Bill Bryson is one of my father’s favorite authors, but I must confess that I have never read any of his work before. To remedy this, I received this book as a gift about two years ago, and though I’ve only just manage to get around to reading it, I enjoyed it immensely.
It’s a difficult task for any writer to embark on writing a biography for The Bard; there’s very little we actually know about the man, and no small amount of speculation. With this in mind, the book is a very short read, and most of the content explanations about how we don’t actually know for sure if any of it is true. Bryson does do an excellent job, however, of compiling all the opinions about Shakespeare’s life and objectively judge their merits (or lack thereof). In this way the book is less a biography, and more a history of biographers who have attempted to discover the life and times of William Shakespeare.
While some reviewers have expressed dissatisfaction with “the whole book being pure conjecture,” I personally didn’t mind it, since amid all the uncertainty there were several interesting stories and facts about why we don’t have concrete answers. Plus, it’s so short it can be read in a matter of a couple hours; any longer and it might have felt like more of a waste of my time.
My one major critique is… choosing to write on this subject at all? I’ve read in many places (and heard from friends and family) that Bryson is a master of humor and wit. This work, however, lacked any of these characteristics. It’s unclear to me why Bryson would set out to write a book about something so unknowable, and then do so with very little humor… it’s an enjoyable read, but I’d hardly call it clever.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? There is no movie. This would make a terrible movie—110+ minutes of talking heads explaining that we have almost no evidence for anything they say. No thanks!