Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

by James Shapiro
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Overview

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro

For more than two hundred years after William Shakespeare's death, no one doubted that he had written his plays. Since then, however, dozens of candidates have been proposed for the authorship of what is generally agreed to be the finest body of work by a writer in the English language. In this remarkable book, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. Among the doubters have been such writers and thinkers as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller. It is a fascinating story, replete with forgeries, deception, false claimants, ciphers and codes, conspiracy theories—and a stunning failure to grasp the power of the imagination.

As Contested Will makes clear, much more than proper attribution of Shakespeare’s plays is at stake in this authorship controversy. Underlying the arguments over whether Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays are fundamental questions about literary genius, specifically about the relationship of life and art. Are the plays (and poems) of Shakespeare a sort of hidden autobiography? Do Hamlet, Macbeth, and the other great plays somehow reveal who wrote them?

Shapiro is the first Shakespeare scholar to examine the authorship controversy and its history in this way, explaining what it means, why it matters, and how it has persisted despite abundant evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him. This is a brilliant historical investigation that will delight anyone interested in Shakespeare and the literary imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416541622
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/06/2010
Pages: 339
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English at Columbia University and the award-winning author of several books, including 1599 and Contested Will. He serves on the Board of Governors of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Board of Directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company. James lives in New York.

Wanda McCaddon has won more than twenty-five AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for The Seamstress by Sara Tuvel Bernstein, for which she also earned a coveted Audie Award. AudioFile magazine has also named her one of recording's Golden Voices. Wanda appears regularly on the professional stage in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
John_Lefler More than 1 year ago
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
JDourg More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent and well-written read. Shapiro argues persuasively against the idea that a person of average means and learning could not become the greatest creative force in literature. The idea that only a "person of means and nobility" could write the plays and poems is a key argument of the deniers (a very snobbish one in my own view), and Shapiro does a good job in exposing the fallacy of their arguments. I would recommend if you are interested in how "denial" became associated with Shakespeare, and the why's that fed it. In the end, Shapiro makes an important argument that undervaluing creative genius at the expense of personal experience only diminishes the gift of imagination.
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I got the sample
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mattanawcook More than 1 year ago
I listened to the unabridged audio version of this book, along with another seven or eight audiobooks about Shakespeare, and found it fascinating (as was his other book, A Year In The Life Of William Shakespeare). While I've read many biographies of Shakespeare, it was uniquely interesting to read a book that delved into the authorship controversy from a historical perspective. As a former student of the Kennedy assassination controversy, I found many similarities in the arguments about "who did it." I'd love to be able to entertain the idea that some well-oiled conspiracy allowed Oxford to write the plays, but it seems to me more likely that the plays were created by an ambitious and theatrically-skilled "glover's son" than by a jaded nobleman. How many great works of literature, in any country and in any time period, have been written by authors who were wealthy, upper class and highly educated?
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You and your beloved band To Be One are there at the same beach ur at. U have ooved them since they were on abdc when they were the iconic boyz. Now that they arent the iconic boyz u love then erven more but now Louis is even cuter then before. U and ur best friends went to the beach for the last day of summer. Then u see louis with his gorgeose abd coming towards u but then mikey starts coming then jason and madison. Then louis and them are all fighting over who gets to ask u out but u just there actin l cool then louis ask u out because hes the closest to ur age he says "hey beautiful what are u doin here" you tell him "just here hanin with my bff" he says cool and then "ur to pretty to be alone so why dont u be mine" u say "yea id like that" he says great and goes and brags to everybody rlse then u and ur friend start jumping up and down like a kangaroo who drank red bull. Then next day liuis and u go on ur date to breadsticks u order a pizza and then go watch a romantic movie then a candle light dessert picnic on the beach. U l him u loveed spending time with him and he aays "u know would even better?" U say "what" he says "if u be my girlfriend" u say yes then he walks u homeu call ur best friend victoria and tell her. U and her scream ur mom asked what happend u just said nothin. Next part if u would oike it just eespond fyi tell ne if u even know who the iconic boyz are.
Randall_Sherman More than 1 year ago
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