Will in the World

In Will in the World, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Jay Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, looks to tell the vast audience how a young man from Stratford-upon-Avon became the greatest playwright not only of his own age, but also of all time.

Chapter 1: Primal Scenes

      The first chapter of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare discusses the scenes that Greenblatt considers to be the foundation of William Shakespeare’s world.   They are public spectacles that Shakespeare would have been seen in his rural hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. As a student, Shakespeare would have read and participated in performances of Latin comedies at a local school. Greenblatt theorizes that Shakespeare starred in a play called The Two Menaechmuses, which later became a source for his Comedy of Errors. Traveling troupes of actors came through town, and Shakespeare might have attended these performances his father, the mayor. These troupes staged morality plays, which told tales about vices and virtues through simple plots and characters that stood for abstract principles, such as Youth or Chaos. Shakespeare later attempted to use this style but deliver his messages to a wider audience. Greenblatt speculates that Shakespeare was even influenced by the folk festivals that occurred in and around his town. Greenblatt concludes the chapter with a description of the impact of a visit by Queen Elizabeth to the region. The Queen stayed at the nearby castle of Earl of Leicester, who hosted performances of intricate plays.

Chapter 2: The Dream of Restoration

      English society in the time of Shakespeare’s upbringing was one where occupations/lifestyles were tightly regulated. John, his father, was a glove maker by trade but also who illegally drew income by trading wool and dealing in loans and property. John wanted to get rich and to become a gentleman. Greenblatt thinks that during the time between the end of Shakespeare's...