Thursday, December 10, 2009
By Bill Bryson
I've been a long time fan of Bill Bryson's entertaining and informative style of writing. I've read a number of his travel adventures, and happily waded my way through The Short History of Nearly Everything. I was delighted to see he tackled the subject of Shakespeare.
My Shakespeare experiences include some uninspiring encounters with it at high school via King Lear, and Julius Caesar, and some far more satisfying encounters as a young adult with The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It. I also read a few Charles Lamb books.
Most of my adult excursions into Shakespeare territory have been via movies, and more recently reading Tania Roxborogh's wonderful sequel to Macbeth, called Banquo's Son.
But back to Bill - Bryson, not Shakespeare. This book was a fabulous and by Bill's standards, short read. I was aware of some of the debates around who wrote Shakespeare, by those academics who cannot for the life of them believe a bloke named Shakespeare actually wrote Shakespeare, so it was interesting to see the genesis of some of them.
The part that fascinated the most though was finding out William Shakespeare's contribution to the English language with neologisms. He made the first recorded use of 2035 words, including these common words we take for granted - critical, frugal, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellent, assassination, lonely, zany, unlock, untie.
He also introduced many phrases - one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, cold comfort, flesh and blood, tower of strength, to list a few.
So Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson turned out to be a delectable little read, and I feel I have a much better knowledge of that other Bill now.