Shakespeare: The World as Stage

By Bill Bryson | Harper Collins | $19.95 | 199 pages | 2007
Reviewed by Donald F. Paine

This is an excellent brief but comprehensive biography of our best dramatist. The unabridged audio version is read by Bryson in his acquired British accent (he was born in Iowa).

Shakespeare has his modern detractors. But he added more than 2,000 words and phrases to the English language. Who first wrote "cold comfort" and "foregone conclusion"? Guess.

Estate lawyers have pondered the Bard's bequest to wife Anne of "my second-best bed." Bryson suggests that the first bed was reserved for Stratford houseguests. Perhaps the second bed was where the couple created their three children, Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet.

The author makes mincemeat of arguments that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. Here are the principal "claimants":

  1. Francis Bacon? Nope. His authorship was initially advanced by an American, Delia Bacon, who "retreated into insanity." Others got on board (including Mark Twain), but the Baconian theory has subsided.
  2. Christopher Marlowe? No way. He was killed during a drinking bout in 1593.
  3. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford? No. While Oxfordians are abundant, I'll let you read pages 188-191 to learn why they are wrong. For example, de Vere inconveniently died in 1604, before the final plays were written and staged.

Finally, you and I should turn to Shakespeare's works more often. I purchased a small volume of quotations (The Ages of Man) from a bookstall in Manhattan at age 19 while working as an office boy during college summer vacation. Reading it repeatedly has enriched my life.


Donald F. Paine DONALD F. PAINE is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, Bickers, and Tillman LLP and a member emeritus of the Tennessee Bar Journal editorial board.