1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
by James Shapiro
Faber £16.99, pp416
The film Shakespeare in Love has a lot to answer for. The Oscar-winning movie cut a swath through the tranquil meadows of Shakespeare scholarship. First, there was the idea that the poet's life was, after all, a proper subject for biographical speculation. Then there was the notion that by linking scraps of documentary evidence with a careful scrutiny of clues buried in the plays, it was possible, even desirable, to compose a plausible narrative about the life and times of a great Elizabethan that might also appeal to a 21st-century audience.
Stephen Greenblatt, a renowned Shakespearean scholar who was also an adviser on the film, was perhaps the first brilliantly to transplant the groves of academe to Hollywood with his bestselling Will in the World. Now, James Shapiro, less elegant but more forensic, has pulled a similar stunt, providing a long and absorbing footnote to both the film and the bestseller.
In 1599, perhaps the decisive year in Shakespeare's life, art and politics collided to an extraordinary degree. The Tudor state had to crush an Irish rebellion and see off another armada threat from Spain. And, if you happened to be in London, there was an annus mirabilis in the playhouses.
In the course of the year, Shakespeare completed Henry V, wrote Julius Caesar and As You Like It in short order. Shapiro convincingly demonstrates that 'it is no more possible to talk about Shakespeare's plays independently of his age than it is to grasp what his society went through without the benefit of Shakespeare's insights'. An epigraph to this fine book would be Hamlet's famous observation that plays and players were alike the 'abstract and brief chronicles of the time'.
In Shakespeare studies, this declares a revolution. Ever since Coleridge, the prevailing view has been that the poet not only transcended his age but also wrote, in Coleridge's words 'exactly as if of another planet'. This point of view derives in part from Ben Jonson's 'He was not of an age but for all time', an idea echoed in Matthew Arnold's 'Others abide our question. Thou art free'. Shapiro will have none of this and, bringing us down to earth with a bump, his ambition is to understand, as Greenblatt put it, 'how Shakespeare became Shakespeare' by placing him in a world of plague, conspiracy and invasion.
It is often said that we know very little about Shakespeare. The truth is that, in jigsaw form, we know a lot. There is a mass of microscopic documentary evidence. Moreover, his work is surrounded by hundreds of extant chronicles, plays, poems and stories, all of which fed the river of his imagination. In addition, there are countless contemporary letters and diaries still yielding secrets.
The story of 1599, then, is an enthralling one that includes the rebuilding of the Globe; the fall of Essex; the death of Spenser; a complicated publishing row about the Sonnets; the sensational opening of Julius Caesar; rumours of the Queen's death; the completion of a bestselling volume of poetry The Passionate Pilgrim; and finally, the extraordinary imaginative shift represented by the first draft of Hamlet.
Partly, 1599 is a rediscovery of the worlds that shaped the poet's development and which, in his maturity, were becoming lost - the bloody Catholic past; the deforested landscape of Arden; a dying chivalric culture. Partly, it is a record of a writer reading, writing and revising to meet a succession of deadlines.
Inevitably, like Greenblatt, when Shapiro writes about an age before newsprint and photographs, there is an air of speculation about his reconstruction. Much as he may want to reach the common reader, Shapiro must also protect his scholarly reputation with here a defensive 'perhaps', there a prudent 'maybe'. None the less, his intuitions, especially about the crucial influence of Marlowe on Shakespeare's development, are deeply persuasive.
Perhaps he will get roasted in the scholarly journals for stretching a point or two, but so what? He has got under the skin of a writer who worked harder than most, while opening the hearts and minds of his audience, to keep a lock on what he told us about himself. 1599 is an unforgettable illumination of a crucial moment in the life of our greatest writer. Shakespeare lovers everywhere will be grateful for it.
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- Book/Printed MaterialEin ratschlag wider die gotlosen tentz ... Catalog Record - Electronic Resource Available At head of title: Euangelion Marci. VJ. Title within ornamental border. Signatures: A in four B in ... (verso of B2 blank)
- Contributor: Gruner, Caspar
- Book/Printed MaterialIstitvtioni harmoniche Catalog Record - Electronic Resource Available Title vignette. First edition, Venice, 1558. Bound with his "Dimostrationi harmoniche", Venice, 1571, and "Sopplimenti musicali", Venice, 1588.
- Contributor: Zarlino, Gioseffo
- Book/Printed MaterialVlyssis Aldrovandi ... Ornithologiae, hoc est de avibus historiae, libri XII ... Vols. 2-3 have imprint: Bononiae, apvd Io: Bapt. Bellamgambam, MDC[-MDCIII]. Colophon: Bononiæ, Apud Io: Baptistam Bellamgambam. 1599. Impensis magnifici domini Francisci de Franciscis Senensis (briefer form for vols. 2-3, preceded by Bellagamba's second device, a flaming brazier). Engraved title-pages. Woodcut initials. "Cvm indice septemdecim lingvarvm copiosissimo" (vols. 2-3, "Cvm indice copiosissimo variarvm lingvarvm") The three volumes comprise 20 "libri" (v. 1, liber I-XII; v....
- Contributor: Aldrovandi, Ulisse
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- Book/Printed MaterialDe arte svppvtandi libri qvattvor. Catalog Record - Electronic Resource Available Library of Congress. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 1218
- Contributor: Tunstall, Cuthbert - Budé, Guillaume - Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress)
- Book/Printed MaterialCompendiolvm mvsicæ pro incipientibvs Catalog Record - Electronic Resource Available The first ed. cited is that of Brunswick, 1548. In that issue the title reads as in the present ed., indication the existence of an earlier ed. cf. Eitner, "Magister Heinrich Faber" (Monatshefte fur̈ musikgeschichte, 2. Jahrg., 1870, p. 26 ff.)
- Contributor: Faber, Heinrich
- Book/Printed MaterialRegula musice plane venerabilis fratris Bonaventure de Brixia ordinis minoru[m]. Catalog Record - Electronic Resource Available Signatures: a⁸, b-d⁴. Title within woodcut border. Printer's mark on t.p. above title. Gothic type. Guidonian hand on recto of third leaf. Musical examples. First edition published at Brescia in 1497 under title: Breviloquium musicale.
- Contributor: Bonaventura
- Book/Printed MaterialConfessionario breue, en lengua mexicana y castellana
Confessionario breve "Acabose de imprimir este confessionario en xxvj de Henero Año de 1565."--Colophon. Title page in red and black. Large woodcut title vignette in red and black; woodcut Library of Congress. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 1299 Palau y Dulcet (2nd ed.) 174360 Sabin 49870
- Contributor: Molina, Alonso De - Espinosa, Antonio De - Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress)
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- Book/Printed MaterialClaudii Ptolemei viri Alexandrini mathematice discipline philosophi doctissimi Geographie opus nouissima traductione e Grecorum archetypis castigatissime pressum, ceteris ante lucubratorum multo prestantius ...
Geographie opus nouissima traductione e Grecorum archtypis castigatissime pressum, ceteris ante lucubratorum multo prestantius | Geographie opus novissima traductione e Grecorum archetypis castigatissime pressum, ceteris ante lucubratorum multo prestantius | Geographi[a]e opus nouissima traductione e Gr[a]ecorum archtypis castigatissime pressum, c[a]eteris ante lucubratorum multo pr[a]estantius Jacopo d'Angelo's Latin translation from the Greek of Ptolemy's Geographia. "This edition was commenced by ... Martin Waltzemüller ... about the year 1505 ... Mathias Ringmann ... was also employed on the work. The modern maps were prepared by Waltzemüller, and most of them--perhaps all--engraved as early as 1507. The completion of the text, however, was delayed; and in 1508 all of the material...
- Contributor: Ptolemy - D'angelo, Jacopo - Ringmann, Matthias - Essler, Jacob - Übelin, Georg - Waldseemüller, Martin - John Boyd Thacher Collection (Library of Congress) - Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress)
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- Book/Printed MaterialAmericae pars VII. Verissima et ivcvndissima descriptio praecipvarvm qvarvndam Indiae regionum & insularum, quae ... ab Vlrico Fabro ... inuentae & ab eodem summa diligentia consignatae fuerunt, ex Germanico in Latinum sermonem ... Translation of Ulrich Schmidel's Warhafftige und liebliche Beschreibung. The 3 numb. plates intended to illustrate this pt. were published with pt. 8, 1st ed., 1599. First ed. Cf. Church. Cat. of books relating to ... America, 161; with the mark on the "plinth of the left-hand pier" on t.p. Kraus, H.P. Sir Francis Drake, no. 31 Sowerby, E.M. Cat. of the lib. of Thomas...
- Contributor: Bry, Theodor De - Arthus, Gotthard - Bry, Johann Theodor De - Bry, Johann Israel De - Schmidel, Ulrich - Hans and Hanni Kraus Sir Francis Drake Collection (Library of Congress) - Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress) - Thomas Jefferson Library Collection (Library of Congress)
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- Book/Printed MaterialErotemata musicæ practicæ, ex probatissimis qvibvsqve huius dulcissimæ artis scriptoribus accuraté & breuiter selecta, & exemplis puerili institutioni accomodis illustrata, iam primvm ad usum scholæ Luneburgensis, & aliarum puerilium in lucem edita, ... Catalog Record - Electronic Resource Available Colophon: [v. 1]: Noribergae, Excudebant Ioannes Montanus, & Viricus Neuberus. [v. 2.]: Noribergae, Apud Iohannem Montanum, & Viricum Neuberum. Anno. 1563. Signatures: A-L, A-C in eights. Side-notes. Vol.  has special t.p.: Melodie sex genervm carminvm. With this is bound "In P. Vergilii Maronis Bvcolica annotationes H. Eobani Hessi poëtae," Cologne, 1556.
- Contributor: Lossius, Lucas