A Review: Shakespeare: World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Shakespeare was my introduction to Bryson’s work after I realized that I could easily grab one of his titles from my public library. Essentially, Bryson’s Shakespeare exists to emphasize the fact that, despite the number of biographies written about Shakespeare, the prolific writer’s life is mostly a mystery. A mystery that's driven thousands of individuals to engage in painstaking research to uncover truth.

Ok, so what’s the difference? How is Bryson any different than the lot of these Shakespeare hounds?

Bryson doesn’t claim to have made any new or shocking discoveries about the writer’s life, and he dispels many common myths along the way. Using keen research skills, which indicate that many biographers often penned false, fairy-tale like situations/conclusions, he emphasizes that most failed to make any factual connections.

The novel’s exploration of people’s fascination with Shakespeare, a playwright among many other accomplished and learned men of his time, is the real subject of the title. Shakespeare’s elusive history is appealing, and begs to be, if not deserves a mostly imagined, and definitely spectacular, background. This is most certain if he is to remain at the epicenter of dramatic interpretation—a playwright of the gods.

And, however subtle, it’s clear that Bryson pokes fun at this hysteria.

Don’t get me wrong. Please refrain from your rotten tomatoes and your apple cores, folks! Bryson didn’t publish this title to say that Shakespeare is a fraud, or a playwright who received undeserved praises; no, he’s simply presenting the reader with snap shots of intense fixations with Shakespeare. In addition, he offers quite a number of facts about Shakespeare’s life through legal documents preserved from this period.

I really enjoyed this title because I have an insatiable want for obscure details of the day-to-day routines in different time periods. He provides many informative and entertaining details about the Elizabethan period. Some facets of this period may even leave the reader wondering how humanity progressed to its present state. It’s especially interesting to understand the development of today’s English, and the acceptance of writing produced during this period, which was devoid of a collective system of punctuation and spelling.

All in all, Bryson’s Shakespeare was fun and informative. I read it quickly and without feeling overwhelmed by tedious details. The reader may walk away learning a little more about Shakespeare’s life (like me), or nothing at all. Either way, you’re sure to get a kick out of this entertaining piece of historical nonfiction.


  1. This sounds really interesting! I haven't read Bryson but this sounds like it would be a good one to start with.

  2. Great review. The blogosphere is in love with BIll Bryson. I'm tempted. I guess social networking do works to sell books after all.

  3. I've heard a lot of what I knew about his work from friends before I decided to actually pick it up. I didn't know it was such a hit elsewhere. Regardless of hype, I'm willing to give it a try if it's a notable travel journalist with a sense of wit. I really want to pick up his newest At Home, and The Mother Tongue. I'm not particularly set on reading any other of his titles. I'm fascinated, and a bit jealous, of what this man does for a living. The historical aspect is also quite appealing.

  4. I enjoyed this one when I read it but it did feel a bit like Bryson had rushed it in order to get published. Mother Tongue is a really good read, hope you enjoy it if you do manage to pick up a copy.

  5. I will admit there were definitely some loose ends, and a few hurried connections that I felt were contradictions of previous statements. Like you, though, I did enjoy it. I'm really anticipating Mother Tongue!

  6. I was so excited when I saw this book, since I love both Bryson and Shakespeare. This wasn't my favorite of Bryson's works but it's still a great one.


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