Contested Will : Who Wrote Shakespeare?

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Shakespeare scholar Shapiro examines and debunks the notorious controversy that often surrounds the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

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Shakespeare scholar Shapiro examines and debunks the notorious controversy that often surrounds the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

Specifications

Publisher
Simon & Schuster
Book Format
Hardcover
Original Languages
ENG
Number of Pages
339
Author
James Shapiro
ISBN-13
9781416541622
Publication Date
April, 2010
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
9.52 x 6.86 x 1.01 Inches
ISBN-10
1416541624

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Most Helpful Review
3 customers found this helpful
An outstanding book. A...
An outstanding book. A joy to read from beginning to end, learned an enormous amount, all processed through the lens of the history of Shakespeare authorship controversies. In particular, the book asks why so many people have come to believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays attributed to him but that someone else, like Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere of Oxford, did. This view was held by people from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mark Twain to Sigmund Freud to several Supreme Court justices today and even the New York Times has written agnostically on the subject of who wrote Shakespeare.Shapiro traces the history of Shakespeare studies from his death through the early 19th Century, documenting the twists and turns of how little fragments of evidence about Shakespeare's life emerged, dotted with several episodes of forgery, and culminating in a number of prominent Shakespeare scholars starting in the 1700s who viewed his works through the prism of psychology, autobiography, and other similar perspectives.Shapiro argues that it was these well meaning attempts to fill in the gaps with other disciplines that also opened up the belief that the same person who was a moneylender and a grain merchant could not have written about courts and kings and the other aspects of Shakespeare. The first set of theories focused on Bacon, and comical ideas about elaborate ciphers in Shakespeare's work. This was followed by the view that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare's works, a theory undeterred by de Vere's death in 1604, a decade before the final Shakespeare play.Shapiro explains why these theories appealed to so many people (e.g., Twain was writing his autobiography, believed that all of his works were written directly from his own experience, and could not imagine someone else doing otherwise). And he also gives a compelling case for Shakespeare's authorship, although not one that would persuade any die-hard conspiracy theorists.Ultimately, Shapiro writes a testament to Shakespeare's imagination and range, something that is the ultimate rebuttal of the attempt to reduce the plays to simple roman a clef's about court figures or simple ciphers.What makes the book so interesting is not that it is worth devoting much mental evidence to the anti-Stratfordians but how much about Shakespeare's life, work, subsequent reception, and evolution of literature, is illuminated by looking at how this movement emerged and gained an increasing amount of strength.
1-5 of 19 reviews

An outstanding book. A...

An outstanding book. A joy to read from beginning to end, learned an enormous amount, all processed through the lens of the history of Shakespeare authorship controversies. In particular, the book asks why so many people have come to believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays attributed to him but that someone else, like Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere of Oxford, did. This view was held by people from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mark Twain to Sigmund Freud to several Supreme Court justices today and even the New York Times has written agnostically on the subject of who wrote Shakespeare. Shapiro traces the history of Shakespeare studies from his death through the early 19th Century, documenting the twists and turns of how little fragments of evidence about Shakespeare's life emerged, dotted with several episodes of forgery, and culminating in a number of prominent Shakespeare scholars starting in the 1700s who viewed his works through the prism of psychology, autobiography, and other similar perspectives. Shapiro argues that it was these well meaning attempts to fill in the gaps with other disciplines that also opened up the belief that the same person who was a moneylender and a grain merchant could not have written about courts and kings and the other aspects of Shakespeare. The first set of theories focused on Bacon, and comical ideas about elaborate ciphers in Shakespeare's work. This was followed by the view that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare's works, a theory undeterred by de Vere's death in 1604, a decade before the final Shakespeare play. Shapiro explains why these theories appealed to so many people (e.g., Twain was writing his autobiography, believed that all of his works were written directly from his own experience, and could not imagine someone else doing otherwise). And he also gives a compelling case for Shakespeare's authorship, although not one that would persuade any die-hard conspiracy theorists. Ultimately, Shapiro writes a testament to Shakespeare's imagination and range, something that is the ultimate rebuttal of the attempt to reduce the plays to simple roman a clef's about court figures or simple ciphers. What makes the book so interesting is not that it is worth devoting much mental evidence to the anti-Stratfordians but how much about Shakespeare's life, work, subsequent reception, and evolution of literature, is illuminated by looking at how this movement emerged and gained an increasing amount of strength.

An outstanding book. A...

An outstanding book. A joy to read from beginning to end, learned an enormous amount, all processed through the lens of the history of Shakespeare authorship controversies. In particular, the book asks why so many people have come to believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays attributed to him but that someone else, like Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere of Oxford, did. This view was held by people from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mark Twain to Sigmund Freud to several Supreme Court justices today and even the New York Times has written agnostically on the subject of who wrote Shakespeare.Shapiro traces the history of Shakespeare studies from his death through the early 19th Century, documenting the twists and turns of how little fragments of evidence about Shakespeare's life emerged, dotted with several episodes of forgery, and culminating in a number of prominent Shakespeare scholars starting in the 1700s who viewed his works through the prism of psychology, autobiography, and other similar perspectives.Shapiro argues that it was these well meaning attempts to fill in the gaps with other disciplines that also opened up the belief that the same person who was a moneylender and a grain merchant could not have written about courts and kings and the other aspects of Shakespeare. The first set of theories focused on Bacon, and comical ideas about elaborate ciphers in Shakespeare's work. This was followed by the view that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare's works, a theory undeterred by de Vere's death in 1604, a decade before the final Shakespeare play.Shapiro explains why these theories appealed to so many people (e.g., Twain was writing his autobiography, believed that all of his works were written directly from his own experience, and could not imagine someone else doing otherwise). And he also gives a compelling case for Shakespeare's authorship, although not one that would persuade any die-hard conspiracy theorists.Ultimately, Shapiro writes a testament to Shakespeare's imagination and range, something that is the ultimate rebuttal of the attempt to reduce the plays to simple roman a clef's about court figures or simple ciphers.What makes the book so interesting is not that it is worth devoting much mental evidence to the anti-Stratfordians but how much about Shakespeare's life, work, subsequent reception, and evolution of literature, is illuminated by looking at how this movement emerged and gained an increasing amount of strength.

Of course the answer t...

Of course the answer to the subtitle's question is that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. But this excellent work gives detailed reasons why that is so, plus reasons why the other proposed authors did not, giving one ammunition for literary conspiracy theorists.But the real power and interest of the work is James Shapiro's tracing of why the notion that Shakespeare was not the author of his works arose, and why the advocates of other candidates -- and besides the well-known two or three, there are scores of others who've been proposed -- had vested interests, or at least thought they did, in denying Shakespeare. Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud most notably felt the bases of their own work was threatened by Shakespeare's authorship. And in the course of the narrative, which is always entertaining and felicitous, James Shapiro delineates a shift in literary criticism that bears much thinking about: the change from the early modern view of writers as creatively imaginative to creatively self-expressive, and the concomitant rise of autobiography as a genre.It's nicely illustrated, too. A lot of fun to read, and a lot of think about therein.

Theres quite an art t...

There's quite an art to making scholarly material this accessible. Shapiro writes eloquently and with great expertise about the Shakespeare authorship debate that has raged now for centuries. I've been fascinated in it ever since I came across an Atlantic article written in 1991, 'Looking for Shakespeare', in which two Shakespeareans present opposing cases; one for Shakespeare as the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, and the other for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Around the same time I sat in on a lecture in a Californian university by Charles Beauclerk, a visiting Englishman and descendant of de Vere, who presented a compelling range of challenges to the orthodox Strafordian position. A truly intriguing literary detective story. I was hooked.I'm not sure I could even begin to do justice, in a short précis, to the depth and sophistication of Shapiro's handling of the vexing (and unending) debate about authorship, so I will leave that to others more schooled in the apocryphal minutiae. There are thousands of intricate details, debated back and forth between Shakespeareans of all persuasions, and Shapiro does a fine job of condensing the most salient points of the camps of the two strongest contenders, Frances Bacon, and Oxford. One of the central disputes concerns the author's intimate knowledge of distant lands, and the Royal Court. It is well agreed that the man from Stratford was untraveled, a 'commoner', and lived a life documented in relation to his business dealings, rather than literary pursuits. This is considered a mismatch, a chasm between the life, and the works, and it has set an entire range of great thinkers in search of 'the truth' - among them was Freud, Henry James, and Mark Twain (and more recently, the Shakespearean actors, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh).I should say that Shapiro makes it known by page 8 that he believes it was Shakespeare of Stratford that authored the plays. I appreciated knowing this right up front, and buckled in to find out why. Shapiro contends that our belief in literature as fundamentally underpinned by autobiography, and thinly-disguised self-revelation, is a modernist concept, and cannot be appropriately applied to the literature and authors of that time period. The epilogue is an impassioned set of counter-claims to doubters, and Shapiro goes to great lengths to convince the reader that: 'the evidence strongly suggests that imaginative literature in general and plays in particular in Shakespeare's day were rarely if ever a vehicle for self-revelation.' My gut feeling, as a writer, although admittedly hampered by being a product of this age, is that I'm not so sure. Is it possible that writers of that time wrote - as he claims, virtually exclusively - from the imaginative rather than the personal? It's an intriguing idea and I'd certainly like to read more about the evidence for this. Shapiro is, in the end, incredibly convincing, and a fabulously readable scholar, who manages to come across as fair and unbiased throughout most of the book. The book ends with a comprehensive bibliographic essay for those who wish to follow, first-hand, Shapiro's research, and perhaps draw their own conclusions. This is a superb addition to the authorship debate and has definitely wet my appetite for more reading in this vein.

If you read one book a...

If you read one book about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, make it this one! Fascinating, highly informative overview of the Shakespeare authorship controversy from its genesis (as far back as the 1700s!) to today by a noted Shakespearian scholar who knows how to spin an entertaining and compelling story. What you'll enjoy about this book (or at least what I enjoyed!): * Thorough review of what we definitely know about Shakespeare's life (he wasn't "uneducated", folks - even sons of glovemakers went to school), what we can logically infer about Shakespeare's life (for instance, evidence suggests he was a formidable businessman), and what we definitely don't know about Shakespeare's life, no matter what other so-called "scholars" may state to the contrary. (There's no evidence he had an affair with his patron, and no positive proof as to the identity of the dark lady.) * A detailed discussion of pretty much every single piece of paper or evidence unearthed over the last 500 years by Shakespeare, referencing Shakespeare, or discussing Shakespeare - what little of it there is. * Informative overview of era in which Shakespeare wrote, with emphasis on daily life, cultural/social norms, theater, and playwriting - extremely helpful in interpreting in context the information we do have. * Unbiased presentation of the two most serious contenders for the Bard's throne (Bacon & Oxford): the genesis and evolution of each claim, the main actors promoting each, the evidence cited by each camp, a detailed discussion of the pros/cons of each camp's arguments, and an update on where each contender "stands" in popular opinion today. * An in-depth exploration of other controversies that have surrounded Shakespeare's life, to include: - which plays did Shakespeare actually write? (Author presents compelling evidence that many of the plays were co-authored) - what was Shakespeare's source material? - why did he suddenly retire from playwriting and move back to the country to become moneylender and seller of malt? - why did Shakespeare leave his wife only his "second best bed"? * An entertaining exploration of Shakespeare-related forgeries, impersonations, and other frauds perpetrated over the years. (Will we ever find out who forged the Cowell manuscript?) * Perspectives on how opinions of Shakespeare and his works have evolved over time * A fascinating look into the world "Bardolotry" - how an actor and playwright from Stratford-on-Avon came to be regarded as the greatest author of all times. This is by far the best, most thorough, least biased discussion of the controversy I've ever laid hands on. Having said that, the author does definitely have a bias (though he goes to some pains in the prologue to convince us he doesn't): he believes that the bulk of the primary source material supports Shakespeare's authorship, and that Oxfordians and Baconians rely overmuch on dubious "textual evidence" and inference to make their case. But this does not appear to taint the completeness or reliability of the information he has presented here. Best of all, Shapiro presents his discussion in so organized and thorough a fashion, it didn't matter that I approached this with little background knowledge of Shakespeare studies, 16th/17th century history, or textual analysis: everything I needed to access his discussions was thoughtfully embedded in the text. Lucky for us, Shapiro's not only a scholar but an excellent communicator who knows how to present even the driest information in a way that most readers should find engaging and thought-provoking. Highly recommended - I hope others will enjoy this as much as I did!

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