It is long overdue that someone took a closer look at the brilliant Mary Sidney. I have a suspicion that Mary Sidney’s life, and especially her dedication to the English language after her brother’s death, may throw important light on the mysterious authorship of the Shakespeare plays and poems.
Actor; Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 1996–2006; Chairman of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust
For more than two hundred years, a growing number of researchers have questioned whether the man named William Shakespeare actually wrote the works attributed to him. There is no paper trail for William Shakespeare—no record that he was ever paid for writing, nothing in his handwriting but a few signatures on legal documents, no evidence of his presence in the royal court except as an actor in his later years, no confirmation of his involvement in the literary circles of the time. With so little information about this man—and even less evidence connecting him to the plays and sonnets—what can and what can’t we assume about the author of the greatest works of the English language?
For the first time, Robin P. Williams presents an in-depth inquiry into the possibility that Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, wrote the works attributed to the man named William Shakespeare. As well educated as Queen Elizabeth I, this woman was at the forefront of the literary movement in England, yet not allowed to write for the public stage. But that’s just the beginning . . .
The first question I am asked by curious freshmen in my Shakespeare course is always, “Who wrote these plays anyway?” Now, because of Robin Williams’ rigorous scholarship and artful sleuthing, Mary Sidney Herbert will forever have to be mentioned as a possible author of the Shakespeare canon. Sweet Swan of Avon doesn’t pretend to put the matter to rest, but simply shows how completely reasonable the authorship controversy is, and how the idea of a female playwright surprisingly answers more Shakespearean conundrums than it creates...
—Cynthia Lee Katona
Professor of Shakespeare and Women’s Studies, Ohlone College; Author of Book Savvy
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I became interested in the Shakespeare Authorship question two or three years ago after reading John Michell's 'Who Wrote Shakespeare?' Since then I have read many books and articles on the subject. 'Sweet Swan of Avon' had been on my list for some time. After contacting all the British distributors I could find, without success, I at last obtained a copy from your excellent store. It cost me, but boy! was it worth it! At last someone has presented firm evidence of a woman's hand in the works of 'Shakespeare.' Robin William's writing is clear and concise, and her research is impeccable. In her extremely readable style she reviews Mary Sidney's life and work, giving many examples of why it is far more likely that she wrote 'Shakespeare' than the man from Stratford. This seems even more true of the Sonnets. Even if the male pronoun doesn't bother us I'm sure many of us have had that nagging feeling in the back of our minds 'Would one man really write like that to another man?' At last the 'elephant in the room' has been confronted. Surprise surprise! A woman could have written these beautiful poems! Robin Williams is to be congratulated on the depth of her knowledge, her painstaking research, and the intelligence of her brilliant writing. Read this book! If it doesn't convince you I'm sure, at least, it will make you think! Just one more thing; why is such an excellent book not more readily available outside the US?
I've never understood why, in the light of so much uncertainty, so many people steadfastly insist that the man William Shakespeare wrote the works currently attributed to him. It's almost like a religious cult in which those who question the leader are systematically cast aside. Ghostwriting by choice or by necessity is as thoroughly documented throughout the annals of literary history as is, oh, let's say men cheating on their wives (again, steadfastly denied, but altogether factual). So it is with open arms¿and open mind¿I welcome Robin P. Williams' Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?, a unique and logical speculation that Mary Herbert Sydney, the Countess of Pembroke, is the true author behind this masterful literary cannon. To reject the theory simply because the proposed candidate is a woman is a disservice to the bountiful historical information this book reveals about the Elizabethan era and what it would take for a woman to write politically charged material for publication. If your mind is already closed to this possibility, keep your blinders on and stick to the status quo. However, if sound theorizing based on facts¿not speculation or illogical assumption making¿is more your cup of tea, you're in for a revelatory experience reading Williams' book. If nothing else, you will be exposed to not only what historians cannot know about the man William Shakespeare, but also the enormity of the inaccuracies that (historians, scholars, educators) have established, and continue to uphold as fact. The book's historical research is awe-inspiring, the juxtaposing of Sidney's and Shakespeare's lives nothing less than enlightening, and Williams' presentation is superbly approachable: entertaining, insightful, and remarkably thorough. No sooner can the reader come up with a question than Williams provides a fact-based answer¿not her assumption or her willynilly speculation¿ but rather a purposeful response that is derived from many years of nose-to-the-grindstone research. In short, it's a history book you take to bed with you because it's exciting, romantic, believable, and knowledgeable... not unlike the plays and sonnets themselves. Bravo!
Even if you think the suggestion that a woman wrote Shakespeare is complete feminist crap, you have to read this book. Robin P. Williams outlines in detail what we know about the author of the Shakespeare canon from reading the works and then outlines what we know of the man William Shakespeare. The two don't match by a long shot, which is why for over 200 years scholars have debated the 'Authorship Question.' Williams starts by looking at what personalities could have created these works and comes up with Mary Herbert Sidney, one of the most educated women of her day with a self-imposed mission to create english literature that would rival the French and Italians. Add some excellent contextual analysis of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets and a healthy dose of Elizabethan history, morals and manners and you have a gripping tale. If you are not convinced of her premise after the first chapter, you are in complete denial. A great read for anyone who likes historical who-dunnits and a must read for any lovers of Shakespeare. I for one will never think of the Bard the same way again.