Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

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Critical Overview

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

One of the noteworthy aspects to the criticism of Will in the World is that there is so much of it. The book has drawn an enormous amount of notice for a book by a literary critic and about a literary topic. Within months of its publication, it had been featured in most book review sections of newspapers and magazines in the United States and England. Overall, this criticism has been favorable. That is, it has received far more positive reviews than negative ones. For some critics, Greenblatt has written the best of the Shakespeare biographies, surpassing his predecessors through his insightful connections between Shakespeare's life and his works. Typical of these is Adam Gopnik, who reviewed Will in the World for the New Yorker:

Greenblatt's book is startlingly good—the most complexly intelligent and sophisticated, and yet the most keenly enthusiastic, study of the life and work taken together that I have ever read. Greenblatt knows the life and period deeply, has no hobbyhorses to ride, and makes, one after another, exquisitely sensitive and persuasive connections between what the eloquent poetry says and what the fragmentary life suggests.

Other reviewers agree in praising Greenblatt's insightfulness, and they also commend his literary style as elegant and eloquent, without calling attention to itself. Yet they are less persuaded than Gopnik by Greenblatt's articles. Colm Toibin, writing for the New York Times, sums up the view of several critics that Greenblatt is too willing to engage in guesswork, or to base claims on insufficient evidence: "Almost every step forward in reconstructing his life involves a step backward into conjecture and a further step sometimes into pure foolishness."

Christina Nehring, in the

(The entire section is 411 words.)