Will in the World
How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (2004)
by Stephen Greenblatt (1943-)
Greenblatt is a Harvard professor, editor of The Norton Shakespeare, and has clearly pondered the ways in which a person’s background thought affects his expression, or at least the ways in which the known, surmised, and conjectured background thought of William Shakespeare affected his expression in the sonnets and plays.
I read this book not long after Michael Woods’ In Search of Shakespeare, and the early parts of this book contained a lot of familiar material. However, the two works have different objectives and approaches. I found them both very interesting.
Greenblatt describes the constraints on players of the Elizabethan period, and the religious, social, and entertainment communities in which Shakespeare came of age. Addressing his later work, Greenblatt describes Shakespeare’s innovations, particularly what he calls the opacity of motivation: a way of describing a character’s actions without explicitly describing his thought processes, rather allowing the audience to infer them from more or less subtle hints implicit in the behavior. The final chapter describes how thoughts of retirement must have influenced his latest plays.
I found it interesting to learn how the fortunes of his company were affected by the accession of James, and the ways in which Shakespeare probed the limits of censorship or royal acceptance. I also hadn’t known of his business success in setting up for a long retirement.
Greenblatt acknowledges many scholars and biographers. Interestingly, among them is Woods and the movie Shakespeare In Love.
As often happens, this work inspires me to read further. I would like to look into the Norton Shakespeare, though I can’t tell if I will give this project enough priority to actually accomplish it (it’s over 3,000 pages!).