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“One man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespea “One man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespeare’s life and connects them to his world and work as never before. Here is the author as an infant, born into a world of plague and syphillis, diseases with which he became closely familiar; as a schoolboy, a position he portrayed in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a clever, cheeky lad named William learns Latin grammar; as a lover, married at eighteen to an older woman already pregnant, perhaps presaging Bassanio, who in The Merchant of Venice won a wife who could save him from financial ruin. Here, too, is Shakespeare as a soldier, writing Henry the Fifth’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, with a nod to his own monarch Elizabeth I’s passionate addresses; as a justice, revealing his possible legal training in his precise use of the law in plays from Hamlet to Macbeth; and as a pantaloon, an early retiree because of, Bate postulates, either illness or a scandal. Finally, Shakespeare enters oblivion, with sonnets that suggest he actively sought immortality through his art and secretly helped shape his posthumous image more than anyone ever knew. Equal parts masterly detective story, brilliant literary analysis, and insightful world history, Soul of the Age is more than a superb new recounting of Shakespeare’s experiences; it is a bold and entertaining work of scholarship and speculation, one that shifts from past to present, reality to the imagination, to reveal how this unsurpassed artist came to be.


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“One man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespea “One man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespeare’s life and connects them to his world and work as never before. Here is the author as an infant, born into a world of plague and syphillis, diseases with which he became closely familiar; as a schoolboy, a position he portrayed in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a clever, cheeky lad named William learns Latin grammar; as a lover, married at eighteen to an older woman already pregnant, perhaps presaging Bassanio, who in The Merchant of Venice won a wife who could save him from financial ruin. Here, too, is Shakespeare as a soldier, writing Henry the Fifth’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, with a nod to his own monarch Elizabeth I’s passionate addresses; as a justice, revealing his possible legal training in his precise use of the law in plays from Hamlet to Macbeth; and as a pantaloon, an early retiree because of, Bate postulates, either illness or a scandal. Finally, Shakespeare enters oblivion, with sonnets that suggest he actively sought immortality through his art and secretly helped shape his posthumous image more than anyone ever knew. Equal parts masterly detective story, brilliant literary analysis, and insightful world history, Soul of the Age is more than a superb new recounting of Shakespeare’s experiences; it is a bold and entertaining work of scholarship and speculation, one that shifts from past to present, reality to the imagination, to reveal how this unsurpassed artist came to be.

30 review for Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Infant, Schoolboy, Lover, Soldier, Justice, Pantaloon, and Oblivion: “Soul of the Age” by Jonathan Bate.   There are devotees of Wagner, Madre Teresa, and Cristiano Ronaldo; my fate has been Shakespeare.   “I like to think that Shakespeare would have adopted a similar procedure if he had been commissioned to write his own biography,” says Bate. Uhm…Really? Narcissism on Bate’s part? Maybe only someone with Bate’s background would be able If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Infant, Schoolboy, Lover, Soldier, Justice, Pantaloon, and Oblivion: “Soul of the Age” by Jonathan Bate.   There are devotees of Wagner, Madre Teresa, and Cristiano Ronaldo; my fate has been Shakespeare.   “I like to think that Shakespeare would have adopted a similar procedure if he had been commissioned to write his own biography,” says Bate. Uhm…Really? Narcissism on Bate’s part? Maybe only someone with Bate’s background would be able to tackle a project of this magnitude. The “seven ages” approach allows Bate to make absorbing inferences about Shakespeare’s life, motives, and work, while being cognizant of the speculative nature of his endeavour.   This was one of the books that slipped through my fingers when it came out in 2009.     The rest of this review can be found elsewhere.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    This is a very good book about Shakespeare in the context of the times in which he lived. I've been rereading Henry IV 1 & 2 as well, and I would like to give a humble recommendation to revisit those plays, as well as The Tempest, in these tempestuous, yet oddly still times. They're helping. Hope everyone is holding tight. This is a very good book about Shakespeare in the context of the times in which he lived. I've been rereading Henry IV 1 & 2 as well, and I would like to give a humble recommendation to revisit those plays, as well as The Tempest, in these tempestuous, yet oddly still times. They're helping. Hope everyone is holding tight.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Antenna

    Sequenced to follow the seven phases of a man’s life in the famous “All the world’s a stage” soliliquy, chapters takes the form of themed essays. Readers will be struck by different revelations and insights in the spate of ideas. I realised for the first time that it was the banning of the cycles of medieval mystery plays by the Protestant Reformation which created a vacuum into which Shakespeare could present his new plays, untrammelled by dogma, relatively free to range over a wide range of to Sequenced to follow the seven phases of a man’s life in the famous “All the world’s a stage” soliliquy, chapters takes the form of themed essays. Readers will be struck by different revelations and insights in the spate of ideas. I realised for the first time that it was the banning of the cycles of medieval mystery plays by the Protestant Reformation which created a vacuum into which Shakespeare could present his new plays, untrammelled by dogma, relatively free to range over a wide range of topics and ideas. I liked the idea of Shakespeare continually drawing on his Warwickshire roots. So, when culling ideas for “As You Like It” from a prose romance called “Rosalynd”, he turned the forests of the Ardennes into Arden. When insulted for his lowly origins by an educated, now forgotten rival playwright, who called him “an upstart crow beautified with our feathers”, Shakespeare took humorous revenge in “The Comedy of Errors” with a punning dialogue on “breaking in with a crow without feather” that is to say, a crowbar. The exchange is much more entertaining when you know the context. It was the father of a friend of Shakespeare’s who translated into English details of the universe according to Copernicus, with the sun at the centre. When the accepted belief was in the “necessary correspondence between the order of the cosmos and that of the state”, Shakespeare showed his independence of mind and flexibility of thought in giving humorous irony to to Edmund in “King Lear”: “when we are sick in fortune – often the surfeits of our own behaviour – we make guilty of our disaster the sun, the moon and stars, as if we were villains of necessity…..My father compounded with my mother under the dragon’s tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous”. Just before the abortive coup which ended in his execution, the Earl of Essex may have been inspired to sedition by Shakespeare’s Richard II: if Shakespeare had been sent to the Tower for this, great works such as Othello, Lear, Macbeth and the Tempest might never have been written. As it was, eighteen of his major plays which did not appear in print in his lifetime would probably have been lost if two colleagues from the Company of King’s Men to which he belonged had not ensured their publication after his death. We see Shakespeare daring to experiment with the ideas of Montaigne, exploring a range of philosophies including the Epicurean view, suspected because of its association with atheism: the need to give vent to one’s feelings rather than maintain Stoical patience, for “Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopped, Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is.” There are gaps in our knowledge of Shakespeare. Was he obliged to steer clear of King James’s court for a while since he had syphilis? Yet we have many remarkable details, such as the amount a colleague left him in his will, the fact that his energy was exhausting, but there was widespread admiration for his “wit” in the widest sense of linguistic talent, humour, imagination and judgement. So, the author's occasional attempts at surmise seem like unnecessary contrivance. With his astonishing knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works, perhaps Jonathan Bate may be forgiven a convoluted style and a weight of detail which is sometimes too much to absorb. This book has helped me to appreciate Shakespeare’s wit and insight, filling me with good intentions to revisit his sonnets, even study some of his plays again.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Belanger

    Mostly-fascinating collection of essays, thoughts, theories and placing-you-there Elizabethan history that attempts to understand nothing less than the very mind of Shakespeare, as a man of his time, and--as Ben Jonson famously wrote--as a man "not of an age, but for all time." Besides a couple of chapters about the politics and religion of his time that I found a bit too dry, the book succeeds at doing so. It is at its best when it sticks to the literary and theatrical stuff: his plays, his the Mostly-fascinating collection of essays, thoughts, theories and placing-you-there Elizabethan history that attempts to understand nothing less than the very mind of Shakespeare, as a man of his time, and--as Ben Jonson famously wrote--as a man "not of an age, but for all time." Besides a couple of chapters about the politics and religion of his time that I found a bit too dry, the book succeeds at doing so. It is at its best when it sticks to the literary and theatrical stuff: his plays, his theatres and the people he knew. If anyone doubts the existence of a non-university man who got a woman eight years his elder pregnant, married her, and left them behind to find his glory and future in the theatres of London, England, let them read this, and they will doubt no more. This book brings Shakespeare to life like few things I have read. Michael Wood's book and a couple of others are just as good, in different ways. And they all delve into the man and his time using their own conceits. The conceit of this one is to break the book down into sections that correspond to Shakespeare's famous "Seven Stages of Man" speech from As You Like It. (This is the one that begins with the even-more-famous line, "All the world's a stage.") And so Bate chronicles the life of and mind of Shakespeare by breaking his life up into the seven parts that we all supposedly share. I got the feeling that Bate had much of the book written already, via separate speeches and chapters, and tied them all together with the conceit of the seven stages, but whatever. It doesn't matter, because it works. The narrative is at its best when it brings us pell-mell into Elizabethan England. We see it as Shakespeare may have, and we witness things, and become aware of city-wide and nation-wide news that he would have been aware of. We meet the Burbages, and Heminges, and Condell, and the theatre and publishing climates of the time. We see him as one of the many in these realms, and as one in the businesses he was in. He is placed firmly in his time, and yet the book works well also when it shows him to be a chronicler of his time. Shakespeare is renowned as being perhaps not just the best writer of our times, but also as the best mirror to his own time, without blocking the visage with his own image. He is within his world, and yet surprisingly intellectually and philosophically detached from it, so he can show it to us, and paint a picture of our human nature, and yet not include his own views and preferences in it--all at the same time. In short, we know what Hamlet thinks--but we never know what Shakespeare thinks. Of course, no writer is his character, and no character is its author. We know all of one, and very little about the internalization of the other. But Bate's book gets us closer to it than perhaps anything I've read before. The best compliment I'd give to this book is that it shows you something different about Shakespeare and his England, even if you thought you'd read it all before, like I have. If you enjoy that kind of literary history, and a biography of him (a little) and of his time, and of his place in his time (a lot of that), then you'll enjoy this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth McCollum

    I was really liking this book, reveling in yet another sensible author who doesn't fall for the whole Shakespearean controversy nonsense. He had lots of really great detail about Shakespeare's life and how it informs his works etc. Then he's talking about Hamlet and Polonius' speech to Laertes, and his analysis of the speech is simply that it is full of old saws and cliched advice. And that the end of the speech, "To thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not I was really liking this book, reveling in yet another sensible author who doesn't fall for the whole Shakespearean controversy nonsense. He had lots of really great detail about Shakespeare's life and how it informs his works etc. Then he's talking about Hamlet and Polonius' speech to Laertes, and his analysis of the speech is simply that it is full of old saws and cliched advice. And that the end of the speech, "To thine own self be true/And it must follow, as the night the day/Thou canst not then be false to any man," was just as cliched and trivial as the rest of the speech. That really bothered me. Okay, yeah, Polonius is annoying, the whole scene where he tells the king and queen that Hamlet is mad for the love of Ophelia is really funny and full of nonsense. But his speech to his son is one of the few real heartfelt things Polonius says. His advice, taken piece by piece, is actually quite sound, if a bit stuffily pronounced. And that last gem is absolutely golden and absolutely true. And yes, I'm probably a bit biased, since I took those three lines as my basic philosophy of life years ago. But really, stepping back and looking at them objectively, there is nothing cliched or trivial in those last three lines. They are succinct and they cut to the heart of how we should relate to our fellow beings. So, long essay short, I will be going back to it at some point, skipping past his ideas about Polonius, but it was a bit of a let down after all the goodness that came before!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sam Tornio

    A wealth of labyrinthine scholarship, occasionally losing steam, but giving real depth to the world of ideas surrounding Shakespeare.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    Profound, insightful, brilliantly researched, and illuminating to this reader, who finds it difficult to learn much new about the personal life and plays of Shakespeare. While I stumbled a little in beginning it, the test of a 5 star rating is readability. Ultimately, this book became utterly fascinating to me despite holding multiple degrees in Shakespeare Studies. There are (too?) many biographies of Shakespeare, all of which serve different purposes. Some achieve straightforward biographical n Profound, insightful, brilliantly researched, and illuminating to this reader, who finds it difficult to learn much new about the personal life and plays of Shakespeare. While I stumbled a little in beginning it, the test of a 5 star rating is readability. Ultimately, this book became utterly fascinating to me despite holding multiple degrees in Shakespeare Studies. There are (too?) many biographies of Shakespeare, all of which serve different purposes. Some achieve straightforward biographical narration and accuracy, others narrate Shakespeare's life through the chronology of his plays, and yet others strive for academic agendas: new areas of research, alternative readings of his personality and intentions, purposely controversial contentions, and highly esoteric personal academic philosophies. Many of them win awards, none of them are poor. Some are very easy to read, some are very difficult to read. The strength of Bate's biography is that he takes an unusual approach, combined with high academic content, and makes it both an enjoyable and educational read. Although structuring the book according to the Seven Ages of Man speech might not seem all that original an idea, the execution absolutely is. This is not a chronological "life of Shakespeare", but is indeed as the subtitle suggests, a life story of the mind of Shakespeare, meaning a survey of the ideas that floated through his mind as he worked and composed. So, while the structure of Jaques's speech is necessarily chronological, the ideas are cyclical in an overview of the mind. For instance, the first age is Infancy, but that doesn't mean we are confined to a life of Shakespeare's first few years of life, or a history of Stratford or England at that time. The idea of infancy is covered and then plumbed from throughout Shakespeare's works, meaning a reference from The Tempest makes an appearance in this very first chapter. The same for the last chapter on Mortality: Hamlet and Titus are considered because of the philosophies that emerge in those plays concerning the nature of death. Combined with a healthy and vigorous intersectionality of the philosophies and politics in currency at the time, as reflected by their appearance in Shakespeare's works themselves, this approach makes for an invigorating read alongside substantiated new speculations and suggestions for our understanding of Shakespeare's life. Because he was working on a version of The Complete Works at the time, Bate is able to deploy any quote and plumb the most remote reference to offstage realities in order to flesh out the cultural currencies in circulation in Shakespeare's mind and on his stage during his lifetime. I would not recommend this book initially for the inexperienced reader looking for a basic narrative biography. There are fine biographies elsewhere for that. However, for the enthusiast with experience in reading about the English Renaissance and particularly in Shakespeare's works, this will stand for a long time as one of the top 5 books available on Shakespeare.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    “Soul of the Age” is Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate’s attempt at “biography of the mind” of the Bard. His take on it is to examine Shakespeare’s life, time, and works through the lenses of his famous “7 Ages of Man” speech from his play “As You Like It”. An intriguing idea, but not one that I am sure comes across as completely successful in this text. First off, this is not a biography for the casual reader of Shakespeare. This book assumes a certain amount of knowledge of Shakespeare’s work, “Soul of the Age” is Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate’s attempt at “biography of the mind” of the Bard. His take on it is to examine Shakespeare’s life, time, and works through the lenses of his famous “7 Ages of Man” speech from his play “As You Like It”. An intriguing idea, but not one that I am sure comes across as completely successful in this text. First off, this is not a biography for the casual reader of Shakespeare. This book assumes a certain amount of knowledge of Shakespeare’s work, and of the historical period of his life in general. If you are not already inclined to be interested in Shakespeare, this text will not create that interest in you. As someone who usually devours most things Shakespeare related, I have to admit that the first 146 pages of this book just dragged for me. They are tedious at best. Mr. Bate examines what educational and literary influences the young Shakespeare would have encountered and it is a lot of Latin and Greek, and frankly just too much of it for me to care. Interesting thoughts are presented here, but they are at best conjecture, and thus not as important as Bate seems to emphasize. The author states too many times that such and such a book Shakespeare would have no knowledge of, or that he would not have owned a copy of this or that book. Mr. Bate, you (we) don’t know! Period. Which you acknowledge when you point out theories about Shakespeare from others that you don’t agree with. “Physician, heal thyself”. There is a bit of conjecture in this text, which any book about Shakespeare will have. I don’t mind that, usually. In this book, it bothered me. Maybe because the author rarely admitted when he was doing it? When we get to the third age of man (Lover) the text picks up in earnest and I began reading with an eagerness and interest. The book keeps this momentum going (for the most part) from this point in the text to the end. I’m glad I read “Soul of the Age”. Mr. Bate is an intelligent and close reader of Shakespeare. It has earned a place on my bookshelf. I just wish I had enjoyed it a bit more.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I am a bit of a Shakespeare 'bore' and will not hear a word against him. Genius is a much overused word but in Shakespeare's case it is totally deserved. Jonathan Bate helps explain why WS was of his time and how Shakespeare was influenced and influenced the Elizabethan and Jacobean world and why he is so bloody important....and why you sat there in school reading his words and why, as an actor and a playwright we should get off our backsides and act his words not just read them. Bate's book is no I am a bit of a Shakespeare 'bore' and will not hear a word against him. Genius is a much overused word but in Shakespeare's case it is totally deserved. Jonathan Bate helps explain why WS was of his time and how Shakespeare was influenced and influenced the Elizabethan and Jacobean world and why he is so bloody important....and why you sat there in school reading his words and why, as an actor and a playwright we should get off our backsides and act his words not just read them. Bate's book is not for everyone. But if you are a Shakespeare fan it's a great read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    The main educator on Shakespeare and his World, The University of Warwick

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul Frandano

    Dazzling. Never will a reader approach more closely the mind of the greatest maker that ever strode our planet... As Jonathan Bate observes in the concluding pages of his splendid work, John Hemings and Henry Condell, who gathered the 37 texts included in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, receive too little gratitude for the Folio and for saving 18 plays that otherwise would never have appeared, including As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra, and Dazzling. Never will a reader approach more closely the mind of the greatest maker that ever strode our planet... As Jonathan Bate observes in the concluding pages of his splendid work, John Hemings and Henry Condell, who gathered the 37 texts included in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, receive too little gratitude for the Folio and for saving 18 plays that otherwise would never have appeared, including As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra, and also providing generally superior, more complete versions than those plays published earlier in quarto format. Let us then give thanks, in the form of an anonymous little poem, found in an early 17th century  manuscript collection of a prominent English house, that beautifully expresses the thanks of the millions who read and love these works and the millions yet to come. And in the meantime, say these names: John Hemings. Henry Condell. To my good friends Mr. John Hemings and Henry Condall (sic) To you that jointly, with undaunted pains, Vouchsafed to chant to us these noble strains, How much you merit by it is not said, But you have pleased the living, loved the dead, Raised from the womb of earth a richer mine, Then Cortez could with all his Casteline Associates: they did but dig for gold, But you for treasure much more manifold.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Veru

    A very interesting and highly informative read. Unlike biographies about Shakespeare that I have read before, Bate mostly stayed inside the boundaries of facts and events that can be proven (apart from a few personal interpretations that are always stated as such). Furthermore, Bate clears up some statements about Shakespeare that are generally believed to be true and examines them from a different point of view, leading to many new insights. I would not recommend this book as a read for someone A very interesting and highly informative read. Unlike biographies about Shakespeare that I have read before, Bate mostly stayed inside the boundaries of facts and events that can be proven (apart from a few personal interpretations that are always stated as such). Furthermore, Bate clears up some statements about Shakespeare that are generally believed to be true and examines them from a different point of view, leading to many new insights. I would not recommend this book as a read for someone that is new to Shakespeare, seeing that a deeper knowledge of his plays and maybe also partly his biography is needed to understand some implications (and especially because Bate continuously refers to preconceived notions about Shakespeare’s life that require a general knowledge of the scholarly discourse), but it is definitely a great read for someone that has already engaged with Shakespeare more broadly before and is hoping to gain some new knowledge and ideas!

  13. 5 out of 5

    James Bechtel

    4.5 stars.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Charles Matthews

    Many things are unknowable about Shakespeare's life, including his relationship to his wife and the period between their marriage and his showing up in London as an actor-playwright. That hasn't stopped writers from speculating, however, and from going to the plays and poems to plug the biographical holes. Even the best conventional biography of Shakespeare I've read, Stephen Greenblatt's bestselling Will in the World, relies on that approach more than Bate does. What Bate gives us is, as his sub Many things are unknowable about Shakespeare's life, including his relationship to his wife and the period between their marriage and his showing up in London as an actor-playwright. That hasn't stopped writers from speculating, however, and from going to the plays and poems to plug the biographical holes. Even the best conventional biography of Shakespeare I've read, Stephen Greenblatt's bestselling Will in the World, relies on that approach more than Bate does. What Bate gives us is, as his subtitle indicates, "a biography of the mind," an investigation of the culture and the intellectual climate in which Shakespeare lived and moved and had his being. What could he have known as a man born in sixteenth century England who lived into the start of the seventeenth, and, more important, what did he do with what he knew? The result is not a typical linear cradle-to-the-grave biography, which may frustrate some readers who want chronology above all else. Bate structures the narrative on the "seven ages of man" speech delivered by Jacques in As You Like It: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and oblivion. But given that there's not much documentable fact about some of these "ages" -- it would be hard to get many pages out of Shakespeare's infancy other than when, where, and to whom he was born -- and there's no evidence that Shakespeare was ever a soldier or a judge, Bate uses these periods in Jacques's speech to explore the intersection between Shakespeare's life and the works that touch on the several periods. Thus, "infancy" deals with the place where Shakespeare was born and grew up, Stratford-upon-Avon and the Warwickshire countryside, and the ways in which it is reflected in the work, as well as the ways in which this provincial background is played off against the cosmopolitan London where he became famous. It acknowledges that the year of his birth, 1564, was a plague year, and that plague shaped his career, periodically closing the theaters and forcing the actor-playwright to find other means to express himself and earn his livelihood. At the same time, Bate uses what he discovers about the places, events, and ideas that Shakespeare encountered to illuminate the works. He uses the Renaissance humanism of writers such as Montaigne and Erasmus to examine The Tempest in ways that I found transformed my own reading of the play. He contrasts Shakespeare's financial success with that of his contemporaries to suggest that practical common sense was for him a prevalent virtue, one that informs his attitudes toward the characters he created. Without taking sides in the controversy over whether the marriage of Will and Anne was a happy one, he examines the complexities of male-female relationships in the plays. On the other hand, he examines the sonnets not so much for what they might tell us about Shakespeare's sex life, gay or straight, but as the poet's treatment of a popular genre and as a reflection on the era's prevailing attitudes toward love. He shows how the fall of the earl of Essex sent a shockwave through the political and literary establishment and may have shaped Shakespeare's later career. He examines Elizabethan geopolitics -- the relationship between the parts of the world dominated by Spain and the parts that were England's potential allies -- and the way it is reflected in plays such as Othello and The Winter's Tale. He shows how England's internal politics form the subtext not only of the history plays but also those set in past eras (King Lear) and in ancient Rome. He looks at the theater itself -- the way it was run, the actors with whom he performed and for whom he wrote -- and how it shaped what he wrote. He questions whether Shakespeare ever really retired from the theater before his death, challenging the idea that Prospero's renunciation speech at the end of The Tempest is really the playwright's own valedictory to the stage. And he tackles the most challenging question of all: What did Shakespeare really believe? He looks at the ten instances in which the word "philosopher" appears in the plays, and concludes that Shakespeare privileged experience over dogma, likening him in this respect to Erasmus and Montaigne. And he comes to the quite satisfactory conclusion that, of all the characters in Shakespeare, for all the attempts to find the "real" Shakespeare in Hamlet or Prospero or Prince Hal, the one who comes closest is Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra: "Enobarbus embodies the pliable self recommended by Epicurus and Montaigne.... Intelligent, funny, at once companionable and guardedly isolated, full of understanding and admiration for women but most comfortable among men (there is a homoerotic frisson to his bond with Menas and his rivalry with Agrippa), clinically analytical in his assessment of others but full of sorrow and shame when his reason overrides his loyalty and leads him to desert his friend and master, Enobarbus might just be the closest Shakespeare came to a portrait of his own mind."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hugh Coverly

    Have completed a second reading of this superb study of Shakespeare and his works. Given that’s 10 years old, I wonder where and how Bate’s judgement has changed? Superb study of Shakespeare. Bate uses the writings of the Bard and other documentation concerning him from his time in Stratford and London to build a compelling portrait of Shakespeare’s life and work. Using the seven ages of man as a framework Bate shows how Shakespeare most likely lived and worked as both an Elizabethan and a Jacobe Have completed a second reading of this superb study of Shakespeare and his works. Given that’s 10 years old, I wonder where and how Bate’s judgement has changed? Superb study of Shakespeare. Bate uses the writings of the Bard and other documentation concerning him from his time in Stratford and London to build a compelling portrait of Shakespeare’s life and work. Using the seven ages of man as a framework Bate shows how Shakespeare most likely lived and worked as both an Elizabethan and a Jacobean play-maker and businessman. Bate does not become bogged down in the many arguments that have taken up so much time and energy without resolutions; he generally dismisses them as distractions that divert us from his genius and continuing relevance. A valuable resource into understanding Shakespeare’s thinking and how it shaped and influenced his plays from 1590s until his death in 1616. I have now read Jonathan Bate’s four book length studies on Shakespeare. Both Shakespeare and Ovid and How the Classics Made Shakespeare demonstrate how Shakespeare’s reading of the classical writers like Ovid, Horace and others influenced his writing of the plays and poems. The Genius of Shakespeare highlights how he has been regarded by both British and European writers and philosophers in the centuries since his death. In this book, Soul of the Age, Bate puts Shakespeare in historical context of the Renaissance and places him firmly in the history of his times as both an Elizabethan and Jacobean writer. I especially appreciate the chapters “Soldier” where among other events Shakespeare is placed in the context of the Earl of Essex’s rebellion in the final years of Elizabeth’s reign, and “Oblivion” where Bate discusses Shakespeare’s comments on life and death, and the afterlife. Once again, Jonathan Bate presents himself as a sensible scholar who makes suggestions about how to understand Shakespeare but makes no inconvertible judgements.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1291854.html[return][return]I read Bates' earlier book, The Genius of Shakespeare, at the end of last year, and very much enjoyed it; this didn't grab me quite as much, but is still very good, concentrating on what Shakespeare's works tell us about his environment - cultural, political and intellectual - rather than on the man and his legacy as in the earlier book. It is organised around the Seven Ages of Man speech, which gives a nice thematic progression. The chap http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1291854.html[return][return]I read Bates' earlier book, The Genius of Shakespeare, at the end of last year, and very much enjoyed it; this didn't grab me quite as much, but is still very good, concentrating on what Shakespeare's works tell us about his environment - cultural, political and intellectual - rather than on the man and his legacy as in the earlier book. It is organised around the Seven Ages of Man speech, which gives a nice thematic progression. The chapters on the Essex rebellion of 1601, and on Shakespeare's education and philosophy, are particularly worth reading. (It is certainly a book where you can dip in and out for particular chapters.)[return][return]I was puzzled therefore by a couple of gaps in the story. There is a good discussion of astrology and astronomy (Shakespeare was clearly a sceptic of horoscopes), but no mention of witchcraft or other aspects of the supernatural, which is a pretty huge lacuna - from Joan La Pucelle and the sorcerous Duchess in Henry VI 1 and 2, to the deities performing in The Tempest, unearthly powers are never far away. The other area which struck me listening especially to the later plays (though perhaps it doesn't fit Bate's intellectual scheme) is Shakespeare's use of music, song and dance as an integral part of the play.[return][return]Still, a useful addition to the Shakespeare section of the bookshelf.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    Every book about Shakespeare must deal in conjecture, since the subject is unknowable in so many areas of his life, and since all plays are open to interpretation, readers can disagree with an author's view, but one ought not fault an author for what he thinks. I read this along with Greenblatt's "Will In The World" and the short book "Shakespeare" by Anthony Burgess (which is fabulous). This book belongs in any Shakespeare lover's shelf. It's not perfect, but no book is, and for this Shakespear Every book about Shakespeare must deal in conjecture, since the subject is unknowable in so many areas of his life, and since all plays are open to interpretation, readers can disagree with an author's view, but one ought not fault an author for what he thinks. I read this along with Greenblatt's "Will In The World" and the short book "Shakespeare" by Anthony Burgess (which is fabulous). This book belongs in any Shakespeare lover's shelf. It's not perfect, but no book is, and for this Shakespeare lover, any book written with this much admiration for the man is worth five stars. I'm not one to separate Shakespeare lovers into camps (Bloomists vs. Kermodeans, etc....) I think the tent is large enough for everyone. You won't go wrong reading the works or the books about the man. This one is not overly scholarly, so it won't require the reader to have a encyclopedic knowledge of the plays or the life of the writer. It's a good starter for those thinking about taking a year to read and study the man and his work.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Another excellent biography of the life, work and times of Shakespeare written by a scholar of great depth. We continue to add to our knowledge of the age of Shakespeare. Greenblatt's "Will in the World" did a similar study but with many more "Could it be that...?" phrases. Another key to the book is that the author writes about his subject both as playwright and as player offering new insights to the theater world. A close correlation between the time the players were preformed and the historic Another excellent biography of the life, work and times of Shakespeare written by a scholar of great depth. We continue to add to our knowledge of the age of Shakespeare. Greenblatt's "Will in the World" did a similar study but with many more "Could it be that...?" phrases. Another key to the book is that the author writes about his subject both as playwright and as player offering new insights to the theater world. A close correlation between the time the players were preformed and the historical circumstances add to our knowledge. Plentiful quotations fro the plays are included. Recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a superb book, which will warrant at least three reads, and a permanent place on any bookshelf - however small. Jonathan Bate bravely shares many original ideas, deftly backed up with detailed evidence. Shakespeare, the poet, the lover, the businessman, the actor, the dramatist, the political analyst, the philosopher, the quiet man in a dark corner of the inn - listening out for unconsidered trifles and juicy gossip. The bard was all these things and more. Jonathan Bate captures the spirit This is a superb book, which will warrant at least three reads, and a permanent place on any bookshelf - however small. Jonathan Bate bravely shares many original ideas, deftly backed up with detailed evidence. Shakespeare, the poet, the lover, the businessman, the actor, the dramatist, the political analyst, the philosopher, the quiet man in a dark corner of the inn - listening out for unconsidered trifles and juicy gossip. The bard was all these things and more. Jonathan Bate captures the spirit of the man as best as can be done, and I can't think of a more appropriate title for this excellent book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cassian Russell

    This is a fascinating look at Shakespeare. I call it a socio-cultural biography. Bate organizes the book around the 7 ages of human life and describes each stage in terms of the Elizabethan context and what is likely to have been the case with Shakespeare. As he goes, he makes wonderfully stimulating connections with the plays. Specific points in the plays have been newly illuminated by this book. It goes on my self with other intriguing Shakespeare books by Ackroyd, Burgess, Shapiro, Goddard an This is a fascinating look at Shakespeare. I call it a socio-cultural biography. Bate organizes the book around the 7 ages of human life and describes each stage in terms of the Elizabethan context and what is likely to have been the case with Shakespeare. As he goes, he makes wonderfully stimulating connections with the plays. Specific points in the plays have been newly illuminated by this book. It goes on my self with other intriguing Shakespeare books by Ackroyd, Burgess, Shapiro, Goddard and Greenblatt.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sydney

    A wonderful premise, but Bate struggled to make the necessary connections. A familiarity with both Shakespeare and British history is necessary in order not to drown in the academic language.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beetqueen

    This is a well-written, well-researched book on Shakespeare and his works. I like that it is part biography and part analysis. I also like that he makes it very clear when he is making assumptions about Shakesperare's life and that those assumptions are grounded. The author does a good job of dispelling misconceptions by providing thorough historical context as well as source material in Shakespeare's own works and those of his contemporaries. I've read quite a bit about Shakespeare over the yea This is a well-written, well-researched book on Shakespeare and his works. I like that it is part biography and part analysis. I also like that he makes it very clear when he is making assumptions about Shakesperare's life and that those assumptions are grounded. The author does a good job of dispelling misconceptions by providing thorough historical context as well as source material in Shakespeare's own works and those of his contemporaries. I've read quite a bit about Shakespeare over the years and this book aligns itself with other Shakespearean scholars I trust and admire. I think what sets this book apart from others I've read on the Bard is the in-depth readings of his own plays within this book. I also really appreciated the inclusion of the actual annotations early readers of Shakespeare made within their copies of his plays. That is something I had not see before. A good read, but not for those without a real academic interest in Shakespeare and his work.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I have not read much Shakespeare except what we studied at school. I really liked this book though. It makes clear how Shakespeare arose from his background. That made him seem more real, as a successful and talented product of his time, rather than a "great man" in isolation. It was interesting to learn he was practically the only literary figure of his time to avoid getting in trouble for political entanglements. The book was also informative about many aspects of Elizabethan and Jacobean life I have not read much Shakespeare except what we studied at school. I really liked this book though. It makes clear how Shakespeare arose from his background. That made him seem more real, as a successful and talented product of his time, rather than a "great man" in isolation. It was interesting to learn he was practically the only literary figure of his time to avoid getting in trouble for political entanglements. The book was also informative about many aspects of Elizabethan and Jacobean life so I recommend it if you are interested in those periods. For example I learned a lot about schoolteaching of the era, and the differences between outlooks in the two periods. I liked how it was structured by theme rather than chronologically too - it made it more readable because each chapter is about a topic rather than just a timeperiod.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeffery Thompson

    This is a book I admired more than enjoyed. Truly, it's a masterwork -- scholarly and brilliantly insightful. Because we know so little about Shakespeare's life, Bate delves deeply into Shakespeare's plays, and the history of the time, to extrapolate a biography. Many sections of the book were deeply fascinating to me. Others - particularly those that explore plays I have not yet read - eluded me. I'm glad I read it, and I stand in awe of Bate's intellect. I might refer back to the book again as This is a book I admired more than enjoyed. Truly, it's a masterwork -- scholarly and brilliantly insightful. Because we know so little about Shakespeare's life, Bate delves deeply into Shakespeare's plays, and the history of the time, to extrapolate a biography. Many sections of the book were deeply fascinating to me. Others - particularly those that explore plays I have not yet read - eluded me. I'm glad I read it, and I stand in awe of Bate's intellect. I might refer back to the book again as I continue to study Shakespeare's work, but I probably won't go back to it as a pleasure-read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Williams

    An absolute diamond of a book. There was so much in this that I had never considered. As a budding translator, my favourite section was the one that described Shakespeare as multilingual. I guess I knew he must have studied Latin, but I had never given much thought to how it must have shaped his consideration of the English language. The book is full of surprising and clever ideas, but the writing and pacing keep you on board.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Armand

    Well researched and thoughtful academic writing. I did learn a lot about Elizabethan England and Shakespeare, but the writing never quite grabbed me and pulled me in. I would recommend this to researchers and serious fans of the Bard, but maybe not for the casual reader.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hunter

    I read this for school and I can't say I hated it, but I most defidently didn't love it. Shakespeare is interesting to read about, yet this book dragged on and didn't make me want to continue on with my History project. Overall though, it wasn't that bad. I read this for school and I can't say I hated it, but I most defidently didn't love it. Shakespeare is interesting to read about, yet this book dragged on and didn't make me want to continue on with my History project. Overall though, it wasn't that bad.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Baker

    There were a few interesting bits but overall I found it way too speculative, irrelevant/tangential, and hideously disorganized for it to be readable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Amazing book about the life of Shakespeare. Highly recommended for anyone,who would like to understand his life and work a bit more.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    There were times when I wanted to throw the book at Bates in frustration at his leaps of conjecture and conclusions without foundation. Yet, in between those moments, I enjoyed the book. At times Bates' admiration of Shakespeare bordered on bardoltry, though not to the same infuriating extent as Bloom's in his The Invention of the Human. The Seven Ages of Man device was a bit artificial and, given the paucity of information we have about Shakespeare's life, there were times when Bates struggled t There were times when I wanted to throw the book at Bates in frustration at his leaps of conjecture and conclusions without foundation. Yet, in between those moments, I enjoyed the book. At times Bates' admiration of Shakespeare bordered on bardoltry, though not to the same infuriating extent as Bloom's in his The Invention of the Human. The Seven Ages of Man device was a bit artificial and, given the paucity of information we have about Shakespeare's life, there were times when Bates struggled to fill the parallel without straying too far from it. Whether you are a Stratfordian, Oxfordian, Baconian or any other -ian, this book should be essential reading. It offers valuable primary evidence for William of Stratford's authorship of the Shakespeare canon, and supplements it with credible deductive (but not necessarily empiric) proofs. All in all, it is one of the more comprehensive attempts at revealing how the life of the man is reflected in his plays - though there is a faint bitter aftertaste that if an author's life plays such a great role in shaping his or her work, what role is there for imagination?

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