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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 6, 2010

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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.)
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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416541624
  • ASIN: B0048ELD4G
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Shapiro does it all here. In a debate that can quickly become shrill, he gets to the bottom of a fascinating detective story about how the authorship "controversy" got started in the first place, and then gained so much popular steam at different times in the 1840s, 1910s and then 1980s after nearly dying out for lack of proof over and over. Not only that, but the book itself reads like a thrilling Whodunnit, and then most of all, Shapiro saves the best for last. He packs in compelling answers to every so-called objection to Shakespeare's being the true author of the plays that bear his name, and far more: he explains why the whole debate matters. He gives the answer only a passionate life-long scholar and lover of Shakespeare's magnificent work can give to the question "Why do we read these plays in the first place, now 400 years after they were written?" Shapiro unpacks this manufactured "controversy" with solid, factual scholarship and then shows how claims that Shakespeare "must" have personally experienced everything he wrote (who thinks that about Tom Clancy, Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien?) cheapen the plays and the very thing that makes them, and all great fiction, so timeless: the magical ability of the author's imagination to take us places we--and even they--have never been. Even if you only marginally care about Shakespeare, this is a great historical adventure story.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Everett P. Goldner on September 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book sight unseen, hoping to find nothing more or less than a simple presentation of the merits of each candidate's claim for authorship. "Contested Will" is not that; however, having read it through, I suspect that Shapiro felt that he would better serve the issue by calling attention to the long-entrenched biases in each camp than by attempting to present "the facts" -- any given fact being, of course, a matter of dispute or irrelevant to the other camp. Perhaps a truly fair, unbiased account of the Authorship Question could only be written if Stratfordians and Oxfordians worked together to produce it, and as Jim Broadbent once chortled in 'Gangs of New York' -- "that will only happen in the reign of Queen Dick! (That means it will never happen.)"

As a relative newcomer to the Authorship Question, I find Shapiro's detailings of the grounds on which the Baconian and Oxfordian views developed to be fascinating stuff; how else could you connect the likes of Mark Twain to Hellen Keller, Freud to Derek Jacobi? Now, I will admit my own bias: I agreed with Shapiro's view -- that the author was indeed the Man from Stratford -- before I came to this book, and the case he makes in the chapter devoted to the Stratford Man's authorship vibes with what I had already begun to articulate for myself: it just makes sense. The alternative theories, from Oxford to Bacon and onward, always eventually creak and collapse because they're not built on anything substantial (hundreds of uses of the word "ever" throughout the Canon do not make a convincing case for the mastermind 'E. Vere' repeatedly punning on his name.)

Ah, but HOW could the country bumpkin have done it?
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By Justin Pinchot on August 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great price, fast shipping, and a GREAT book about Shakespeare, what more could you ask for?
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18 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Sabrina Feldman on October 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Although Contested Will is an entertaining read, Shapiro is far more interested in psychoanalyzing skeptics than in considering their arguments. He also has a policy of never corresponding with authorship doubters, so his book is a one-way conversation. In my opinion, Shapiro never shows any real understanding of the roots of skepticism. A person who sees a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat may not know how the trick works, but he or she can still feel certain that sleight of hand is involved. It is the same way with people who question whether William Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare canon. Although authorship doubters have a wide range of opinions about Shakespeare's identity, they share a conviction that he was not the man from Stratford, however he pulled off the authorship trick. This conviction has little to do with an inability to believe that genius can arise from humble origins (obviously it can, and does all the time). Rather, it is founded on the belief that the glorious renaissance mind behind Shakespeare's works cannot be reconciled with the records of petty lawsuits, tax evasion, grain-hoarding, six shaky signatures spelled six different ways, a second best bed in a pedestrian, crabby will, and so on.

Scholars such as James Shapiro feel no need to take the authorship question seriously because all the "direct" evidence points to the Stratford actor. A problem they have neglected is that when a different question is asked, who wrote the Shakespeare Apocrypha, all the direct evidence again points to William Shakespeare. If one sets aside the assumption that the Stratford actor was a gifted poet who wrote in the Bard's style, much indirect evidence also points to William Shakespeare as the author. This poses a serious challenge to the traditional authorship belief.
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