James Shapiro’s 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear

4.5 Stars

This book was phenomenal. As a lover of history, and an avid adorer of Shakespeare, my expectation of enjoyment was high going in, and that expectation was surpassed. James Shapiro gives the reader a cornucopia of information to chew on as he moves you through this year in Shakespeare’s life. The narrative is fluid and engaging, the facts were lightly dusted into the story without leaving the feeling of an academic essay, all citation, no content, behind. Beginning with the treasonous plot designed to overthrow King James and the entire governmental body of England (the infamous Gunpowder Plot, November 5th 1605) Shapiro traces lines of connections (court documents, speeches, fragments from letters, publications) to frame the who, what, when, where, and how of the aftermath of that failed plot and the ways it shifted the world of playwrights, players, and England’s subjects in significant ways. The almost conversational nature of the prose in which this story is crafted made it impossible to put down. While I enjoy reading nonfiction, particularly when it is about time periods prior to 1900, I generally find myself needing a break, a little fiction to engage some other aspect of my mind. With this book, no such break was needed. Above and beyond the clean narrative voice, the tidbits and slices of life in the London (sometimes England) of King James in 1606 painted into the tale, are refreshing and fascinating. In particular the exploration of the devastation of the plague in that year was very compelling. The depth of research and knowledge that went into developing this book is astonishing, even more astonishing is the craft displayed in taking that research and weaving it into the story I’ve just read! Bravo, and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Published October 1st  2015 by Faber & Faber

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