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

  • Recall and Response
  • Recall and Response

    The attempt to remove Spokane Mayor David Condon from office may be a long shot, but he isn't taking any chances
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Shades of Black Lives
  • Shades of Black Lives

    A Spokane County detective's Facebook post about Black Lives Matter sparks debate among local law enforcement
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • Fires Hit Home
  • Fires Hit Home

    Tens of thousands of acres burn around Spokane on Sunday and Monday; plus, DOJ weighs in on concerns over bail system
    • Aug 25, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
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

  • 'Unreasonable Threat to Life and Property'

    Spokane's rental housing has problems, but landlord and tenant groups are split on a solution
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • 'End of Story'

    Condon administration aims to close the controversial Frank Straub chapter — but last week's scathing report has irrevocably changed the narrative
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Briefs


election 2016


green zone


marijuana


trail mix


Readers also liked…

  • 'Weak-Kneed'
  • 'Weak-Kneed'

    More fall-out for Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell; plus, Washington lawmakers debate voting rights
    • Mar 4, 2015
  • Stealing Washington
  • Stealing Washington

    The quirks, loopholes and screw-ups that give Washington state the highest property crime rate in the nation
    • Mar 3, 2016

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation