Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book Review: CONTESTED WILL: WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE? by James Shapiro (Simon and Schuster, 2010)

This is a solid introduction to the lengthy history of the controversy over whether a man named "Shakespeare" (or "Shaxberd," or "Shakspere," or whatever you fancy) really wrote the plays attributed to him. Though Shapiro comes down strongly in favor of the orthodox view, he takes the arguments in favor of such claimants as Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere seriously and lets their advocates (which include such "big bugs" as Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud) have their say. Shapiro traces the origin of the authorship question, ironically enough, to the 18th-century scholar Edmond Malone, who is best known today for wrecking the "house of cards" built by the fraudster William Ireland, who had forged what he claimed were a whole treasure trove of newly-discovered Shakespearean documents. Malone may have done this important service to the scholarly world, but, in his early speculations that Shakespeare may have reflected his personal circumstances and specific life-events in his plays and sonnets, he may also have opened the largest, roilingest "can of worms" in the history of literary criticism. Shapiro argues that many of our assumptions about what modern authors "must" be revealing in their works can't automatically be used to describe an author who operated in a very different time. He also does his share of "grunt work" by digging up contemporary references and other material to buttress his claim that Shakespeare was indeed responsible for his own works -- though it is increasingly clear that he collaborated with other playwrights to a much greater degree than the "Bardolaters" of generations past were willing to admit. I highly recommend this enjoyable book to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare.


Anonymous said...

You might be interested in the new book - The De Vere Code - by Globe actor, Jonathan Bond. It deals with the authorship of the sonnets and presents new evidence demolishing the Stratfordian case for the sonnets using Stratfordian scholarship and directly establishing Edward de Vere as the author. Those who say that there isnt any evidence that connects de Vere to the works of Shakespeare should definitely read this book.

Mark Rylance, actor and former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, says of it: wonderfully articulate and engaging... His discoveries and conclusions regarding the authorship question are compelling... a pleasure to read”

and Charles Beauclerk, Earl of Burford, heir of the family of Edward de Vere, says: “Hats off to Jonathan Bond! This is an absorbing, beautifully crafted work, which provides what no other book on Shakespeare has provided: proof of the authorship of that most mysterious volume, Shake-speares Sonnets”

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

The Shakespeare-didn't-write-Shakespeare crowd is so WEIRD, because they have the exact same mindset of conspiracy theorists, only I don't understand WHY.

Here is a good example. Note the excessive emotional investment and the argument-by-a-flurry-of-tiny-facts-factoids-and-fictions that are meant to somehow come together to create the illusion of an overwhelming case. And note the dude above, who--I would bet money--has some sort of google alert set up to find people talking about this subject, the more effectively to spread the gospel.

If it hasn't already, there's gotta be an interesting academic paper (or two) waiting to be written on this subject.

Chris Barat said...


After reading Shapiro's book, I still don't see the point of wasting so much time and effort on a "quest" that, EVEN IF IT WERE A SUCCESS, wouldn't change people's lives a darn bit. At least the "Birthers" and the "Truthers" purport to be investigating serious matters of national security and governance. I understand where the Oxfordians et al. are coming from a bit better now, which was the whole point.