June 1, 2009
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by James Shapiro

Nick Hornby loved this book. So did I.

We have almost no biographical information about Shakespeare, but we do know an astonishing amount about Elizabethan London. Shapiro does a wonderful job of uncovering all sorts of daily details that impinge on Shakespeare in 1599 and the four great plays of that year, which runs from Henry V through Hamlet, with excursions through Julius Caesar and As You Like It. A lot was happening: Shakespeare's acting company, having lost their lease, pretty much stole their theater one winter weekend by disassembling the building and stowing it in a warehouse, to be reassembled that Spring on a new lot. The Earl of Essex set off for Ireland, where it seemed likely he would cover himself in glory and return home in triumph, ready to succeed to the throne in due course. There’s a lot of Ireland in all these plays, and lots of court politics, and Shapiro does a wonderful job of explaining it. Tons of fun.