“How did Shakespeare become Shakespeare?” by Stephen Greenblatt

“A young man from a small provincial town– a man without independent wealth, without powerful family connections, and without a university education– moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. His works appeal to the learned and the unlettered, to urban sophisticates and provincial first-time theatergoers.

He makes his audiences laugh and cry; he turns politics into poetry; he recklessly mingles vulgar clowning and philosophical subtlety. He grasps with equal penetration the intimate lives of kings and beggars; he seems at one moment to have studied law, at another theology, at another ancient history, while at the same time he effortlessly mimes the accents of country bumpkins and takes delight in old wives’ tales. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? How did Shakespeare become Shakespeare?…

This is a book, then, about an amazing success story that has resisted explanation: it aims to discover the actual person who wrote the most important body of imaginative literature of the last thousand years. Or rather, since the actual person is a matter of well-documented public record, it aims to tread the shadowy paths that lead from the life he lived into the literature he created.”

–Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 11-12.

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