Friday, June 21, 2013

Will in the World

While the past week and a half, serving as the advent of my summer vacation, have allowed me to fully recover from the horror of Finals Week, and celebrate the end of my freshman year at the University of Washington. Hooray! And yet, I find that I am still mildly hungover on the subjects of Spring quarter... most particularly, the ENGL 274 class I took on Shakespeare, Post 1603. 

The class itself was not terribly stimulating; if anything it was a class I very rarely attended (And that's not an exaggeration). Still, I ended up getting a 4.0 in the class, because it was a subject that interested me greatly. While the in-class discussions were nothing to bother about, the three main papers we had to turn in struck me as most important, and while I ended up getting excellent grades on all of them (96, 98, and 100 percents, and yes, I feel fully entitled to brag), the one that was the most fun for me, was, of course, a book review. (It received, ironically, the worst grade of the three). 

We had to select and review a book on the Bard, and the winner, for me, was Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, which offered an in-depth analysis of the people, landscape, art, and culture that shaped William Shakespeare, from one of the many sons of a rural glove maker and town figure, into one of history’s most iconic Londonites, and the most prolific playwright in the world. Traveling through the personal history of this iconic man - from the Latin-centric educational system that taught him to appreciate and manipulate words in equal measure, and the religious turmoil that might have played a part in his aversion to theology, to the monarchs that would write his paychecks and pave his career, and the city that would make his name synonymous with the stage - Stephen Greenblatt unearths the more complete origins of the distinctive literary voice of Shakespeare from historical quagmires of murky facts and probable theories, resulting in a more complete understanding of an exceptionally talented member of the echelons of England’s literary history.

Will in the World is unique among the many, many non-fiction works based around the life of the playwright, being that, while it does adhere to the many previously existing facts known about his life, it also clarifies the unknown, dark portions of blank history, without adding in some recently unearthed factoid, document, or piece to the puzzle: no new information on Shakespeare has surfaced in the writing of this book, and yet, it serves to elaborate on pre-existing knowledge of who this mysterious man was, by exploring not deeper personal connection, but the context in which Shakespeare himself presented his work, and the culture that shaped his perceptions of love, art, family, nature, comedy, and drama.

In some areas, such speculation detrimentally affects the validity of Greenblatt’s claims; for instance, a chapter on the possibility of a friendship between him, and English Catholic martyr and saint Edward Campion, came off as widely theoretical and boldly claimed, with almost no proof to back it up, these events having “potentially” occurred during what are Shakespeare’s lost years. However, even such theoretical musings served a greater purpose: to provide a greater understanding of the wider context of the religious climate in England at the time of Shakespeare’s formative years, and explaining what background he had in the conflicting principles (and royal governances) of Protestantism and Catholicism.Thereby does the unique approach, of filling in Shakespeare’s history with supposals and potentialities, unburden the Shakespeare scholar with the boundaries to his personal life of which to strictly pertain, and granting a less limited amount of source material, to explore the context and construction of the stories behind his plays, as well as William, the man.

Overall, Will in the World has fared well with readers, both on the wider market scale, as well as in the opinions of critical reviewers. It currently averages 3.92 out of 5 stars on popular book-sharing site Goodreads, and also garnered some very favorable personal opinions within that same forum. Its printed media supporters include the likes of Time, Newsday, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, as well as The Guardian, from Shakespeare’s own home base across the pond. It was also on the New York Times Bestseller List for Nonfiction for nine weeks straight, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize the same year it was published (which would be 2005). 

I was so inspired by this incredibly interesting book, that I used it as inspiration for this past Wednesday's "Looks from Books" for College Fashion, as well! Here's the link:  

Hope everyone's enjoying the beginning of their summer! :) I know I am. 

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