Still slightly handicapped in writing and typing, I have attacked the to-be-read pile and am right now in the middle of A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599 by James Shapiro, currently available at Amazon.com Bargain Price.
James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English at Columbia University and a Shakespearean and Elizabethan culture scholar.
1599 was a pivotal year for Shakespeare. He and his troupe built the Globe Theatre (Wikipedia, handle with care) and became independent of other theaters, and he was ready for new plays. In this year, he wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Hamlet, at the same time bringing his work to a new dramatic and intellectual level.
It was a period of great turmoil in England, the succession of an aging queen was looming large, and Mr. Shapiro sets out to demonstrate that Shakespeare did not write in a vacuum but that his writing reflects the cultural and political environment of his age, probably well understood by an Elizabethan audience. NPR has as page on the book with the downloadable Prologue and excerpts of Chapter One.
During this time, it was also often advisable to publish sanitized versions of one's plays to avoid book burning and prosecution, and it was not until the 1623 Folio that plays of Shakespeare in question were restored to their full text. Mr. Shapiro also points out that sometimes "corrections" have been made in modern editions, because editors did not understand subtexts and thus assumed printing errors.
The author also discusses the then recent access to translations of Plutarch and Tacitus to the reading public and the effect they had. Plutarch was safe, even the Queen was dabbling in translations, but admiring Tacitus was not a good idea . . .
Right now I'm in the middle of reading a fascinating analysis of Julius Caesar, which makes me badly want to read the play again. (Can't wait till the author gets to Hamlet.)
In Print: William Shakespeare