FUN FACT: There are six surviving signatures from William Shakespeare. In none of them does his name appear in exactly the same way. Furthermore, he never actually even wrote his name as “Shakespeare”, like everyone knows him today. The closest was “Shakspeare”. And, in case you were wondering, he had kinda crappy handwriting.
I mean, I knew that people back then really didn’t care about spelling, but I didn’t realize it extended to names as well. Although that would make telling people my last name a bit easier. “It’s Schenkhuizen, but you can just write Shankz or something.” Certainly wouldn’t have to spend five minutes spelling it out for people.
I learned this fun fact from Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson, which was a great read. Ostensibly, it’s a biography of Shakespeare–and it does deliver on that count–but it’s also a mixing pot of everything we know or think we know about the Bard of Avon. And let me tell you, some of those people have some pretty crazy theories.
So what did I think about this book?
It was a super interesting quick read. The book is only 195 pages, and it goes pretty quickly. (195 is still a short book, right? My perception of book length is off ever since I finished Wheel of Time)
Anyway, I loved it. There wasn’t too much of Bryson’s writing itself that was humorous, but there were humorous facts in there that made me laugh and have to share it with my boyfriend sitting next to me as I read. He probably got tired of it after a while.
I feel like I learned more about what we don’t know about Shakespeare than what we do, which is an interesting feeling after you read a biography about someone. However, Bryson did an excellent job of laying out the different theories and thoughts, but then making it clear which theories predominate in scholarly circles. There was also a lot of good general information about the time period and what Shakespeare’s life would have been like in England at the time, which was incredibly helpful in forming a complete picture.
Why should you spend your time on it, even if it is only 195 pages?
Assuming you still classify it as a “short book”, it’s obviously still a time commitment when there are so many good books out there, but you should still read it BECAUSE SHAKESPEARE IS THE BEST. Obviously, if you love Shakespeare, and you like nerding out over Brit Lit, then this is a fascinating read.
Aside from that, Shakespeare is a cultural phenomenon and mystery that society today still loves obsessing over. How many other books or plays from 400+ years ago are as widely read, performed, and studied in school? How many other writers have as many conspiracy theories surrounding their true identity, even when it seems pretty cut and dry? This biography does a good job of highlighting all these mysteries around Shakespeare, and yet illuminating what we can be relatively certain of.
Plus, Bill Bryson? How can you not like his writing?
My Final Rating
I’d probably put this one at 4/5 stars. It was a good, solid, fascinating read, but I don’t think I’ll feel the need to go back to it to reread it. It would definitely be a book that as a teacher, I would want to keep in my classroom for reference for either myself or for my students.