According to Bryson, there’s little to go on in the way of hard facts about Shakespeare (the reason the book weighs in at under 200 pages – which makes for a short audiobook — about 5 ½ hours long).
Even the spelling of his name is questionable – Shakespeare is not spelled the same way in any of the signatures that survive. And the famous portrait you think may show you what the Bard looks like – well, there’s no proof it’s actually Shakespeare.
The most we have going for us is his plays – and the good fortune that a wide variety were saved.
If we had only his comedies, we would think him a frothy soul. If we had just the sonnets, he would be a man of darkest passions. From a selection of his other works, we might think him variously courtly, cerebral, metaphysical, melancholic, Machiavellian, neurotic, lighthearted, loving, and much more. Shakespeare was of course all these things – as a writer. We hardly know what he was as a person.
This book is full of fun and interesting historical facts about Shakespeare, his plays, his colleagues, and life during the time he lived – the type of conversation tidbits you should have ready if you attend cocktail parties or regale your coworkers at the water cooler. If you’re looking for exhaustive documentation, look elsewhere. But for an entertaining taste that whets your appetite for more, this is the place to start.