A Bookish History in Review: Shakespeare’s Library

May 5, 2019 Uncategorized 4 ★★

A Bookish History in Review: Shakespeare’s LibraryTitle: Shakespeare's Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature
Author: Stuart Kells
Source: from publisher for review

Summary: While parts of this book were interesting, it felt unfocused and full of filler.

This book is ostensibly about the search for Shakespeare’s library. His physical library could inform us about how he worked. Knowledge of his library’s contents would show us what sources might have inspired him. I was fascinated by this idea and hoped for some serious scholarship, preferably quantitative in nature, identifying sources Shakespeare probably referenced. The book was also sold as a bit of an adventure story in the intro, so I was prepared for some exciting anecdotes about the physical search for Shakespeare’s books as well. Unfortunately, the author primarily used Shakespeare’s library as a framework to lay out his own theory about Shakespeare’s identity.

The author’s focus on his own theory didn’t even become clear until the end of the book. For most of the book, I was confused about why we were spending so much time on other theories about Shakespeare’s identity. The evidence for any given Shakespeare candidate (as presented by the author) seemed to exist on a spectrum between tenuous and laughable. The book also contained a lot of filler. We learned entire histories of people with weak connections to the Shakespeare story (they once collected a first folio! they helped bring Shakespeare plays to Australia!). We focused more than I would have liked on the people the author has personally interacted with. For example, one of the author’s friends believes Sir Henry Neville was Shakespeare. This seems to be the only reason the author spends so much time on the Nevillian theory instead of, say, the Baconian one.

I wanted to like this book. The premise sounded fascinating. Books about books are one of my favorite subgenres and this book certainly included fascinating stories at times. Overall though, I found the contents of the book to be a real grab bag. I regretted spending time learning about the absurd ‘evidence’ supporting the Nevillian theory. Had the author been upfront about this book being his foray into theories about Shakespeare’s identity and organized this book to focus on his evidence for that theory, I think this could have been an extremely enjoyable book. As is, it’s kind of a mess.

If this sounds interesting to you, you might check out Shay at Required Reading’s thoughts for an enjoyable and less curmudgeonly review 🙂

4 Responses to “A Bookish History in Review: Shakespeare’s Library”

  1. Briana @ Pages Unbound

    I’m intrigued because I didn’t know the search for Shakespeare’s library was even a thing that was going on, but I’m not much interested in theories of his identity. I thought we were all pretty confident now that Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

    • DoingDewey

      It seems like a lot of the physical searching for Shakespeare’s library is over at this point, with people doing more trying to figure out what sources he might have used instead. The author mostly talks about still possibly finding Shakespeare’s library in the context of possibly realizing someone else was Shakespeare, so if that question doesn’t interest you, I’d probably recommend passing on this one.

  2. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Hahahha, you’re not curmudgeonly! I have read such wonderful books about Shakespeare, and I love reading about him and his work, but then I have read some NONSENSE about him too. It’s okay to notice that!

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks Jenny! I feel like you’re someone I can count on to do a good job distinguishing grumpiness from justified annoyance 🙂 This definitely felt like it was one the nonsense end of the spectrum, at times!

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