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Soul of the Age

A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

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Paperback published by Random House Trade Paperbacks (Random House Publishing Group)

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About This Book
“One man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespeare’s life and connects them to his world and work as never before.

Here is the author as an infant, born into a world of plague and syphillis, diseases with which he became closely familiar; as a schoolboy, a position he portrayed in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a clever, cheeky lad named William learns Latin grammar; as a lover, married at eighteen to an older woman already pregnant, perhaps presaging Bassanio, who in The Merchant of Venice won a wife who could save him from financial ruin. Here, too, is Shakespeare as a soldier, writing Henry the Fifth’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, with a nod to his own monarch Elizabeth I’s passionate addresses; as a justice, revealing his possible legal training in his precise use of the law in plays from Hamlet to Macbeth; and as a pantaloon, an early retiree because of, Bate postulates, either illness or a scandal. Finally, Shakespeare enters oblivion, with sonnets that suggest he actively sought immortality through his art and secretly helped shape his posthumous image more than anyone ever knew.

Equal parts masterly detective story, brilliant literary analysis, and insightful world history, Soul of the Age is more than a superb new recounting of Shakespeare’s experiences; it is a bold and entertaining work of scholarship and speculation, one that shifts from past to present, reality to the imagination, to reveal how this unsurpassed artist came to be.


From the Hardcover edition.
Show less
“One man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespeare’s life and connects them to his world and work as never before.

Here is the author as an infant, born into a world of plague and syphillis, diseases with which he became closely familiar; as a schoolboy, a position he portrayed in The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a clever, cheeky lad named William learns Latin grammar; as a lover, married at eighteen to an older woman already pregnant, perhaps presaging Bassanio, who in The Merchant of Venice won a wife who could save him from financial ruin. Here, too, is Shakespeare as a soldier, writing Henry the Fifth’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, with a nod to his own monarch Elizabeth I’s passionate addresses; as a justice, revealing his possible legal training in his precise use of the law in plays from Hamlet to Macbeth; and as a pantaloon, an early retiree because of, Bate postulates, either illness or a scandal. Finally, Shakespeare enters oblivion, with sonnets that suggest he actively sought immortality through his art and secretly helped shape his posthumous image more than anyone ever knew.

Equal parts masterly detective story, brilliant literary analysis, and insightful world history, Soul of the Age is more than a superb new recounting of Shakespeare’s experiences; it is a bold and entertaining work of scholarship and speculation, one that shifts from past to present, reality to the imagination, to reveal how this unsurpassed artist came to be.


From the Hardcover edition.
Product Details
Paperback (496 pages)
Published: October 12, 2010
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Imprint: Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN: 9780812971811
Other books byJonathan Bate
  • William Shakespeare and Others

    William Shakespeare and Others
    Collaborative Plays
    Among the plays staged at the Globe and published in Shakespeare's lifetime were The London Prodigal by William Shakespeare, A Yorkshire Tragedy written by W. Shakespeare and Thomas Lord Cromwell written by W. S. Could Shakespeare really have written these plays? Why were they excluded from the First Folio of his collected works? Edited by renowned Shakespeare scholars Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen and published in coordination with the Royal Shakespeare Company, this is the first edition in over 100 years of the fascinatingly varied body of plays that has become known as "The Shakespeare Apocrypha". Among the highlights are the whole text of Sir Thomas More, which includes the only scene from any play to survive in Shakespeare's own handwriting; the history play Edward III, including a superb seduction scene by Shakespeare; and the domestic murder tragedy Arden of Faversham, in which Shakespeare's hand has been detected by recent computer-assisted analysis. This is also the first ever Shakespeare edition to include the 1602 edition of Thomas Kyd's pioneering The Spanish Tragedy, with "additions" that the latest research attributes to Shakespeare. Included is a comprehensive account of the authorship and attribution of each play. Featuring introductions and background on each play, key fact boxes with information on sources and the distribution of parts, on-page notes explaining difficult or obsolete vocabulary, and interviews with directors and actors who have staged the plays, this work will be an essential addition to the library of any Shakespeare buff.

    The Public Value of the Humanities

    The Public Value of the Humanities
    Recession is a time for asking fundamental questions about value. At a time when governments are being forced to make swingeing savings in public expenditure, why should they continue to invest public money funding research into ancient Greek tragedy, literary value, philosophical conundrums or the aesthetics of design? Does such research deliver 'value for money' and 'public benefit'? Such questions have become especially pertinent in the UK in recent years, in the context of the drive by government to instrumentalize research across the disciplines and the prominence of discussions about 'economic impact' and 'knowledge transfer'. In this book a group of distinguished humanities researchers, all working in Britain, but publishing research of international importance, reflect on the public value of their discipline, using particular research projects as case-studies. Their essays are passionate, sometimes polemical, often witty and consistently thought-provoking, covering a range of humanities disciplines from theology to architecture and from media studies to anthropology.

    Shakespeare and the Twentieth Century

    Shakespeare and the Twentieth Century
    The Selected Proceedings of the International...
    This volume assembles a selection from the many papers delivered at the Sixth World Shakespeare Congress. Four plenary lectures are printed, including that of Jane Smiley on the creation of A Thousand Acres, her award-winning novel derived with King Lear. Twenty-two papers by well-known scholars also offer a wide range of responses to Shakespeare's art and international assessment of his presence in the world at the end of the twentieth century.

    The Genius of Shakespeare

    The Genius of Shakespeare
    This fascinating book by one of Britain's most acclaimed Shakespeare scholars explores the extraordinary staying-power of the world's most famous dramatist. Bate opens by taking up questions of authorship and then goes on to trace Shakespeare's canonization and near-deification, examining not only the uniqueness of his status among English-speaking readers but also his effect on literary cultures across the globe. Ambitious, wide-ranging, and historically rich, this book shapes a provocative inquiry into the nature of genius as it ponders the legacy of a talent unequalled in English letters. A bold and meticulous work of scholarship,The Genius of Shakespeareis also lively and accessibly written and will appeal to any reader who has marveled at the Bard and the enduring power of his work. This tenth anniversary edition has a new twenty-page afterword that addresses the renewed interest in Shakespeare and recent film adaptations of his most celebrated works.

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