associates, and no doubt himself, by managing to lose every penny of his inheritance in just nine years through a series of spectacularly unsound investments. Bankrupt and humiliated, in the summer of 1848 he fled to France, leaving Stowe and its contents to his creditors. The auction that followed became one of the great social events of the age. Such was the richness of Stowe's furnishings that it took a team of auctioneers from the London firm of Christie and Manson forty days to get through it all. Among the lesser-noted disposals was a dark oval portrait, twenty-two inches high by eighteen wide, purchased by the Earl of Ellesmere for 355 guineas and known ever since as the Chandos portrait. The painting had been much retouched and was so blackened with time that a great deal of detail was (and still is) lost. It shows a balding but not unhandsome man of about forty who sports a trim beard. In his left ear he wears a gold earring. His expression is confident, serenely rakish. This is not a man, you sense, to whom you would lightly entrust a wife or grown daughter. Although nothing is known about the origin of the painting or where it was for much of the time before it came into the Chandos family in 1747, it has been said for a long time to be of William Shakespeare. Certainly it looks like William Shakespeareâ€"but then really it ought to, since it is one of the three likenesses of Shakespeare from which all other such likenesses are taken. In 1856, shortly before his death, Lord Ellesmere gave the painting to the new National Portrait Gallery in London as its founding work. As the gallery's first acquisition, it has a certain sentimental prestige, but almost at once its authenticity was doubted. Many critics at the time thought the subject was too dark-skinned and foreign lookingâ€"too Italian or Jewishâ€"to be an English poet, much less a very great one. Some, to quote the late Samuel Schoenbaum, were disturbed by his "wanton" air and "lubricious" lips. (One suggested, perhaps a touch hopefully, that he was portrayed in stage makeup, probably in the role of Shylock.) "Well, the painting is from the right periodâ€"we can certainly say that much," Dr. Tarnya Cooper, curator of sixteenth-century portraits at the gallery, told me one day when I set off to find out what we could know and reasonably assume about the most venerated figure of the English language. "The collar is of a type that was popular between about 1590 and 1610, just when Shakespeare was having his greatest success and thus most likely to sit for a portrait. We can also tell that the subject was a bit bohemian, which would seem consistent with a theatrical career, and that he was at least fairly well to do, as Shakespeare would have been in this period." I asked how she could tell these things. "Well, the earring tells us he was bohemian," she explained. "An earring on a man meant the same then as it does nowâ€"that the wearer was a little more fashionably racy than the average person. Drake and Raleigh were both painted with earrings. It was their way of announcing that they were of an adventurous disposition. Men who could afford to wore a lot of jewelry back then, mostly sewn into their clothes. So the subject here is either fairly discreet, or not hugely wealthy. I would guess probably the latter. On the other hand, we can tell that he was prosperousâ€"or wished us to think he was prosperousâ€"because he is dressed all in black." She smiled at my look of puzzlement. "It takes a lot of dye to make a fabric really black. Much cheaper to produce clothes that were fawn or beige or some other lighter color. So black clothes in the sixteenth century were nearly always a sign of prosperity." She considered the painting appraisingly. "It's not a bad painting, but not a terribly good one either," she went on. "It was painted by someone who knew how to prime a canvas, so he'd had some training, but it is quite workaday and not well lighted. The main thing is that if it is Shakespeare, it is the only portrait known that might have been done from life, so this would be what William Shakespeare really looked likeâ€"if it is William Shakespeare." And what are the chances that it is? "Without documentation of its provenance we'll never know, and it's unlikely now, after such a passage of time, that such documentation will ever turn up." And if not Shakespeare, who is it? She smiled. "We've no idea." If the Chandos portrait is not genuine, then we are left with two other possible likenesses to help us decide what William Shakespeare looked like. The first is the copperplate engraving that appeared as the frontispiece of the collected works of Shakespeare in 1623â€"the famous First Folio. The Droeshout engraving, as it is known (after its artist, Martin Droeshout), is an arrestinglyâ€"we might almost say magnificentlyâ€"mediocre piece of work. Nearly everything about it is flawed. One eye is bigger than the other. The mouth is curiously mispositioned. The hair is longer on one side of the subject's head than the other, and the head itself is out of proportion to the body and seems to float off the shoulders, like a balloon. Worst of all, the subject looks diffident, apologetic, almost frightenedâ€"nothing like the gallant and confident figure that speaks to us from the plays. Shakespeare . Copyright © by Bill Bryson . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

Not a biography but a walk in the woods with the actors, academics, curators, and others who love Shakespeare. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Review

Considering the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Shakespeare, relatively little is known about the man himself. In the absence of much documentation about his life, we have the plays and poetry he wrote. In this addition to the Eminent Lives series, bestselling author Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) does what he does best: marshaling the usual little facts that others might overlook-for example, that in Shakespeare's day perhaps 40% of women were pregnant when they got married-to paint a portrait of the world in which the Bard lived and prospered. Bryson's curiosity serves him well, as he delves into subjects as diverse as the reliability of the extant images of Shakespeare, a brief history of the theater in England and the continuing debates about whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote Shakespeare's works. Bryson is a pleasant and funny guide to a subject at once overexposed and elusive-as Bryson puts it, "he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron-forever there and not there." (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Humorous travel writer Bryson doesn't seem the obvious choice for a Shakespeare biography, but he does the job quite wonderfully by sticking to the facts about Shakespeare's life. Those are very few, so most Shakespeare biographers proceed more or less imaginatively. Not Bryson. He instead brings amused but understanding skepticism to what his forebears have posited about each period of Shakespeare's life and constructs a plausible continuity from their most persuasive ideas and what other sources reveal about Shakespeare's milieu. As he proceeds, he doesn't so much shatter illusions as reveal how creative biography and historiography must be at 400 years' remove from their subjects' physical existence. The records just don't exist to make them less conjectural. It even turns out that today's restored Globe Theatre doesn't and can't reproduce Shakespeare's Globe. But if Shakespeare is hard to document, there is at least one other of his contemporaries who is impossible to trace whoever wrote his plays instead of him and Bryson splendidly concludes a splendid book by demolishing the claims for Bacon, Marlowe, Oxford, and all.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2007 Booklist

Kirkus Book Review

A telling glance at one of history's most famously unknowable figures. As sometimes happens with expatriates, journalist Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, 2006, etc.) often turned his attention to his native America during his 20-year residence in England (Made in America, 1995, etc.). Apparently he's now been back home long enough to look the other way in this 12th volume in James Atlas's well-received Eminent Lives series. And who better fits the bill for this assortment of brief biographies than Shakespeare, the literary behemoth who practically defines the Western canon yet boasts a CV that could hardly be slimmer. As the typically wry Bryson observes, "It is because we have so much of Shakespeare's work that we can appreciate how little we know of him as a person....faced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know." Bryson is just as happy to point out what we can't. To him, Shakespeare is the "literary equivalent of an electron--forever there and not there." Indeed, he makes so much of the fact that so much has been made from the singularly few known facts of the Bard's life that one might say this thin volume's raison d''tre is to identify the many paradoxes surrounding all things Shakespeare, which Bryson candidly illuminates in several deft turns of phrase. That is as good a tack as any to take in this sort of Cliffs Notes-style overview of the rich afterlife and times of Shakespeare, recognized as great, Bryson claims, for his "positive and palpable appreciation of the transfixing power of language"--a point on which even those who don't believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare would agree, and a trait he happens to share with his biographer. Shakespeare redux for the common reader. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.