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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
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Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  980 Ratings  ·  195 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,498)
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Bill  Kerwin
This well-written exploration of the most popular of all literary conspiracy theories--namely, denying that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare--may contain (at least for my taste) too many details about the most prominent Baconians and Oxfordians, but such details are germane to Shapiro's subject, since he is more interested in the reasons why people began to question--and continue to question--Shakespearean authorship than he is in the reasons for and against this opinion.

Shapiro believes--as I do-
Apr 07, 2010 Aliza rated it really liked it
I am a Shakespeare fanatic so I was predisposed to liking this book (especially as Shapiro is very much of the opinion that Shakespeare DID write all the plays attributed to him), but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned. I've taken graduate level courses on Shakespeare and Textual Criticism, so I was familiar with most of the evidence that Shapiro presents for Shakespeare. With a few exceptions, there was nothing new here in that regard. What impressed me was the approach Shapiro ta ...more
Dec 02, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Sweet Swan of Avon! What a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames
That so did take Eliza and our James!" -- Ben Jonson

When I was nowt but a lad I read Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence's Bacon is Shakespeare (1910) in the school library, which is when I first came across the notion that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. According to him the plays are full of cryptic clues asserting that Francis Bacon used Will as a mask for writing all th
Apr 08, 2013 Nikki rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I am not the greatest fan of Shakespeare -- or at least, of how rarely someone can discover his work for themselves, at their own pace. Of how he might well be the only literary figure people can think of on short notice. But I am a Stratfordian: I do believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote at least the plays firmly attributed to him and probably more, now orphaned or lost to us. So I wasn't sure about this book. It's not immediately clear, at a glance, what theory Shapiro subscribes ...more
Apr 29, 2011 Judith rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with an interest in Shakespeare
I love this book. It was absolutely fascinating and at the same time enlightening.

I'm no expert on the authorship question, but I did have my doubts about Shakespeare, after reading up on the other "candidates". While Shapiro (a Stratfordian) didn't wipe away all my doubts, he did something far more important. He illustrated the authorship question.

His book is not so much a nitpicky detail about why someone or other probably wrote Shakespeare, it's rather a look at why Baconians and Oxfordians a
Aug 12, 2011 Martin rated it it was amazing

I had expected a strong overlap between Shapiro's book and the parallel sections of Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives, the 400 year history of attempts to create a Life of Shakespeare. But there is no replication. Shapiro is no less scholarly, but he goes further in striving to understand the creators, and gullible victims, of the idea that Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him.

The book is unusual in coming from a genuine Shakespearean scholar (most avoid this subject like the pla
Feb 05, 2011 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why am I so surprised that the author of 1599 would have researched and written a fantastic book regarding the so-called Shakespeare authorship controversy? I really shouldn't have been. If I could give this book more stars, I would.

For years, as an English teacher, I encountered students, particularly back in the '80s and '90s, who would ask me who really wrote Shakespeare. (Some would ask if they had to read the plays since it wasn't proven that there was a Shakespeare who really wrote them. G
Oct 22, 2010 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Professor of English at Columbia University, Shapiro sets out not only to examine the evidence that the plays customarily attributed to Shakespeare may have in fact been written by someone else, but also to explore the reasons why such theories abound and have persisted for two hundred years or so. He first traces the histories of various forgeries claiming to substantiate information about and events in Shakespeare’s life, and then he reviews the gradual “deification” of Shakespeare, a process ...more
Lara Eakins
May 15, 2011 Lara Eakins rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
My only real complaint about the book is kind of a pedantic one - he uses the label “skeptic” to describe those who question the Shakespeare authorship. The use of that label has been a problem in other areas since the people that identify themselves as part of the “skeptic movement” don’t want to be confused with this type of person labelled “skeptic”. As happened with those who question anthropogenic global warming, I would call the Baconians, Oxfordians, etc. “Shakespeare Denialists”.

The pat
Apr 28, 2011 Alicen rated it liked it
James Shapiro captures the anti-Shakespeare movement in the opening pages of this book as "a failure to grasp what could not be imagined". One of the main arguments against Shakespeare remains to this day the lack of evidence that he received any formal education or traveled to any of the places that feature in his brilliant works - and his opponents cannot imagine how he could have done so. Although I am staunch member of the Shakespeare of Stratford camp, I figured if I was going to read one a ...more
Jul 22, 2010 Jon rated it really liked it
Most of this book is not about arguing the case of who really wrote Shakespeare's plays--it's about examining why various people including Mark Twain, Henry James, and Sigmund Freud doubted that "the man from Stratford" could possibly have done it. The answers lie not in the truth or falsity of their positions, but in their prejudices about the nature of fiction and in the spirits of the times in which they lived. Fairly convincing, but not of great intrinsic interest to me. Finally in the last ...more
Jan 02, 2016 Leslie rated it it was amazing
The authorship of the plays is really a nonquestion, interesting to people who think that Dan Brown fellow was writing about real history with all that code and secret society stuff. It didn't occur to anyone to question the authorship of Shakespeare's plays until more than two hundred years after his death and makes about as much sense as questioning that Dante or Dickens or Poe or Atwood wrote the works we put their names on; once someone asks the question, though, the anomaly hunting and conv ...more
Mike W
Aug 20, 2010 Mike W rated it really liked it
This book is quite engaging. It's starts a little slow, but rewards the patient reader amply. The story of Delia Bacon alone made reading the book worthwhile. But there is more to the book than Delia Bacon. Mark Twain, Henry James and Sigmund Freud make appearances as well, since each had a strong opinion about the authorship of Hamlet and the rest.

I had no strong opinion about the authorship question before reading the book, but Shapiro argues persuasively that William Shakespeare did indeed wr
Erica Miles
May 15, 2015 Erica Miles rated it it was amazing
I'm a little slow, not because the book isn't captivating--it's fantastic! Just a few issues conflicting with reading time. I took a sneak preview into a latter part of the book, where Mark Twain meets Helen Keller. Twain was one of the popular disputers in the authorship controversy. The book reads not only like good history, but like a detective story! James Schapiro appears to be a trustworthy author and examines all sides of the question objectively. His eloquent writing and the research beh ...more
Dec 05, 2015 Tim rated it it was amazing
Shaprio puts the controversy to rest, exposing the doubters to be totally misguided in their thinking, starting with a question which becomes a theory which then becomes a conviction. The question? How could someone from a small town without an advanced education, court connections, or training in the law have written these masterpieces of English, nay world, literature? Instead of looking for how that could be possible, they proceed to find reasons that it couldn't. Deductive reasoning at its w ...more
Steve Turtell
Jul 02, 2014 Steve Turtell rated it really liked it
I have no doubt that the man called William Shakespeare from Stratford is the author of the plays attributed to him--and if I did have any doubts, this book would have laid them to rest completely. It should--but I'm certain it won't--do the same for all the "Oxfordians" and "Baconians" and "Marlovians" who insist, against all the evidence, that a glover's son could not possibly have given us such works of genius as Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Kin ...more
Marika Hevosmaa
Jan 09, 2016 Marika Hevosmaa rated it it was amazing
While reading this book, I was almost constantly irritated and even outright angry - with the fact that so man people choose to believe in a lie. It is a fascinating aspect of our human psyche, that if something is repeated often enough, and by an increasing number of people, we start to think that it has got to be true. In many cases, that 'something' eventually becomes 'the truth' if we allow it. And we do believe, despite the lack of real evidence, or the fact that there is contradictory evid ...more
Lucie Miller
This is a well-written, thoroughly-researched look at the conspiracy theories surrounding the true authorship of the Shakespearean works. Shapiro debunks several of the theories and examines the holes in the arguments put forth by such respected writers such as Mark Twain, Henry James, Hellen Keller and others.
Among the men suspected to be the true author are Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere and Christopher Marlowe.
I'm a Shakespearean and am with Shapiro on his exploration as he logically and rat
May 15, 2016 Kevin rated it really liked it
Shelves: gasp-non-fiction
Despite what the title may have you believe, this book is not about weighing the merits of various authorship hypothesis with regards to Shakespearean literature. James Shapiro informs the reader near the beginning that Shakespeare was written by Shakespeare. This book is instead a history of the Shakespearean Authorship Controversy, why and how it developed, the forms it has taken, and why "the establishment" kinda rolls their eyes about it.

The book itself is split into four parts.

In the firs
Oct 21, 2013 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A superb primer on the Shakespeare authorship "controversy," its origins in the 19th century, the basic tenets of the Baconian and Oxfordian arguments against Shakespeare, which are the two best known theories, and finally the reasons why the whole kerfuffle is largely misguided speculation by people who don't know or understand much about the Elizabethan era. (Baconians believe Sir Francis Bacon wrote the plays, Oxfordians believe it was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford). But James Shapi ...more
Sep 04, 2010 J rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 09, 2010 Lauren rated it it was amazing
More a history of the authorship controversy than an attempt to break new ground, this book combines a wide array of disciplines and exemplifies academic scholarship at its best. It's not perfect: Mr. Shapiro does a nice job of giving background in some areas and then skips over that background and assumes readers know it in others, his tone is perhaps a bit too dismissive at times, and, readers would be well served to have some knowledge of Shakespeare and literature to fully appreciate this wo ...more
May 01, 2012 Sammy rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Dec 11, 2012 Zenmoon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of literary intrigue
There’s quite an art to making scholarly material this accessible. Shapiro writes eloquently and with great expertise about the Shakespeare authorship debate that has raged now for centuries. I’ve been fascinated in it ever since I came across an Atlantic article written in 1991, ‘Looking for Shakespeare’, in which two Shakespeareans present opposing cases; one for Shakespeare as the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, and the other for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Around the same time I s ...more
Ray Campbell
Jun 20, 2012 Ray Campbell rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
Shakespeare was so brilliant that it is not surprising there have been many who doubt he worked alone and have questioned whether he was involved at all. Since the historical Shakespeare had a limited education and traveled little, even scholars have speculated that a variety of other towering figures of the age may have used Shakespeare as a front man while writing secretly. Shapiro has written a terrific study of the various literary scholars and writers who have questioned Shakespeare as well ...more
Dec 15, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it
This is a book about the Shakespeare authorship controversy - but it's more about the history of that controversy, and how and why people came to believe that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays, than it is a book weighing the merits of those various claims. Shapiro states right from the outset that he is a Stratfordian, that is, someone who believes William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and no-one else.

Whilst there are quite literally dozens of potential claimants this boo
Jul 01, 2010 Max rated it really liked it
I read this because I wanted to learn more about the Shakespeare authorship debate. As far as history of the debate goes, it was excellent. Shapiro possesses an immense knowledge of Shakespeare's works, his times, and the authorship controversy. Shapiro firmly believes that the common man from Stratford is the author of Shakespeare's plays and I found his arguments convincing. Having read the book, I would place myself firmly in the camp of those who believe that Shakespeare was indeed Shakespea ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I can't remember if I decided that I wanted to read the Shakespearean dramatic canon before or after I saw this book, but either way, I think this will be good background. It is a good crash course examination of the Shakespearean authorship controversy, and also a reasonably good argument for the perspective that people separated from their descendants by hundreds of years should not be regarded as having an interior life identical to that of said descendants.

This bogs down a little bit in the
Mar 20, 2012 Mignon rated it really liked it
I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. I started with the print version and finished with the audio version, and this was one of the rare instances in which I felt the audio fell flat. The narrator read too fast and just didn't have a voice that I liked.

I really liked the section of the book I read in print though. It was filled with interesting tidbits about what we know--and don't know--about Shakespeare's life. The analysis of why the question of "who really wrote Shakespeare" is
Jul 31, 2015 Sara rated it really liked it
Had no idea there were so many naysayers about who really wrote Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, including some famous names such as Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud. Enjoyed the way this book just takes you on a historical literary journey without insulting the reader as many similar books tend to do.
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  • The Genius of Shakespeare
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  • Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama
  • Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard
  • Shakespeare by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare
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  • The Age of Shakespeare (Modern Library Chronicles)
  • Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare the Thinker
  • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
  • The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents
  • Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare, Vols. 1-2
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James S. Shapiro is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University who specialises in Shakespeare and the Early Modern period. Shapiro has served on the faculty at Columbia University since 1985, teaching Shakespeare and other topics, and he has published widely on Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture.
More about James Shapiro...

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“We've inherited many ideas about writing that emerged in the eighteenth century, especially an interest in literature as both an expression and an exploration of the self. This development — part of what distinguishes the "modern" from the "early modern" — has shaped the work of many of our most celebrated authors, whose personal experiences indelibly and visibly mark their writing. It's fair to say that the fiction and poetry of many of the finest writers of the past century or so — and I'm thinking here of Conrad, Proust, Lawrence, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Plath, Ellison, Lowell, Sexton, Roth, and Coetzee, to name but a few — have been deeply autobiographical. The link between the life and the work is one of the things we're curious about and look for when we pick up the latest book by a favorite author.” 5 likes
“It may take a decade or two before the extent of Shakespeare's collaboration passes from the graduate seminar to the undergraduate lecture, and finally to popular biography, by which time it will be one of those things about Shakespeare that we thought we knew all along. Right now, though, for those who teach the plays and write about his life, it hasn't been easy abandoning old habits of mind. I know that I am not alone in struggling to come to terms with how profoundly it alters one's sense of how Shakespeare wrote, especially toward the end of his career when he coauthored half of his last ten plays. For intermixed with five that he wrote alone, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and The Tempest, are Timon of Athens (written with Thomas Middleton), Pericles (written with George Wilkins), and Henry the Eighth, the lost Cardenio, and The Two Noble Kinsmen (all written with John Fletcher).” 3 likes
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