The theatre for which Shakespeare wrote and acted was a cut-throat commercial entertainment industry. Yet his plays were also intensely alert to the social and political realities of their times. Shakespeare had to make concessions to the commercial world, for the theatre company in which he was a shareholder had to draw some 1,500 to 2,000 paying customers a day into the round wooden walls of the playhouse to stay afloat and competition from rival companies was fierce. The key was not so much topicality - with government censorship and with repertory companies recycling the same scripts for years. Instead, Shakespeare had to engage with the deepest desires and fears of his audience. Will in the World is about an amazing success story that has resisted explanation: it aims to be the first fully satisfying account of Shakespeare's character and the blossoming of his talent. There have, of course, been many biographies of Shakespeare. The problem each one faces is the thin amount of material surrounding his life. They lead us through the available traces but leave us no closer to understanding how the playwright's astonishing achievements came about.
The real-world sources of Shakespeare's language - of his fantasies, passions, fears, and desires - lie outside the scope of these earlier books. Will in the World will set out to recover the links between Shakespeare and his world and with them to construct a full and vital portrait of the man. Its purpose is to know the magician himself, as well as his magic tricks, and to experience the touch of the real. It is a journey that centres on the perils and pleasures of Shakespeare's unfolding imaginative generosity - his ability to enter into others, to confer upon them his own strength of spirit, to make them live and breathe as independent beings as no other artist who ever lived has done.
Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and is the founder of the school of literary criticism known as New Historicism. As visiting professor and lecturer at universities in England, Australia, the United States and elsewhere throughout the world, he has delivered such distinguished series of lectures as the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford and the University Public Lectures at Princeton. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships and has been President of the Modern Language Association. Professor Greenblatt is the author and co-author of nine books and the editor of ten others, including The Norton Anthology of English Literature (7th edition) and The Norton Shakespeare.