The British producer of much-praised educational TV blockbusters along with their printed companions (In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, 2000, etc.) does up the life of the Bard with gusto.
Wood comes to the task steeled with an attitude: the world’s greatest playwright was a real person who did write the plays published under his name, albeit frequently as a collaborator or making liberal use of others’ original material, and Shakespeare’s work should ultimately be considered as a product of his time and place. Giving credence to coincidence in a way that allows him access to intriguing conclusions from which more rigid researchers have generally abstained, the author produces a titillating text not quite within the bounds of formal scholarship. Yet Wood, trained as a medievalist, has done plenty of homework. In parsing a reference to a fleeing Cleopatra as “a cow in June, with the breeze upon her,” for instance, he finds an example of Shakespeare’s injection of barnyard Warwickshire dialect, in which “breeze” refers not to wind but to a pack of gadflies, here metaphors for the queen’s Roman pursuers. The author’s perspective is freshest when outlining the stark realities of the Elizabethan Reformation, a police state imposing a sharp left turn on the ecclesiastical practices of an entire nation on pain of the rack or the gallows (or both). This was the formative milieu for young Will, descended from staunch Catholics on both sides of his family; Wood provocatively argues that Shakespeare later sought to bestow on posterity the crypto-pagan myths of heroes, goblins, fairies, etc., that Puritans lumped with “popish” practices by alluding to this vanishing culture in his major works. The poet’s “lost years” are still much occluded, the author allows, but Wood supports William Herbert as the sonnets’ boy love object (possibly unconsummated).
Profusely illustrated program “guide” that stands quite well on its own.