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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 6, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416541624
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416541622
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #507,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Shapiro, author of the much admired A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, achieves another major success in the field of Shakespeare research by exploring why the Bard's authorship of his works has been so much challenged. Step-by step, Shapiro describes how criticism of Shakespeare frequently evolved into attacks on his literacy and character. Actual challenges to the authorship of the Shakespeare canon originated with an outright fraud perpetrated by William-Henry Ireland in the 1790s and continued through the years with an almost religious fervor. Shapiro exposes one such forgery: the earliest known document, dating from 1805, challenging Shakespeare's authorship and proposing instead Francis Bacon. Shapiro mines previously unexamined documents to probe why brilliant men and women denied Shakespeare's authorship. For Mark Twain, Shapiro finds that the notion resonated with his belief that John Milton, not John Bunyan, wrote The Pilgrim's Progress. Sigmund Freud's support of the earl of Oxford as the author of Shakespeare appears to have involved a challenge to his Oedipus theory, which was based partly on his reading of Hamlet. As Shapiro admirably demonstrates, William Shakespeare emerges with his name and reputation intact. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he studied at Columbia and the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. He has been awarded numerous fellowships and grants from institutions such as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He has written for The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Mr. Shapiro lives in New York with his wife and son.

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Customer Reviews

An engaging and fun read.
JennyH
(I do not know to what extent this may have been done and with what results, though if anything significant had been found, I would have read of it.
T.R. Catanzarite
Shapiro identifies Roscius as a Roman actor, but somehow extends this as evidence that Stratford thought of Shakespeare as a playwright.
Rory1959

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 200 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I can't remember, but I think it was Woody Allen who wrote the joke: The plays of William Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare himself, but by someone with the same name. The only reason the joke works is that for a couple of centuries there have been skeptics who have denied that Shakespeare's works were actually the works of Shakespeare. In _Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?_ (Simon and Schuster), it's not a surprise that James Shapiro answers the question in the subtitle the way he does: Shakespeare did. After all, Shapiro is a Shakespeare scholar whose most recent book was a look at one year (1599) in Shakespeare's life and how the plays he was writing were formed by the political and social environment of that time. So, yes, "He would say that, wouldn't he?" will be the response from the current skeptics, all of whom have their own candidate for the position of Bard. Shapiro's book, indeed, puts an unassailable case for Shakespeare of Stratford being the author, but that is only at the end. Everything that goes before is a history of the anti-Stratfordian movement. It is a wonderfully clear explanation of why skeptics started going wrong and have continued vehemently on their wrong paths. It is an entertaining and often hilarious tale, a path strewn, as Shapiro says, with "fabricated documents, embellished lives, concealed identity, pseudonymous authorship, contested evidence, bald-faced deception, and a failure to grasp what could not be imagined."

There is no evidence that anyone in Shakespeare's time thought that the plays came from anyone else. In fact, it was only a couple of centuries after his death that doubters started piping up.
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33 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Usually a book's subtitle clarifies its title, especially if it's a pun. In this case, the subtitle misleads by implying that Shapiro will describe (perhaps seriatim) the leading candidates in what is often grandly called the "Authorship Controversy."

That's not quite what Shapiro has in mind. His purpose is to discuss not the candidates themselves but the reasons why proponents of their authorship have advanced their claims. Shapiro makes a number of cogent arguments in the explication. One is that during the nineteenth century, Romantics came to believe that art must of necessity be an expression of the creator's inner self rather than simply an exercise of imagination.

Even more importantly, Shapiro delineates the connection between the Authorship Controversy and the rise of higher criticism, especially of the sort that challenged previously accepted truths of the Bible. As Shapiro correctly notes, the shock waves of higher criticism "threatened that lesser deity Shakespeare, for his biography too rested precariously on the unstable foundation of posthumous reports and more than a fair share of myths." (74-74)

Several of the major players in contesting Shakespeare's authorship, notably Delia Bacon and Mark Twain, were reared as orthodox Christians and were in simultaneous revolt against both the Bible and Shakespeare. With a bit of squinting and tweaking, one could (though Shapiro does not) also develop plausible religious theories for the rejection of Shakespeare's authorship by, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Helen Keller, and John Thomas Looney.

Shapiro writes sprightly prose and has a gift for illustrating his general themes with specific, often ironic, examples.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Peter Sturrock on June 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are interested in a sociological perspective on the Authorship Question, you will find much in this book to interest you. Shapiro writes of J. Thomas Looney and his "followers" (as he later writes of Diana Price and her "followers"), and of "Oxfordian disciples." If you consider it relevant and significant that South Shields is "strongly evangelical," that Looney valued Positivism, and that he had a "profound distaste for modernity," etc., you will find this book fascinating.

However, if you are looking for a detailed presentation of the case that "Will," the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, was the great playwright and poet we know as "Shakespeare," you will unfortunately be disappointed. Shapiro writes (p. 90) "It's not entirely clear why Oxford emerged as the most plausible of these aristocratic contenders." One can hope that, in his next edition, Shapiro will pay more attention to Looney's reasoning, and less to his religious and philosophical leanings.

As far as I can tell, the only modern unorthodox researcher seriously considered by Shapiro is Diana Price (Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, 2001). Regrettably, there is no mention of Mark Anderson (Shakespeare by Another Name, 2005), Brenda James and William Rubenstein (The Truth Will Out, 2005), Robin Williams (Sweet Swan of Avon, 2006), David Roper (Proving Shakespeare, 2008), or Jonathan Bond (The De Vere Code, 2009), and only an oblique reference to Joseph Sobran (Alias Shakespeare, 1997).

Shapiro curiously refers to Price's "Chart of Literary Papertrails" as a list of "Contemporary Personal Literary Evidence," for which he uses the acronym "CLPE" [sic].
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