Some of my reading from back in February.
Will in The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
By Stephen Greenblatt
William Shakespeare is known as the greatest writer and dramatist in the English language. Almost everyone has some scrap of knowledge about his plays, but even the most determined Shakespeare scholars agree that there is very little knowledge of what Shakespeare himself was like.
Will in The World is Stephen Greenblatt’s attempt to piece together a picture of the elusive Shakespeare, exploring how his origins as a glovemaker’s son, his experiences in an anti-Catholic England, and the other major writers of the era may have influenced his writing and given us the plays and characters that we know him through today.
This book was interesting. Not so much the bits about Shakespeare, but the way that Greenblatt used Shakespeare as a springboard to look into different aspects of Renaissance life held my attention fairly well.
It was necessary, too, because of the subject matter. Outside of the plays, there is very little knowledge or evidence of Shakespeare’s life or personality, so the only way to talk about him is to talk about all the people and places that were or might have been connected to him in some way.
So…I don’t feel like I know Shakespeare much better, but after reading this book, I have a little better grasp, I think, on Renaissance society.
It annoyed me though, that Greenblatt had to base so much of this book on conjecture—especially the bits about whether Shakespeare might have had some crisis of faith because he might have been secretly raised to follow Catholic beliefs, but then England went anti-Catholic, etc, etc. I mean, it’s interesting to wonder about, but in later chapters, I noticed that Greenblatt was writing as if these bits of speculation were true instead of just possible.
That was something we were always scolded for doing when we wrote papers in my college courses, and I feel the tiniest bit of outrage that this author was allowed to get away with it, since Greenblatt was one of the literary theorists I remember being pointed towards more than once, since he’s apparently brilliant. Or something. Now that I’ve read one of complete works and seen this huge flaw in it, I’m a little less likely to agree with that assessment, but that’s just me.
Still, minus that one thing that I don’t think almost anyone else will care about, I think this was a great book (well, okay…the descriptions of Renaissance torture and execution were kind of gruesome…). It’s easy to read, and the writing flows really well and is broken down into easily digestible paragraphs. If you’re at all interested in reading about Shakespeare or about the Renaissance world, I would recommend this to you.