1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
James Shapiro, Faber, £16.99
Most general-audience books on Shakespeare are full of the grandest hot air. This one sets the plays of a single year -- Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet -- against events at the time of their composition and performance. The results are still speculative, but they are closely enough argued to be both compelling and convincing: how a change of cast (and theatre) affected Shakespeare’s style; how a failing war in Ireland and an ageing, paranoid queen seeped into his stage politics. Illuminating.