Saturday, February 27, 2010

Travel and science book author writes about ... Shakespeare

To me, as to many, this book came as a surprise. Bill Bryson, famous for his travel ("Neither here Nor There") and popular science ("A Short History of Nearly Everything") books, wrote a book that is completely different from his other books. "Shakespeare. The Illustrated Edition" is an untypical biography of William Shakespeare. Bryson tries to find, in Shakespeare life, the reason why "For somebody who has been dead for nearly four hundred years, he remains awfully active". The book starts with the modern, 2006 discovery of so called Cobbe portrait, which according to most of scholars IS the authentic Shakespeare portrait (notwithstanding numerous and notable oppositions to that claim).

Bryson, the biographer, divides Shakespeare's life into: early years (1564-1585), the so-called "lost years" (1585-1592) of which we do not have any records, his London's primary years (1592-1596), years of his fame under Queen Elizabeth I (1596-1603) and his royal patent during the reign of King James (1603-1616) - until his death on April, 23, 1616. Shakespeare life is portrait on the interesting patchwork of the history of England, the history of London and the hist of Globe - The Theatre. Reading it, we have a rare chance to imagine how strange and dirty, in all senses of this word, London was at that times.

Bryson biography dares to debunk a bit traditional Shakespeare picture. See this:

"Shakespeare may be the English language's presiding genius, but that isn't to say he was without flaws". A certain messy exuberance marked much of what he did. Sometimes it is just not possible to know quite what he meant"

Such claims are of course seriously substantiated by specific parts of his plays. He also compares young Shakespeare to prematurely passing Christophere Marlowe, showing that when Shakespeare was still writing trifles, Marlow already wrote ambitious and appreciable dramas.

When the biographer comes to years of the first decade of XVII century, i.e. to the times of publication of sonnets, he shocks the readers with:

"The extraordinary fact is that Shakespeare, creator of the tenderest and most moving scenes of heterosexual affection in play after play, become with the sonnets English literature history's sublimest gay poet"

Yet in the concluding parts of the book, Bryson rejects firmly all these "conspiracy theories" according to which, Shakespeare did not exist, and what we have under his name, is in fact from the quills of Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere or others.

"Only one man had the circumstances and gifts to give us such incomparable works, and William Shakespeare of Stratford was unquestionably that man - whoever he was"

Few words need to be said about the book physical form. "Illustrated Edition" is full of XVI/XVII century drawings and portraits and scripts facsimiles, that help in perception of Shakespeare lifework and the framework of history and culture he lived on.

Great book - something that is yet another proof of physical books superiority....

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