Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Written by Stephen Greenblatt
Review by Doug Kemp

We all know who William Shakespeare was—a prolific writer born in Stratford-on-Avon who traveled to London to make his fortune with words. Most of us can probably still quote a few lines from the speeches in Hamlet or Julius Caesar that we were required to memorize in eighth grade, but whose lines would Shakespeare have learned as a schoolboy? What do we really know about him as a person? It turns out that much of his life story is not known, and that the facts about Shakespeare that do exist have taken centuries of digging to reveal. Noted Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt comes to the rescue with an eminently readable biography of the Bard. Greenblatt effectively weaves context and conjecture, telling, for example, how likely it was for a young William Shakespeare to have seen, and indeed acted in, plays ranging from Latin classics (with the immoral bits expurgated, of course) to contemporary morality pieces. In learning about Shakespeare’s life we also learn about religion, the queen, the country of England, and much more, and it is all deftly explained as Greenblatt gives us the big picture surrounding one of the biggest voices in the English language. Highly recommended.