Genre: Memoir & Biography
Published: 3 September 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage

by Bill Bryson


William Shakespeare, the most celebrated poet in the English language, left behind nearly a million words of text, but his biography has long been a thicket of wild supposition arranged around scant facts. With a steady hand and his trademark wit, Bill Bryson sorts through this colorful muddle to reveal the man himself.

Bryson documents the efforts of earlier scholars, from today’s most respected academics to eccentrics like Delia Bacon, an American who developed a firm but unsubstantiated conviction that her namesake Francis Bacon was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays — she spent months in silence at Bacon’s home, ‘absorbing atmospheres’ that bolstered her theory. With shades of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker-like basement room in Washington, D.C., where the world’s largest collection of First Folios is housed.

Bryson celebrates Shakespeare as a writer of unimaginable talent and enormous inventiveness, a coiner of phrases (‘vanish into thin air’, ‘foregone conclusion’, ‘one fell swoop’) that even today have a home at the tips of our tongues. His Shakespeare is like no-one else’s — the beneficiary of Bryson’s genial nature, his engaging scepticism, and a gift for storytelling unrivalled in our time.

"A brilliantly funny and gently insightful travel guide to 16th century England. As an abbreviated tour around the world of Shakespeare, this could hardly be bettered." - Sunday Times
2Bryson is shrewd…and as funny as you'd expect…he sets down all the important bits of evidence, and assesses them in a measured scholarly way. He's good value too." - Daily Telegraph
"Measured, sensible and, at times, as wryly humorous as you'd expect." - The Times
"A work worthy of one of the greatest writers in the English language." - Daily Express
"Bryson uses an inimitably light touch and squeezes a vast subject down to manageable proportions…he is a warm and funny guide through the whole complicated morass of Shakespearean scholarship." - Financial Times