Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

by Michael Bowen


Everybody knows that Shakespeare's plays weren't actually written by Shakespeare. Unless they were. Which, of course, is what the historical record proves to everyone not wearing Super-Duper Elizabethan Conspiracy Spectacles. The question isn't "Who was he?" The question is "How did he develop from the man we know he was into someone capable of creating those plays?"


In Will in the World, Stephen Greenblatt has written the first macro-level New Historicist biography of Shakespeare. (Long Boring Footnote: The New Historicist approach agrees with the Old that literary works are cultural products. New Historicists, of whom Greenblatt is the godfather, don't agree that Shakespeare's plays uphold a tidy Elizabethan World View in which God's in his heaven and all's right with the groundlings; instead, they detect the rumblings of power struggle throughout the Renaissance world in which the plays are embedded.)


New Historicists like to align the plays with historical minutiae and then politicize the connection -- and Will in the World often trades in conjecture. But Greenblatt's educated guesses -- merely suggestive, hardly incontrovertible -- nevertheless outdo other scholars' best hypotheses. Writing for both scholarly and general audiences -- and bearing out his subtitle, How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare -- Greenblatt assembles bare outward hints into plausible assertions about the man's psychology and the plays' inner workings.


Thus a brush with crypto-Catholicism -- Catholics in the 1590s being like Communists in the 1950s -- led to the playwright's aversion to self-disclosure. The financial and social decline of the his father John led to the dream of restored families that dominates the late romances. The unexpected sympathy for Shylock derives from the ugliness of the crowd's laughter when a Jewish doctor, convicted of attempting to poison Queen Elizabeth, was drawn and quartered. Hamlet's despair and self-probing burst the boundaries of tragedy because of three heartbreaks in the playwright's own life: the prohibition on Catholic funeral rites of public grieving, John's imminent death, and the actual, unbearably sudden death of Hamnet, Shakespeare's 11-year-old son.


Greenblatt's biography illuminates how Shakespeare became the man who actually wrote the plays -- and how, all too often, the world thwarted its Will.





Publication date: 11/18/04

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Crash > Click > Cash
  • Crash > Click > Cash

    Lawyers and chiropractors already have your name, your address and the police report from your car accident — and they want you to hire them
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Starting Small
  • Starting Small

    A village of tiny houses in Spokane Valley could serve as a model for fighting homelessness in the region
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Drastic Action
  • Drastic Action

    Spokane among seven school districts sued by State Superintendent of Public Instruction; plus, trio of police-chief finalists are in town
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Spokane Artist Trading Card Swap

Spokane Artist Trading Card Swap @ Boots Bakery & Lounge

Last Wednesday of every month

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Michael Bowen

Most Commented On

  • Lane Ends Ahead

    Spokane wants to improve a mile-long section of Monroe — but that means taking away two lanes
    • Jul 7, 2016
  • Too Smart for School

    What happens when a 12-year-old prodigy tries to go to college in Spokane?
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

green zone


marijuana


Briefs


election 2016


trail mix


Readers also liked…

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation