I am not a great reader of biographies (or that too from Jacobean or Elizabethan literature) but I just finished a new book by Bill Bryson (and you say - but Bill Bryson is not about bioraphies). Yes, you are true - but this book is about a prominent figure from that era. The book surprisingly is not a travel book (oh thank god, I would not have to laugh-holding-my-stomach-till-I-cry a lot like I do while reading this travel books) but a biography of Shakespeare.
It is a very clean book - it actually does not gives its own theories about many mysterious facts of Shakespeare's life; but just tries to be itself. It is author's attempt to decode more of what Shakespeare was as a human being not as a writer. He traces William Shakespeare journey from Startford-upon-Avon to London (in Lord Chamberlain's Men) and then back to Startford-upon-Avon, where he died in 1616.
Bill Bryson highlights the major feature of Shakespeare's life (or whatever we know of him) - scant facts as we know. For example, it is rather strange to know that for nearly eight years of his life - nobody knows where Shakespeare was - before he actually surfaced as one of the most prominent play writer in London. Or, that there are hardly a dozen writings of Shakespeare in his own hand writing - and half of them are his signatures - each one different from another. And there is not a single painting of William Shakespeare in which we can say for sure how did he looked like - or even if the guy in the painting is indeed Shakespeare. Few records of Shakespeare's life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about matters such as his sexuality (just because he wrote a rather risque poem dedicated to an Earl & some sonnets of intense friendship), religious beliefs (just because it was so confusion out there at that time in general) and whether the works attributed to him were written by someone else (this is height of... !!). Bryson documents the efforts of different scholars (some bizarre and others more bizarre) - where each one tried to prove a point about Shakespeare's life. Consider this, an eccentric Delia Bacon, who developed a firm but 'unconvincing' (read "no proof") conviction that, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays.
Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker like room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed. Bryson celebrates the great era of English literature & London play circuits with facts rather then defining them on speculations. Bryson also points out that we know so little about Shakespeare because till hundred years after his death there was no serious attempt to write about his life - was it because he was not so popular at that time?
Overall, a nice read if
1. You love to read about history.
2. You love to read Bill Bryson, which I do.
3. You can imagine Jacobean or Elizabethan era and its descriptions.