Shakespeare: "Crossing the Bridge"

One of the central mysteries explored by Stephen Greenblatt in the book Will in the World is why Shakespeare, married and a father, would leave behind his family in Stratford to move to London around 1590. Annotated with quotes from the playwright's subsequent work, Greenblatt offers an interesting theory - that he ran afoul of a justice of peace, that perhaps hidden Catholic sympathies had brought mortal danger to his door - but as with many other events of Shakespeare's life, little can be known with certainty.

Then in the midst of the chapter "Crossing the Bridge," which explores his motives and his entrance to London - possibly as a member of a touring troupe of actors - Greenblatt writes this:

Shakespeare was a master of double consciousness. He was a man who spent his money on coat of arms but who mocked the pretentiousness of such a claim; a man who invested in real estate but who ridiculed in Hamlet precisely such an entrepreneur as he himself was; a man who spent his life and his deepest energies on the theater but who laughed at the theater and regretted making himself a show. Though Shakespeare seems to have recycled every word he ever encountered, every person he ever met, every experience he ever had -- it is difficult otherwise to explain the enormous richness of his work -- he contrived at the same time to hide himself from view, to ward off vulnerability, to forswear intimacy.

Read it again. Greenblatt's writing in this volume is one of the book's chief pleasures. It slips on and on with astonishing ease. Will in the World is simply the finest effort I've ever read on creative mystery - its energies, its triumph, its solicitous bargaining.