A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
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Price: $6.20 FREE for Members
Type: eBook
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Page Count: 432
Format: epub
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060088745
ISBN-13: 9780060088743
User Rating: 5.0000 out of 5 Stars! (3 Votes)

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 ebook

James Shapiro ebook

The year 1599 was crucial in the Bard's artistic evolution as well as in the historical upheavals he lived through. That year's output—Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and (debatably) Hamlet—not only spans a shift in artistic direction and theatrical taste, but also echoes the intrigues of Queen Elizabeth's court and the downfall of her favorite, the Earl of Essex. Like other Shakespeare biographers, Columbia professor Shapiro notes the importance of mundane events in Shakespeare's art, starting here with the construction of the Globe Theatre and the departure of Will Kemp, the company's popular comic actor. Having a stable venue and repertory gave Shakespeare the space to write and experiment during the turmoil created by Essex's unsuccessful military ventures in Ireland, a threatened invasion by a second Spanish Armada and, finally, Essex's disastrous return to court. Shapiro is in a minority in arguing for Shakespeare initially composing Hamlet at the same time Essex was plotting a coup; there's little textual or documentary evidence for that dating. Still, Shapiro's shrewd discussion of what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest play, particularly its multiple versions, rounds out this accessible yet erudite work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Instead of relying on the meagre evidence about Shakespeare's personal life, Shapiro's biography examines how public events left their mark on the four plays-"Henry V," "Julius Caesar," "As You Like It," and "Hamlet"-that Shakespeare wrote during 1599, the year in which the thirty-five-year-old playwright "went from being an exceptionally talented writer to one of the greatest who ever lived." The approach proves illuminating for the overtly political plays. Lines in "Henry V" allude to a rebellion in Ireland that Elizabeth I had recently sent the Earl of Essex to suppress. Chapters on "As You Like It" and "Hamlet" revert to more conventional textual analysis, interlarded with biographical speculations and digressions; for instance, Rosalind's journey to Arden may derive from Shakespeare's annual trip to Stratford to see his wife and daughters, and the "limbs with travel tired" of the twenty-seventh sonnet perhaps reflect the poor condition of English highways.
Copyright © 2005 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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| 5 out of 5 Stars!

Two rather obvious conclusions leap off the pages of just about every book ever written about William Shakespeare: That his plays reflect the turbulent times in which he lived, and that very little is known for certain about his life.

James Shapiro, a much respected Shakespeare scholar and professor at Columbia University, has applied his enormous fund of Shakespearean knowledge and his zeal for historical research to these home truths in a novel way. He narrows his focus down to a single year in Shakespeare's life and teases out of the four plays that occupied the Bard in that year a number of stimulating conclusions.

As a feat of sheer scholarly research, Shapiro's book is a mind-boggling performance -- his bibliography runs to 41 pages --- and his conclusions, while obviously personal and open to debate, will make readers go back to those four plays equipped with new tools for decoding them.

In 1599 Shakespeare finished "Henry the Fifth," wrote "Julius Caesar" and "As You Like It," and shaped his first version of "Hamlet" --- four truly great plays. He was also involved in the construction of the Globe Theater (of which he was part owner) and busy acting on its stage. Offstage noises in his life (though very much onstage for most Englishmen) were the ill-fated English expedition to subdue a rebellion in Ireland, the threat of invasion from a second Spanish Armada, a host of intrigues and plots at the court of Queen Elizabeth, England's attempt to shoulder its way into the lucrative East Indies trade, and even his own domestic affairs back home in Stratford.

Dealing with all this gives Shapiro's book a divided focus. Those whose main concern is the four plays (doubtless a majority of his readers) may be impatient with the length and detail Shapiro devotes to the Irish venture and the Spanish threat in particular. There is no convenient critical pigeonhole into which to thrust this book. Call it literary criticism against a historical background. What's important is that Shapiro's perceptive research and fluent writing style make the mixture work nicely.

Of the four plays, "Henry the Fifth" is the one least esteemed by critics today. Shapiro investigates its sources and shows how it reflected England's uneasiness about the Earl of Essex and his expedition against Ireland. He concludes that it is neither pro- nor anti-war, but is rather a play about "going to war," a war that Shakespeare's audience felt was "both unavoidable and awful." "Julius Caesar" he sees as a clever blending of religious and political concerns then prevalent in English society.

He finds "Hamlet" remarkable for many reasons beyond its sheer greatness as literature. Here, Shapiro says, Shakespeare brought a new depth and style to the stage soliloquy, a form he finds based on the then-new art of the personal prose essay. For Shapiro, Hamlet is a man who "needs to talk, but there is nobody in whom he can confide" --- except his audience. Shapiro is also captivated by Shakespeare's verbal virtuosity in "Hamlet," where he uses about 600 words never before used in any of his plays and about 170 words or phrases that he "coined or used in new ways."

"As You Like It," the only comedy among the four plays, might seem harder to relate to the author's times, but Shapiro gamely tries, finding reflections of England's rural problems in the forest of Arden and the melancholy philosopher Jaques Shakespeare's first try at writing satire. Mainly though, he finds in this play a new and deeper form of comedy, built around Orlando's education in what love really is.

These literary judgments rest on a thick underpinning of historical information, assessment of Shakespeare's sources, the writings and activities of his contemporaries, and the tangled web of intrigue around the aging Queen Elizabeth. Shapiro weaves it all together expertly, and for good measure throws in a good deal of astute textual criticism, showing how words we think we know today really meant something quite different to Shakespeare ("jig," for instance). Most modern stagings and editions of "Hamlet" he dismisses as "incoherent" versions that Shakespeare "neither wrote nor imagined."

This is not a book for the casual reader, but those with a genuine interest in Shakespeare and his times will find it endlessly rewarding.

--- Reviewed by Robert Finn ((...))

| 5 out of 5 Stars!

I routinely read every book on Shakespeare that comes out. Most of them -- such as Will of the World -- speculate about this elusive figure without adding much to what we already know Shapiro's book is different It's a brilliant insight to add to the two main traditions of biographical studies of S -- his life as a working actor/manager and the intellectual roots of his plays plus the hints they give of his life and beliefs.

Shapiro embeds S the playwright in the politics of his age, particularly Elizabeth's reign coming to an end, the Earl of Essex as a potential rebel, the alarms about a possible new Spanish Armada, and the latent underground Catholic opposition to the new regime that had broken up the rhythms and traditions of conservative England. He makes S the observer much more a man of his era than most comparable books. He offers many insights into the time and S's place in it.

For me, there is only one test of a book on Shakespeare: does it send you back to reread the plays. This one did. His analysis of Julius Caesar is a significant new slant on the work. He gves me a richer sense of the always active mind of this complex man who was at the same time an intellectual, practical man of business, upward mobile money seeker -- and part of London's milieu.

I rate this as an outstanding new contribution to Shakespeare studies

| 5 out of 5 Stars!

This wonderful book will be a classic. It combines specific new historical information discovered by Shapiro's original research--yes, new information can still be found on Shakespeare!--with an insightful reading of the great plays he wrote just before, during, and immediately after his annus mirabilis 1599.

For those who enjoy juicy, well-researched historical detail on the Bard's life and times (such as Frank Kermode's -The Age of Shakespeare-), Shapiro goes to the next level in this book. He depicts Shakespeare's life as he lived it during one momentous year, 1599, a decision that is not arbitrary. Shapiro's close focus on that year succeeds in illuminating much about Shakespeare's imagination that was previously obscure. And what a year it was--producing the break-through plays Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet.

Shapiro describes how the year began as Shakespeare and his co-investors surreptitiously and hurriedly worked to save their financial investment by dismantling a theatre building on a site where they had lost their lease, in order to rebuild it as The Globe on the south side of the Thames. Shapiro then explains better than I have read anywhere else the nature of Shakespeare's relationship with the Court of Queen Elizabeth, and how his performances before the Queen and his understanding of the royal taste affected his decisions when he wrote his plays.

Shapiro provides fresh insight into how Shakespeare's financial prospects and artistic choices that year were interwoven with the rising, and then the plummeting, fate of Robert Devereaux, the tragic Earl of Essex.

Forgotten events like the second Spanish Armada (which never materialised), and the English campaign to subjugate Ireland (which failed miserably) were of critical importance to the mood of England that year, and Shapiro shows how these events, almost or entirely forgotten today, exerted a powerful influence on Shakespeare's imagination.

Best of all, Shapiro connnects Shakespeare's development of the soliloquy with his reading of Montaigne's Essays, and he convincingly demonstrates how in 1599 Shakespeare invented what we think of as "Shakespearean" tragedy when he realised that Montaigne's literary innovation could be an instrument for depicting the inner consciousness of a character on the stage. Shapiro's reading of Hamlet is as illuminating as Harold Bloom's can be, without Bloom's metaphysical blather.

Shapiro also shows how the period marked the decline of the over-ripe chivalric ideals (embodied by Essex) of the English aristocratic class, and contrasts this with the rise of adventurous English merchant capitalists, signalled by the founding of The East India Company, a momentous event in the early development of what was to become the British Empire. Shapiro points out how this development transferred the initiative from knightly hot-heads like Essex and Raliegh to cool, sober, merchants who were about to produce centuries of successes. He shows that Shakespeare, a wealthy entrepreneur who sought to acquire a coat of arms, uneasily straddled both sensibilities.

What Shapiro achieves in this book is similar to what Charles Nicholls achieved for Christopher Marlowe's life in -The Reckoning-: he opens fresh new vistas on the playwright's life, making his hopes and dreams more understandable, and his imagination even more admirable.

Quite an accomplishment--quite a book.

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