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March 7, 2010


by Bill Bryson

Time for some non-fiction! I was one of the few kids in my class who actually enjoyed Shakespeare – I loved the eerie darkness of Macbeth (and I’ll never forget the young Keith Chegwin in Roman Polanski’s 1970s film version!) and the intrigue of Hamlet. As a big fan of Bill Bryson – still waiting for the next travel book! – this was a shoo-in for my reading list.

Bryson doesn’t fail to deliver in this hugely interesting and short book, written in his usual witty and readable style. Short, because surprisingly few facts are known about the Great Bard, not least the correct way to spell his name – the dramatist himself used several variations – or even what he looked like: of the three likenesses on which all others are based and by which we have come to recognise Shakespeare, two were produced by artists after his death and one may not even be Shakespeare at all!

There are several “lost years” where we know nothing of Shakespeare’s whereabouts, though he can rarely be pinned down with one hundred percent accuracy during the periods we do know about. Nevertheless, Bryson insists, we do know enough to dispel the myth that Shakespeare’s plays were not in fact written by Shakespeare but by someone else – most notably Francis Bacon.

For a man about whom surprisingly little is known, his legacy is undeniably great.

James’ out-of-five star rating: ****

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