Customer Reviews for

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Interesting and thought provoking - With fascinating insights

As a non academic, I read this book with an open mind regarding the authorship debate. I love the plays and sonnets and am generally fascinated by Shakespeare. But beyond that, I have little vested interest in who actually authored Macbeth, Lear or A Midsummer Night's...
As a non academic, I read this book with an open mind regarding the authorship debate. I love the plays and sonnets and am generally fascinated by Shakespeare. But beyond that, I have little vested interest in who actually authored Macbeth, Lear or A Midsummer Night's Dream. The works are brilliant whether penned by "the Glovemaker's son," Bacon, Oxford or any other of the leading candidates. However, as a couch potato historian, I am fascinated by the way we view historical figures,how we put the pieces of their lives together and how that process has changed over time. In my opinion, this is the real strength of Mr. Shapiro's book and I believe the review on this site by Mr. Sherman misses the mark.

James Shapiro is clearly a Stratfordian and admits it early in the book. However, he states his goal is less to engage in the authorship debate than to examine how the debate started and evolved; and what that tells us about we and previous generations view history. By examining anti-Stratfordians such as Helen Keller, Freud and Henry James as well as their writings on the subject, I thihk he achieves his goal remarkably well. Agree or disagree with Shapiro's conclusions as to why Freud found Hamlet so compelling, his arguments are well written and intriguing.

Throughout the book Mr. Shapiro warns us of the natural and dangerous tendency to analyze historical figures from a modern point of view. Since so much modern literature is fundamentally autobiographical, we have trouble imagining that Renaissance Literature could be any different. It's a point that I believe should be kept in mind any time we engage in historical study and, Mr. Shapiro makes it well.

With regard to Mr. Sherman's review, the key is its last line

". . . for a strong anti-Stratfordian such as me, he disappoints."

That says it all. No confirmed Baconian or Oxfordian will be swayed by this book. As far as I can tell, each side in this debate is fully dug in with little willingness to consider other points of view.

That being said, I must take issue with a bit of Mr. Sherman's review. First, I find thinly veiled personal attacks (such as Mr. Sherman's reference to Mr. Shapiro's tenure status) to be less than helpful.

Second, as opposed to Mr. Sherman, I did not get any sense that Mr. Shapiro was retreading a theory that Anti-Stratfordians must be mentally ill. Although the book takes issue with the Anti-Stratfordian point of view, Shapiro himself chastises Stratfordians who responded to Looney's (pronounced Loney) seminal work with puns on his name. In a number of cases, Mr. Shapiro praises anti-Stratfordian analysis, even though he ultimately disagrees with it.

Further, the quote used by Mr. Sherman in his review is taken out of context. Mr. Shapiro certainly argues that early anti-Stratfordians were a product of the romantic era they were born into just as he argues that Freud and Henry James were products of their eras. His goal is less to mock than emphasize his point that it is dangerous to impose modern sensabilities on historical art literature or genius. Hisotry must be viewed through the context of the era we are studying.

I may be a "fence-sitter" but as a layman and disinterested observer of the "Who wrote Shakespeare" debate, I found Contested Will to be entertaining and thought provoking. It inspired me to get more informationon the subject from all sides and isn't that the

posted by John_Lefler on December 20, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

A Good Try, but Disappointing

I think Professor Shapiro had a rare opportunity to address this question fairly and without prejudice, but it is no surprise that he concluded on the side of the Stratford man. Given his inherent conflict of interest on the subject, it's sad to see the same old, tired...
I think Professor Shapiro had a rare opportunity to address this question fairly and without prejudice, but it is no surprise that he concluded on the side of the Stratford man. Given his inherent conflict of interest on the subject, it's sad to see the same old, tired arguments being made. It is a subtle, albeit sophisticated version of the standard ridicule by anti-Stratfordians that doubters are all mentally ill. Yet Shapiro goes a step further by blaming the problem on early dissenters as being psychological Romantics and thus have a "failure to grasp what could not be imagined."

It is true that anti-Stratfordians are a fringe lot and Sharpiro diligently recites their cryptograms, fabrications and deceptions. Yet like so many tenure-invested scholars, he cannot appreciate why this problem will not go away and why the authorship question is so appealing. It is the biographical aspect of the plays and poems, which Shapiro insists we ignore, that give such a powerful basis for skeptics. Charles Beauclerk's nemesis book, Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom, brilliantly exposes this obvious theme (although he goes too far in my opinion by reasoning that the true author was the son of the queen and thus required anonymity). Yet Beauclerk's insights and explanations about the life of the writer (Earl of Oxford) and the works are profound and should be seriously considered.

Shapiro clearly hoped this book would put the final nail in the coffin of the authorship controversy but I think it will only inflame it (surely he was warned). Like Alan Nelson in Monstrous Adversary, he simply cannot be objective, yet he works hard at appearing so. This might push a few fence-sitters his way but it will likely only be appreciated by died-in-the-wool Stratfordians as another book to rationalize their myths.

The jury is still out, but for a strong anti-Stratfordian such as me, he disappoints.

Randall Sherman

posted by Randall_Sherman on May 9, 2010

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  • Posted May 9, 2010

    A Good Try, but Disappointing

    I think Professor Shapiro had a rare opportunity to address this question fairly and without prejudice, but it is no surprise that he concluded on the side of the Stratford man. Given his inherent conflict of interest on the subject, it's sad to see the same old, tired arguments being made. It is a subtle, albeit sophisticated version of the standard ridicule by anti-Stratfordians that doubters are all mentally ill. Yet Shapiro goes a step further by blaming the problem on early dissenters as being psychological Romantics and thus have a "failure to grasp what could not be imagined."

    It is true that anti-Stratfordians are a fringe lot and Sharpiro diligently recites their cryptograms, fabrications and deceptions. Yet like so many tenure-invested scholars, he cannot appreciate why this problem will not go away and why the authorship question is so appealing. It is the biographical aspect of the plays and poems, which Shapiro insists we ignore, that give such a powerful basis for skeptics. Charles Beauclerk's nemesis book, Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom, brilliantly exposes this obvious theme (although he goes too far in my opinion by reasoning that the true author was the son of the queen and thus required anonymity). Yet Beauclerk's insights and explanations about the life of the writer (Earl of Oxford) and the works are profound and should be seriously considered.

    Shapiro clearly hoped this book would put the final nail in the coffin of the authorship controversy but I think it will only inflame it (surely he was warned). Like Alan Nelson in Monstrous Adversary, he simply cannot be objective, yet he works hard at appearing so. This might push a few fence-sitters his way but it will likely only be appreciated by died-in-the-wool Stratfordians as another book to rationalize their myths.

    The jury is still out, but for a strong anti-Stratfordian such as me, he disappoints.

    Randall Sherman

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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