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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? Paperback – April 19, 2011


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Frequently Bought Together

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? + Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare + The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition (Second Edition)  (Vol. One-Volume Clothbound)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416541632
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416541639
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Fascinating."
The New Yorker

"Shapiro is an engaging and elegant guide . . . a masterful work of literary history, an empathetic chronicle of eccentricity, and a calmly reasoned vindication of 'the Stratford man.'"
—Kevin O'Kelly, The Boston Globe


"James Shapiro is an erudite Shakespearean and a convincing one. . . . A bravura performance."
—Saul Rosenberg, The Wall Street Journal


"It is authoritative, lucid and devastatingly funny, and its brief concluding statement of the case for Shakespeare is masterly."
—John Carey, The Sunday Times (London)

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

James Shapiro's "Contested Will" rises to the task.
Peter Baklava
Chopping out the bits that might cause himself or his case to seem somewhat less glamorous is one of Shapiro's habits.
Roger A. Stritmatter
A fascinating book about the frailty of human beings who yearn to believe strange things.
Robert S. Hanenberg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on August 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
I'd always ignored the so-called Shakespeare authorship question, because I think it's irrelevant. I don't care who wrote Shakespeare's plays, because it's the plays that count, not the man. But I decided to read James Shapiro's Contested Will out of curiosity about how the theory that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare took hold.

It so happens that I'm familiar with a lot of the backstory - the rise of biblical criticism and the questioning of who Homer was - that serve as a foundation to the earliest anti-Stratfordian theories. It's easy to understand how, in the early 19th century, people who felt this approach so important could be convinced that another great author was not who he seemed. But as time went by, this became a story of lies, deceit and forgery, as well as convoluted conspiracy theories.

Deep down, it seems that there are two essential elements that come into play. The first is that, according to skeptics, there is no way the son of a glover could have written so eloquently about so many things. His limited education could not have enabled him to write such profound plays. As if in the nature vs. nurture argument, only nurture counts. This has been proven wrong with many artists, musicians and authors who came from humble beginnings, so it seems like a moot point, and surprises me that so many people bring up this point to deny Shakespeare's legitimacy.

The second element is the belief, which became prevalent in the romantic period, that all art is personal; that art reflects personal experiences. If this is the case, the skeptics say, then Shakespeare, who never visited Italy, could not have written about Italy. This argument seems childish to me; could a writer who has never visited Mars write about that planet?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There is something about Shakespeare scholarship which engenders greatness: Greenblatt, Kermode, Wells, Shapiro, Bate, Bloom--these are not dry scholars, but deep thinkers, writers of powerful prose, all with a profound sense of life in other times. None of them believes that someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works.

But there is a long tradition that Francis Bacon or Edward deVere (or many others) wrote Shakespeare's works, and that somehow generations of scholars have been fooled. Why anyone would think anything so preposterous on the face of it, has always interested me. I once put it down to snobbery, that the son of a glove-maker from Stratford could not have been smart enough to write such plays.

But it is more complicated than this. Shapiro's main idea is that many people want to believe that such great writing has to be based on experience, and Shakespeare could not have had the experiences which led to the poems and plays.

Shapiro is a scholar of Shakespeare, but in this book he had to treat many times and subjects, from 19th century positivism to Freud, and had to try to explain why such great thinkers as Mark Twain, Henry James and Sigmund Freud believed that someone else wrote Shakespeare. Surprisingly, Shapiro is respectful of what others would call lunacy. To explain one phase of the movement, which purported to find hidden codes in the plays, he explains how the development the telegraph and Morse code infused the culture of the times.

Shakespeare's poetry is of such extraordinary depth and beauty that it seems that it could only have been written by a man of letters, not an actor.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jax on October 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have had an interest--not intense, but ongoing--in the "Shakespeare didn't write it" controversy since I was in college, learning that I would probably not make a good English teacher, after all. Similarly, I have had an occasional interest in the question of Homer's authorship. I ran across a book, "North of Shakespeare,", by Dennis McCarthy, which put forward a candidate I had not seen mentioned previously, to wit, Thomas North, the translator of Plutarch. McCarthy's thesis was a sort of hybrid, in much the same way as Tycho Brahe's attempt to save a geocentric universe was a hybrid. Tycho Brahe suggested that the planets did revolve around the Sun, just as Copernicus had theorized, but the Sun revolved around the Earth, as Ptolemy had said. It was not a popular theory. So, turning back to Shakespeare, Dennis McCarthy suggests that Shakespeare really did write, in some sense of that term, the plays credited to him in his lifetime--i.e., the "bad" quartos, the plays that are considered spurious, etc.,--but he was just an adapter for the stage of the real plays, the works of literary genius, which were written by Thomas North. Now, "North of Shakespeare" was published after "Contested Will" so one might think that the earlier book couldn't refute the arguments of the later one. But one would be wrong. The value of "Contested Will" is that it shows that the anti-Stratfordians--the ones who deny that Shakespeare was a literary genius--all tend to make the same kind of dubious assumptions, such as the necessity of a strong auto-biographical element in any composition of fiction; and all tend to underrate the extent to which plays back then were crafted by more than one author.Read more ›
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