This book’s threefold rhyming subtitle – ‘Shakespeare’, ‘Year’, ‘Lear’ – is charmingly witty. It is also slightly misleading. In the manner of such currently fashionable formulas as ‘the long 16th century’, James Shapiro has assembled an exceptionally generous ‘year’. It encompasses a lot of material, not all of which belongs strictly to 1606. He has also made a practical decision not to trouble his readers with the complexities of Old and New Style dating, which leaves some chronological boundaries rather blurred. As a whole, however, 1606 is richly packed with accounts of court masques, turbulent political events and the composition and performance of three major Shakespeare plays.
Perhaps because so much is included, the single-year formula that worked so well in Shapiro’s earlier 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare here seems rather less compelling. This is partly the consequence of much historical and political material being crammed into this bumper-sized year, which renders it more complex. It is also rather