WILL IN THE WORLD by Stephen Greenblatt


How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
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A re-sifting and re-imagining of the Shakespeare evidence in an attempt to discover how the Stratford lad became the celebrated poet and playwright.

Greenblatt (Humanities/Harvard; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, 1991) begins and ends with the acknowledgement that there will probably never be definitive answers to our most fundamental questions about Shakespeare, for the world’s most luminous writer left no personal writing at all—no letters, diaries, manuscripts. So scholars are left to infer the writer’s external life from assorted legal documents and his internal one from his creations. Even a renowned scholar like Greenblatt, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Elizabethan England, of Shakespeare’s material world, of his literary works and who has a capacious imagination equal to the task of writing the life of someone who died 400 year ago—even such a scholar must populate his paragraphs with those vague characters named Seems and Probably. That said (and Greenblatt, to his credit, says it more than once), this is a remarkably informative and enlightening look at Will Shakespeare. Greenblatt speculates that the young man, charmed by the touring player companies that visited the region, left home (and wife and child) to pursue his alluring dream. Greenblatt examines in the Bard’s work the many allusions to the countryside, to leather craft (after all, he was a glover’s son), and even to Roman Catholicism, the religion his queen had outlawed but that his father could not surrender. Greenblatt describes Shakespeare as a sort of hybrid chameleon and sponge: He could find a way to fit with any group and could absorb from it the language and practices that later gave his plays such verisimilitude. Greenblatt also offers new ways to view the Bard’s strange epitaph, to understand the mysterious motives of Hamlet, Iago, and Lear. He ignores Oxfordian conspiracy theories and speculates that Shakespeare retired to be with his beloved daughter Susanna.

An imaginative voyage to the undiscovered country in company with a master mariner. (16 pp. color illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2004
ISBN: 0-393-05057-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004


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