I graduated with a degree in English so I felt fairly confident I knew about Shakespeare’s background. This book proved I still have a lot to learn.
I’m one of those #nerds who loves Shakespeare. I love reading his stuff, watching it performed at the Old Globe, Kenneth Branagh renditions and Laurence Olivier‘s work. Heck, even the high school’s version of Much Ado about Nothing I saw was entertaining.
And one of the reasons I love it so much is the cleverness of it all. Shakespeare is making jokes, slights, references, and whole new words in his works. There are lots of reasons to read Shakespeare but once you figure out his humor and you understand what he’s alluding to, it’s even more enjoyable. And this book helped to give all the historical and personal context you need. It was like a whole new world.
I’m going to keep this brief, because if you’re actually interested in this subject you’ll read the book. But I do want to give a quick summery. Greenblatt did an incredible job of sharing important details while still keeping things relevant and not droning on endlessly. Considering he covered everything from a history of England’s royalty through Shakespeare’s body of work it’s an impressive feat. Even things that I knew about, like his father’s occupation and his marriage, were new with the added context.
There were also digs at other historians, explanations of Shakespeare’s rude jokes, and a few conspiracy theories. Overall a very interesting read.
In all fairness we probably didn’t need all the details we were given. But it was still compelling and I loved the enthusiasm. It’s hard to find someone who cares so much about Shakespeare and his work, even when they’re faced with questions we’ll never know the answers to.