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November 11 , 2007

Becoming Shakespeare

The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard


Becoming Shakespeare begins where most Shakespeare stories end-with his death in 1616-and relates the fascinating story of his unlikely transformation from provincial playwright to universal Bard. Unlike later literary giants, Shakespeare created no stir when he died. Though he'd once had a string of hit plays, he had been retired in the country for six years, and only his family, friends, and business partners seemed to care that he was gone. Within a few years he was nearly forgotten. And when London's theaters were shut down in 1642, he seemed destined for oblivion.

With the Restoration in 1660, though, the theaters were open once again, and Shakespeare began his long ascent: No longer merely one playwright among many, he became the transcendent genius at the heart of English culture. Fifty years after the Restoration scholars began taking him seriously. Fifty years after that he was considered England's greatest genius. And by 1800 he was practically divine.

Jack Lynch vividly chronicles Shakespeare's afterlife-from the revival of his plays to the decades when his work was co-opted and "improved" by politicians and other playwrights, and culminating with the "Bardolatry" of the Stratford celebration of Shakespeare's three-hundredth birthday in 1864. Becoming Shakespeare is not only essential reading for anyone intrigued by Shakespeare, but it also offers a consideration of the vagaries of fame.
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