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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by…
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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (2010)

by James Shapiro

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4962933,029 (4.1)15
Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays.
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» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
A hugely important book. The silliness over allegations that other people wrote Shakespeare's plays and poems continues into the 21st century, with no good reason. The great thing about Shapiro's book is that he analyses the history of such claims, as well as the stories of the two most common claimants - Francis Bacon and Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford - from an academic point-of-view, allowing us to see the reasons why these traditions arose, and the motivations behind those who were doing it. Shapiro manages to explain that there was plenty of cause for doubt, largely owing to lack of information, and misinformation, about Shakespeare's time.

Ultimately, the conclusion that Shapiro reaches is perfectly reasonable: the original supporters of Bacon and Oxford had their own reasons, and can at least be forgiven for inventive thinking. However, no new evidence has come to light in the last hundred years, and indeed evidence only points further to the futility of the argument, and the fact that Shakespeare is still the most likely candidate to have written his plays. (One of the most delightful ironies of the case, Shapiro points out, is that only a secret of truly shocking order - for instance, that Oxford was the lover and/or brother of Queen Elizabeth - could have caused a conspiracy so elaborate as to be almost impossible, yet such a secret would surely lead to someone doing otherwise with their life than writing luxuriously pointless comedies like "Much Ado About Nothing" and cheekily hiding obvious clues to their identity in the poems - while also having the foresight to anticipate that 20th century literary analysis would be able to pick up on them!)

Shapiro's book is the best of its kind in elaborating on the theories of Bacon and Oxford. However, there are better books on the case FOR Shakespeare, as this section is surprisingly short, which perhaps just evidences that Shapiro spent all of his research time on the claimants. Still, that's acceptable. Shapiro touches the basics of what we now know about Shakespeare, and pulls out a number of interesting facts (such as that the 'k' and 's' of a typesetter's kit could easily become entangled if pressed together, hence why a hyphen or 'e' was often included in "Shakespeare". It's not, as some nuts would have you believe, yet another hilariously unsubtle reference from Oxford that "Shake-speare" was a pseudonym.)

Oxfordians are probably very interesting people: they have rich imaginations, a refusal to subscribe to mainstream thought without questioning, and a love of good drama. Unfortunately, they also subscribe to a thought from over a hundred years ago that is thoroughly outdated. It's a thought that ignores the realities of playmaking, typesetting, copyright, and beliefs of the age, as well as imagining a kind of English writer's circle that could hold such a secret. (As a member of such a writing circle in another city, we ALL know each other: I doubt anyone in the theatre could fake their identity for three decades). Beyond this, their assumptions are based primarily on the idea that someone of less-than-aristocratic birth couldn't be a genius. As Shapiro notes, one of the old claims was that Shakespeare's aristocrats are so complex that they could only be written by an aristocrat. Even putting aside the simplistic retorts to that (do the murderers, teenage girls, and prostitutes of Shakespeare's plays come from another writer too?), one must wonder about the vast number of peasants and lower-born figures who are just as richly drawn.

It's a shame that an incredibly fringe theory (one that was almost obliterated until the rise of the internet, as Shapiro notes) has crept into the popular imagination of late. It does disservice to a long-dead great, makes inaccurate and ridiculous assumptions about Elizabethan life, and promotes the idea that we should all just "stay in our place". Rubbish. Read this book! ( )
2 vote therebelprince | Dec 14, 2019 |
A hugely important book. The silliness over allegations that other people wrote Shakespeare's plays and poems continues into the 21st century, with no good reason. The great thing about Shapiro's book is that he analyses the history of such claims, as well as the stories of the two most common claimants - Francis Bacon and Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford - from an academic point-of-view, allowing us to see the reasons why these traditions arose, and the motivations behind those who were doing it. Shapiro manages to explain that there was plenty of cause for doubt, largely owing to lack of information, and misinformation, about Shakespeare's time.

Ultimately, the conclusion that Shapiro reaches is perfectly reasonable: the original supporters of Bacon and Oxford had their own reasons, and can at least be forgiven for inventive thinking. However, no new evidence has come to light in the last hundred years, and indeed evidence only points further to the futility of the argument, and the fact that Shakespeare is still the most likely candidate to have written his plays. (One of the most delightful ironies of the case, Shapiro points out, is that only a secret of truly shocking order - for instance, that Oxford was the lover and/or brother of Queen Elizabeth - could have caused a conspiracy so elaborate as to be almost impossible, yet such a secret would surely lead to someone doing otherwise with their life than writing luxuriously pointless comedies like "Much Ado About Nothing" and cheekily hiding obvious clues to their identity in the poems - while also having the foresight to anticipate that 20th century literary analysis would be able to pick up on them!)

Shapiro's book is the best of its kind in elaborating on the theories of Bacon and Oxford. However, there are better books on the case FOR Shakespeare, as this section is surprisingly short, which perhaps just evidences that Shapiro spent all of his research time on the claimants. Still, that's acceptable. Shapiro touches the basics of what we now know about Shakespeare, and pulls out a number of interesting facts (such as that the 'k' and 's' of a typesetter's kit could easily become entangled if pressed together, hence why a hyphen or 'e' was often included in "Shakespeare". It's not, as some nuts would have you believe, yet another hilariously unsubtle reference from Oxford that "Shake-speare" was a pseudonym.)

Oxfordians are probably very interesting people: they have rich imaginations, a refusal to subscribe to mainstream thought without questioning, and a love of good drama. Unfortunately, they also subscribe to a thought from over a hundred years ago that is thoroughly outdated. It's a thought that ignores the realities of playmaking, typesetting, copyright, and beliefs of the age, as well as imagining a kind of English writer's circle that could hold such a secret. (As a member of such a writing circle in another city, we ALL know each other: I doubt anyone in the theatre could fake their identity for three decades). Beyond this, their assumptions are based primarily on the idea that someone of less-than-aristocratic birth couldn't be a genius. As Shapiro notes, one of the old claims was that Shakespeare's aristocrats are so complex that they could only be written by an aristocrat. Even putting aside the simplistic retorts to that (do the murderers, teenage girls, and prostitutes of Shakespeare's plays come from another writer too?), one must wonder about the vast number of peasants and lower-born figures who are just as richly drawn.

It's a shame that an incredibly fringe theory (one that was almost obliterated until the rise of the internet, as Shapiro notes) has crept into the popular imagination of late. It does disservice to a long-dead great, makes inaccurate and ridiculous assumptions about Elizabethan life, and promotes the idea that we should all just "stay in our place". Rubbish. Read this book! ( )
2 vote therebelprince | Oct 30, 2018 |
A must-read if you are at all interested in the Shakespeare authorship question (particularly if you, like Shapiro--and like me--believe that Shakespeare wrote his own plays). Covers some of the same ground as Shakespeare's Lives, but in a more readable and engaging fashion. The final section is an extremely compelling (to me) argument for Shakespeare-as-author. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
A must-read if you are at all interested in the Shakespeare authorship question (particularly if you, like Shapiro--and like me--believe that Shakespeare wrote his own plays). Covers some of the same ground as Shakespeare's Lives, but in a more readable and engaging fashion. The final section is an extremely compelling (to me) argument for Shakespeare-as-author. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
A work that is simultaneously a solid work of scholarship and a compulsive read – a veritable rara avis indeed (a black swan of Avon, perhaps?) It's worth noting that the cover (of the UK hardback, at least) and the title are both a little misleading: Shapiro doesn't investigate every possible non-Stratfordian author, but (as he points out) his detailed refutation of the proponents of Bacon and Oxford function just as well to refute other claims. ( )
  Lirmac | Apr 20, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
"It is authoritative, lucid and devastatingly funny, and its brief concluding statement of the case for Shakespeare is masterly."
added by bookfitz | editThe Sunday Times, John Carey (Mar 21, 2010)
 
"Shapiro does not waste words on the preposterous, but he does uncover the mechanism of fantasy and projection that go to make up much of the case against Shakespeare. His book lays bare, too, assumptions about the writing life that come to us from the 18th-century romantics."
added by bookfitz | editThe Guardian, Hilary Mantel (Mar 20, 2010)
 
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"I gyve vnto my wief my second best bed"
from Shakespeare's will
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For Luke
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This is a book about when and why many people began to question whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays long attributed to him, and, if he didn't write them, who did.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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