Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Anniversary Edition)

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Anniversary Edition)

by Stephen Greenblatt

NOOK BookAnniversary Edition (eBook - Anniversary Edition)

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The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, reissued with a new afterword for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? Stephen Greenblatt brings us down to earth to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, could have become the world’s greatest playwright.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393079845
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/03/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 201,079
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, he is the author of eleven books, including Tyrant, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve: The Story that Created Us, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the 2011 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize); Shakespeare's Freedom; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World; Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture; and Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. He has edited seven collections of criticism, including Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, and is a founding coeditor of the journal Representations. His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize, for both Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England and The Swerve, the Sapegno Prize, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Wilbur Cross Medal from the Yale University Graduate School, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

November 7, 1943

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Massachusetts


B.A., Yale University, 1964; B.A., Cambridge University, 1966; Ph.D., Yale University, 1969

Table of Contents

Preface 11

Acknowledgments 15

A Note to the Reader 17

Chapter 1 Primal Scenes 23

Chapter 2 The Dream of Restoration 54

Chapter 3 The Great Fear 87

Chapter 4 Wooing, Wedding, and Repenting 118

Chapter 5 Crossing the Bridge 149

Chapter 6 Life in the Suburbs 175

Chapter 7 Shakescene 199

Chapter 8 Master-Mistress 226

Chapter 9 Laughter at the Scaffold 256

Chapter 10 Speaking with the Dead 288

Chapter 11 Bewitching the King 323

Chapter 12 The Triumph of the Everyday 356

Afterword 391

Bibliographical Notes 399

Index 417

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Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
rmishou More than 1 year ago
Greenblatt's outstanding work about Shakespeare effectively accomplishes what many scholarly books do not. This is a solid study that is very readable. As all Shakespearean scholars are, Greenblatt is forced to put together few facts to create a living breathing playwright. Each chapter captures an era of Shakespeare's life using plausible suppositions and supports it with the Bard's own works. Greenblatt's true scholarship shows, but he does not let it be hidden by obtuse language and obscure machinations. The role of Marlowe in Shakespeare's life as well as his views of Jews in Renaissance England are particularly solid chapters. My favorite, though, is the work on Macbeth and its relation to James I. It is not often that one wants to return to a scholarly book, but this is one of those. A comfortable, sturdy read that opens doors to the greatest writer in the English language.
mattanawcook More than 1 year ago
Of the six biographies of Shakespeare I have read, this was the least satisfying, in that it relies less on hard evidence (of which there is too little) than on the author's speculative powers. Every time the author proposed some rationale for why Shakespeare had done something, I kept thinking that there were many alternate and equally reasonable explanations. I wish he had chosen to write a work of historical fiction - like Wolf Hall - instead of a somewhat sketchy biography.
ElizabethSwigar More than 1 year ago
Another book that called out to me from the bookshelves of an airport bookstore - and another book that absolutely did not disappoint. Greenblatt's writing is engaging and engrossing. He sets the stage (pun, I suppose, intended) of Elizabethan England as a vivid backdrop to the events of Shakespeare's life. Though, as other reviewers pointed out, the thinness of the data force the author to engage in conjecture, it is fascinating conjecture. Additionally, Shakespeare's writing is delightfully woven into the conjecture, and I found myself again awestruck at his writing - as awestruck as I was the first time I truly began to appreciate it. I highly recommend this book - keep in mind, I'm no Shakespeare scholar, but I suspect that is precisely the audience for which it is intended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stephen Greenblatt's writing takes the reader into the Elizabethan world. The details are fascinating and the connections to Shakespeare's life and his plays are illuminating. The reader is drawn into this world in the same way that one is drawn into a richly detailed novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with Keane Whitinger's comments on this book. I saw the author speak about his book and it sounded very promising. It's interesting enough but does reach quite far in some conclusions. There's nothing wrong with extrapolation. My work depends heavily on it. But that extrapolation must be cautious and well founded. In my case lives could depend on it, so perhaps I come down too hard on the author. I did begin to note the sheer volume of 'perhaps', 'might', 'may' and it was surprising. I suppose we all would like to know much more about Will and his motivations, feelings and other things that affected the creative process. Just go into this magical mystery tour with eyes open.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We know but a few pages of biographical information about Shakespeare, and the rest muct always be extrapolated. This author uses the not umerited theory of rooting Shakespeare within the intersecting ripples of effect and cause of his age, of which we now do in fact know a great deal. Many of conclusions are sudden and surprising and almost irrefutable- the coincidence of the name Hamlet and Shak's own deceased infant son Hamnet, for instance-but the book does begin to stretch at times, particularly when an entire exhaustive list of motivations in Shak's early life is revealed. Then again, this does proveide an interesting read, which must be the case when comfronted with a hefty tome about a giant and enigmatic figure we know so little about. Read the sonnets and plays first; read the scholarship second; for far too often scholars overlook the sheer privations and struggles and exuberances of the creative act itself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This study of the mysterious grocer who changed and shaped the English language in between selling cabbages offers legitimate insights into Shakespeare, and a great deal of well bolstered teasing besides -- as will always be the case when anyone tries to assemble a definitive portrait of Shakespeare. It's not that far removed from trying to present a convincing history of Santa Claus. For my money, the best picture we have of the Bard is in his playful and prolific work. Still, I really enjoyed this book. A very interesting memoir/biography that goes into strange territory and does beautiful things with language is a book called IN THE GHOST COUNTRY dabbling that most elusive arena, the human haunted mind.
mythlady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
wdewysockie wrote my review for me. Read this book, and enjoy it, whatever its flights of fancy may be. It's a terrific read.
DoghouseRiley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Neither a history book nor a work of fiction, but the author's fantasy about what Shakespeare's life might have been like. The author lost me at the end of Chapter 4: too much idle fantasy when I had hoped for a window onto Will's world. Bill Bryson's book on Shakespeare is better: all history, plus his self-deprecating humor.
tchemgrrl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit frustrating, really. My brain is too scientific to find vague references in a monologue given by an unlikable character to be indicative of *anything*, much less who his drinking buddies were. But I appreciate the effort, the breadth of sources, and the fact that just about every play and a large number of sonnets get referenced--it is a good way of humanizing him, and certainly got me interested in a few of the plays I hadn't read. I think I might have enjoyed it more in bits and pieces--read the Macbeth chapter while I read the play. A potential for re-read, even though the overall book didn't really do it for me.
gwernin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elizabethan England is not really my period, but no English-speaking writer can be indifferent to Shakespeare. This book shows in careful detail how Shakespeare became the man he was (so far as genius can be explained by life experience), and how the plays he wrote proceeded from the things he saw and felt and did. I read it in sections before bedtime, and kept finding myself sitting up later than I'd meant to: each page leads to the next, each chapter to the one that follows, so smoothly and inevitably that I seldom got to bed much before midnight. Highly recommended.
benbulben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Writing a biography of Shakespeare is like trying to establish the existence of dark matter within the universe - a mysterious dark matter that binds stars and galaxies together. It's not what shines in the light but what hides in the dark that holds the true secrets of our being. ¿¿ Dark matter consists of little particles that pass through everything.I like the way Greenblatt is up front with the reader from the very beginning of his biography. In his Note To The Reader, he speaks to the various conjecture used in filling in the gaps of Shakespeare's life. All that can be done is make the best educated guess available. ¿¿Writing a biography of Shakespeare must be to biographers what playing the role of Hamlet or King Lear is to actors. Let's see, we will give you a trace of public documents to connect the dots in the life of your subject. You fill in the rest or come up with the rest. No easy task. ¿¿Greenblatt invokes us to use our imagination much like we would do if we were watching elves dance through the forests of Arden in A Midsummers Nights Dream. ¿¿After reading two biographies on William Shakespeare it strikes me that the same set of occurrences in Shakespeare's life lead to the same sort of speculations. Biographers build on biography.
carterchristian1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Assuming the author is accurate this is one of the best explanations of the author I have read. Theattention to his early education,and the role drama and Latin played at his school and drama performed around him in his early years is especially interesting.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Few -- very few -- historical documents exist that would allow biographers to bring us the life of William Shakespeare. Reading this book by Stephen Greenblatt, I was struck with the thought of how much history we may have already lost by not telling and writing down the stories of our ancestors, famous or otherwise.And Shakespeare is famous. So much so, that the lack of hard "evidence" hasn't dissuaded scholars from attempting to chronical his life; nor readers to peruse their writings. Stephen Greenblatt has studied what little evidence there is, and accounts of life in England during Shakespeare's lifetime. He has analyzed Shakespeare's writings deeply. From all of this, he constructs a plausible account of Shakespeare's life. Yes, it is partly -- at times, highly -- speculative. Unavoiable, under the circumstances. But, reading this book has given me a much deeper understanding of the context for Shakespeare's writing and I know I will enjoy watching his plays performed so much more for having done so.
ck2935 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An informative written journey on what external factors contributed to some of the greatest plays ever written.
BruceAir on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Critics have quibbled with some of Greenblatt's speculations about Shakespeare's life, but he delivers readable and detailed account of life in Elizabethan England. Read it before you attend a summer Shakespeare-in-the-Park production and you'll enjoy the experience a great deal more.
jstan9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Superb and supple biography linking Shakespeare's life with the plays. A remarkable acheivement. Entertaining, readable, sustained momentum, one revelation after another. Outstanding book.
kellan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Greenblatt is fascinating, brilliant, eurdite and yet accessible writer. His ability to bring the Elizabethan daily life alive is like watching a magic trick unfold, you dare not look away.However in the end that obsessive knowledge cripples him. Because Greenblatt is not just a scholar, he is the world's definitive Shakespeare fanboy, and deeply, **deeply** woven into this work is that unquestioning love. Which is fine, and his ability to share that passion is what makes this work compelling, but you are also aware that many questions are left unexplored, many assumptions unexplored, and I personally pined for that missed opportunity.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Could have been good, but was filled with unwarranted speculation on all aspects of Shakespeare's life. Stick to the facts, please.
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