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


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Hardcover, Bargain Price, 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
  • ASIN: B0048ELD4G
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,296 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

The research is amazing and the anecdotes hilarious.
Larry Miller
When I asked him at that time the basis for this belief, he did not dignify me with a reply.
Roger A. Stritmatter
He was a world-class literary scamp and respected no one or anything in his work.
T.R. Catanzarite

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

143 of 205 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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37 of 53 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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19 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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