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Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? Hardcover – March 25, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0321426406 ISBN-10: 0321426401 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Peachpit Press; 1 edition (March 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321426401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321426406
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,787,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robin Williams is the successful author of dozens of titles and has books in twenty-three languages. In this book, she has turned her attention to a topic she has been researching for seven years. An Independent Scholar, Robin has studied Shakespeare at St. John's College in Santa Fe and Oxford University in England. She teaches Shakespeare for adults at the local college, and guides two play readings a month. She runs ten-week guided discussions of selected plays for advanced readers, called The Understanders. For three years she has been a featured speaker at the Authorship Conference at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, and will be consulting on the upcoming authorship exhibit at the Globe. Robin is an Associate Member, by invitation of Mark Rylance, of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust in London, founded in 1922.

From The Washington Post

In a throwback to the glory days of bookbinding, Robin P. Williams's Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? (Wilton Circle, $27.95) contains a page that folds out to four times normal size. The publisher has taken this trouble to display a timeline juxtaposing Shakespeare's documented life, the dates of his works and the documented life of (alarums offstage) Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke.

Williams, an independent scholar, is among the latest in a long line of doubters who make much of the dearth of hard facts about Shakespeare, not to mention the disparity between his humble background (the son of a man who wrote his name by making an "X") and his immense vocabulary and range of knowledge. To these skeptics, "William Shakespeare" was a cover for someone of higher education who rubbed shoulders with princes and nobles from an early age but who, for some reason or other, could not bring himself to sign his name to "Measure for Measure," "Hamlet" and the rest.

Sir Francis Bacon has long been a favorite for this role, as has Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford. Williams, however, suggests that the real playwright might have been a woman. Mary Sidney came from a noble family with close ties to Queen Elizabeth, and Mary's brother Philip became a famous poet in his own right. Even if you're inclined to say "Fie" to this theory, Williams should be thanked for bringing attention to a skilled and powerful writer. In the King James version, part of Psalm 58 reads, "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth; break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord." Mary's socko take on the same passage goes: "Lord crack their teeth/ Lord crush these lions' jaws."

The Case for Mary Sidney


Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


More About the Author

Robin Williams is the author of dozens of best-selling and award-winning books, including Robin Williams Mac OS X Book, The Little Mac Book, The Non-Designer's Design Book, Robin Williams Design Workshop, and Web Design Workshop. Through her writing, teaching, and seminars, Robin has influenced a generation of computer users in the areas of design, typography, desktop publishing, the Mac, and the World Wide Web.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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We probably will never really know who wrote which works, but this book is very thought-provoking and interesting.
Canary
Robin P. Williams questions if Jonson's phrase, "Sweet Swan of Avon," was really a cladestine nod to Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.
Sarah
Anyone interested in the Authorship Question will find this book an invaluable resource as well as a fascinating addition to the debate.
Laura Krome

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By J. R. Norrena on December 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
While I neither profess to be a scholar on the subject of the Shakespeare authorship question, nor am I particularly well versed on the goings-on of the Elizabethan era, I have been fascinated for decades with the ongoing debate of who wrote Shakespeare.

When I earned my degree in English literature, university professors young and old tenaciously voiced their opinions concerning the credibility someone other than the man William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays and sonnets that we so carelessly attribute to WS today. (I say carelessly because of the widespread disagreement that exists regarding his life and what we've been taught). In short, it was a fascinating classroom debate. Students and instructors alike would argue for and against the possibility that WS was anything more than what we can prove today: an actor and litigious property owner with illiterate daughters who divorced his wife and left her his second-best bed in his will.

Robin P. Williams avoids pontificating that William Shakespeare is not the author of the works (despite the fact that no one can prove WS had a higher education, including an ability to read or write in French, Latin, and Italian--quite necessary because all but three plays are based on original literary works written in these three languages; nor does the name William Shakespeare appear in any of the extensive royal court registries, including the omission of even a single piece of handwritten manuscript!). On the contrary, in Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Cheaplazymom on October 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I heard Robin P. Williams discuss her book on a radio show and was very intrigued. I read it and was completely convinced before the end of the first chapter. What nailed it for me? William Shakespeare's mother, father, wife and 2 of his 3 children were illiterate. There is no way that the author of Shakespeare would allow his children to sign their name with an X. The other thing that sold me was the simple fact that writers write best about what they know. The plays and sonnets are basically the life and times of Mary Herbert Sidney-- she's related to 2/3 of the characters in the history plays. But that is only the beginning. If nothing else, this book introduces you to an amazing figure in English history and literature. To think that the greatest writer of the English language is (or could be) a woman-- a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife-- just blows me away. And as a woman reading the sonnets, for the first time they made complete sense. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gary J. Gaertner on April 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has probably been thirty years since Atlantic magazine published a lengthy and fascinating study of the Authorship Question. Since that time, I have casually followed the arguments. The NYT had a nice debate going for a while at a book opinion page. The unabridged audio versions of Greenblatt's and Bryson's books were interesting but not convincing, and the Oxfordian arguments did not quite fit. By the same token, the Stratfordian accusations of elitism have become a tiresome mask for the obvious shortcomings in Shakespeare's education, training and behavior. The James book on Henry Neville was interesting but similarly thin on useful facts and connections. Parenthetically, looking back at the book on Henry Neville, one can find Mary Sidney appearing in his extended family tree, and perhaps the authors of the Neville theorem were on the right track, anyway. Back in the 1970s, Jacob Bronofski hosted a BBC series and wrote a companion volume entitled "Connections", in which he argued if I recall correctly that each advance in knowledge was not the result of a great flash of revelation, but rather was the next step forward by a new thinker working with the existing knowledge base. It is hard to see how Shakespeare the man could have written the plays unless he knew the wealth and mass of literature on which so many of the plays are based. This book about Mary Sidney is a remarkable marshaling of the facts, connections and evidence upon which each reader can reach a conclusion. The book to my mind solves the authorship question. It is well written and constructed, concise and readable. The substance of the book makes the conclusion obvious. I have made a superficial look for other books which might respond and contradict the authorship of Mary Sidney. I have not found one.Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Willie Nelson on December 16, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The question of Authorship has been around for so long and yet Ms.Robin Williams goes to great lengths using documented data for her argument and yet leaves the final judgement to the reader. This is the only researcher that does not force her opinion but instead has the confidence to know the data speaks for itself.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Canary on December 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robin Williams (the writer, not the movie star) does a fine job of showing why it is very possible that Mary Sydney actually authored many of the best Shakespearean works. I was a skeptic, but the more I read, the more I began to think it quite feasible. We probably will never really know who wrote which works, but this book is very thought-provoking and interesting. Also, it is beautifully constructed, as befits a book on such a beloved topic.
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