The writer attempts to find the truth about the life of one of the best known playwrights in British history – but does it reveal anything we didn’t know? 


The trouble with trying to find out who Shakespeare was outside being a playwright is that record keeping back during the Elizabethan and early Stuart period was not exactly the best – as the reader is constantly reminded.

This in turn means neither Bryson, historians or the readers of this book have any idea of what his life was like, which means that this biography is more about cutting through why some theories can just about be dismissed rather than providing any substantial information.

Unfortunately, this means that the reader is left with a book that is frustrating to read – even though it provides an insight into the society and world in which Shakespeare lived. It gives us an insight into some if the people that Shakespeare must have known – but not what kind of relationship if any existed between them.

While the details of Shakespeare’s life and family are vague (there are a few years in fact that there is no record of where he was or what he was doing), the book picks up when it goes into details about his plays, in terms of his influences and the language that he used.

By bringing his use of language into the book, it would make excellent reading for anyone studying Shakespeare at university or A Levels to gain a deeper insight into the way in which he wrote.

Yet, in this reader’s mind there aren’t enough moments in this book which are this deeply fascinating, but rather pieces of a story that it seems it no one will fully understand or to get to grips with due to a lack of historical fact or records. It seems that Shakespeare was destined to remain a shadowy figure.

While the writing is sharp, intelligent and with a clear amount of research having gone into it – ultimately the lack of solid information holds the book back from being a satisfactory read.

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson is available to buy now.