1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

James Shapiro

An intimate history of Shakespeare, following him through a single year that changed not only his fortunes but the course of literature.

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Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize, and shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford ‘Winner of Winners’ award in 2023

How did Shakespeare go from being a talented poet and playwright to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived? In this one exhilarating year we follow what he reads and writes, what he saw and who he worked with as he invests in the new Globe theatre and creates four of his most famous plays – Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet.

This book brings the news, intrigue and flavour of the times together with wonderful detail about how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman and playwright, to create an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.

Critic Reviews

[A] brilliant study, which carefully unpacks a single year in Shakespeare's life ... The audacious focus on just one year pays off magnificently, and this solid book isn't a page too long.

Phil Baker, Sunday Times
Critic Reviews

By focusing on a single, extraordinary year in his artistic development, Shapiro has produced a far richer, more intimate portrait of our greatest author than you're likely to find in any cradle-to-grave biography. Seamlessly weaving colourful history with biography and lit crit, it's both erudite and accessible - highly deserving of its place on this year's Samuel Johnson Prize long list.

Hephzibah Anderson, Daily Mail
Critic Reviews

...a wonderfully fresh understanding of [Shakespeare's] work through the social and political background of that interesting year.

Sunday Telegraph
Critic Reviews

This is gripping and illuminating.

Critic Reviews

[A] fascinating and entirely believable portrait of a talented workaholic ... Shapiro's informed enthusiasm and energetic prose is addictive. Another 17 volumes, please, taking us up to Shakespeare's shuffling off his mortal coil.

Ian Pindar, Guardian
Critic Reviews

Brave is the biographer who takes [Shakespeare] on, braver still James Shapiro, who's confined himself to just one year in his life. it's a masterstroke ... Shapiro tells you the sounds, the smells, the news and the work ... the man himself remains a mystery, but the air he breathed buzzes with life.

Catherine Shoard, The Scotsman

James Shapiro, who teaches English at Columbia University in New York, is author of several books, including 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (winner of the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize in 2006), as well as Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? He also serves on the Board of the Royal Shakespeare Company

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