Friday, December 12, 2008

WILL IN THE WORLD by Stephen Greenblatt

Unlike most of his contemporaries in the academy, Stephen Greenblatt writes a clear, attractive prose. His style is illuminated with glimmers of mild wit and carries surprisingly uncluttered arguments. In short, the man writes well, and this makes his book worth reading. As for his arguments, he's too eager to place the young Shakespeare in a world of Catholic conspiracy (probably because it's an entertaining subject that Greenblatt wants to write about), but his identification of Robert Greene as an original of Falstaff is as clever as it is compelling. The biggest problem with Greenblatt's book is its generic classification. This isn't 'nonfiction' at all. It is as much a tapestry woven from authorial supposition and educated guesswork as Burgess's Nothing Like The Sun and deserves to be placed alongside that novel as an imaginative improvisation (albeit by a narrator more sober than Burgess's) upon Shakespearean themes. All Shakespeare biographies are finally historical novels; given the paucity of significant information about the subject's life, they can be nothing else. Greenblatt's book might have benefitted from more self-consciousness in this area.

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