of Bill Bryson: Shakespeare

Bill Bryson. Shakespeare (2008)

When the surname of the author caught my eye I grabbed this book off the library shelves. I have enjoyed Bill Bryson’s work in the past, most notably his A Walk in the Woods, a humorous true account of his adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail. I am on an active hunt for another copy of his Notes from a Small Island, about the twenty or so years he spent living in England (seems very fitting just now). Not previously aware he had written about Shakespeare, I was curious.

This little 200-pg. volume was an amusing and informative read. As a guide to the life of William Shakespeare, however, it was perhaps a bit of a failure, as it was packed mostly with what is not true about Shakespeare. It seems there is truly a dearth of information on the specific details of much of Shakespeare’s life, leaving him largely a very mysterious figure. Bryson makes the most of what can be substantiated, often filling in with interesting details about life in Elizabethan England. He really shines when exposing the questionable scholarship of those conspiracy-theorist types who will go on claiming that Shakespeare Was Not Shakespeare. I heartily enjoyed these sections, particularly his hilarious final chapter which follows the odd histories of many dubious Shakespeare
un-enthusiasts in their efforts to disprove his authorship. Recalling hints of such theories (from college and channel surfing mostly), it was a relief to find that, in fact, all evidence suggests that William Shakespeare, “whoever he was” (Bryson 195), was himself.

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