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

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  741 ratings  ·  162 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 1,767)
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Aliza
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
Nikki
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
Bruce
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
Alicen
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
Jon
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
Lara Eakins
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
...more
Leslie
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
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
...more
Steve Turtell
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
Judith
Apr 29, 2011 Judith rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Eric
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
Martin

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
...more
Ellen
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
...more
J
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Lauren
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
Sammy
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
Zenmoon
Dec 11, 2012 Zenmoon rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Bill  Kerwin
This well-written exploration of the most popular of all literary conspiracy theories--namely, denying that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works and asserting that somebody else wrote them instead--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 reas ...more
Max
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
Mignon
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
...more
Robert
I was a committed Shakespearian even before reading James Shapiro's wonderful new book on the subject of who wrote Shakespeare, but he really lays out the argument for Shakespeare in a compelling fashion, and also unveils the self-serving hidden agendas of those in academe and the world who would have toppled the Bard from his rightful place in English literature. This is a book that is both academic and completely accessible, and well worth reading whether one is well-versed in Shakespeare's pl ...more
Kyle
I once played the old parlor game with some of my stage crew friends: if you could invite anyone to dinner, past or present, who would it be? I said "I'd like to invite the person who wrote Shakespeare's plays." Aghast, they all thought that I didn't think that was, in fact, Shakespeare.

I do, in fact, believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and poems attributed to him. And James Shapiro does too. In this brief but enlightening volume, he reviews the history of alternative S
...more
Jojo
A great Book about the big question.. Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare or better Who is Shakespeare? The first half of the Book contains the History of how it came to be that people started to question the Authorship of William Shakespeare.
That was highly interesting .. Then he talked about Oxford and Bacon who many people believe to be the true Authors .. he couldn't talk about everyone who was suspected because there are too many so he took the two who are most likely and have the most follow
...more
Claudia
FINISHED!! It's gonna take me forever to go back through this and make total sense...just saying, Shakespeare wrote the plays. He wrote them for money. He didn't write from personal experience (that's something the Romantics imposed on him), and shame on Derek Jacobi, one of my favorite Shakespearean actors, for thinking he didn't. Wasn't aware that Twain, Helen Keller, and Freud got involved in the controversy...as did Malcolm X. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare!
Gloriavirtutisumbra
I really didn't have any preconceptions about the debate over Shakespeare's authorship, beyond the parody of it in Jasper Fford's Eyre Affair, which led me to begin reading this with a smirk. I couldn't have picked a better place to start, as Mr. Shapiro covers the entire oeuvre from Baconians to Marlowe devotees and so on in a very well written overview. Some of the arguments are quite convincing, and even had me wondering if there wasn't something to the whole of it that might be true. But I a ...more
Marc Pressley

Shapiro explores the authorship debate from historical and sociological perspectives. It's a refreshing change. Although the overall goal is to refute alternative claims, specifically those supporting Bacon and de Vere, the approach is as much concerned with why those claims evolved as it is with their potential validity.


The parallels Shapiro draws with the rise of new critical approaches in the nineteenth century and the questioning of sources behind the Bible and the works of Homer are well dr

...more
Salem Salem
Of the numerous books on the market about the Shakespeare authorship question (with which my familiarity is scant) I'm glad I came across this one. Its bibliography alone is a wealth of sources that could keep a reader occupied for a very long time. The book is an overview of how and when Shakespeare authorship came into question and visits its origins to fairly present time, in which it is understood that Shakespeare at the least coauthored late in his writing career.

I really do not care who Sh
...more
Sophia Ramos
It takes a brave man to tackle such a touchy subject as the authorship question, and James Shapiro did it as best as he could.

This reading was dense. It was a lot of sifting through the works of others, and worked more as a lexicon than as a stand-alone academic work. In fact, I often felt at though this were a 280-word dissertation, with a bibliography that rivals the material itself in size. Much of the work was confusing, if you're not already an expert in the general background of Shakespear
...more
Barb
I have to admit I gave up. I guess I really am not that interested in the speculative history of the playwright. Whoever wrote the plays is my hero. Enough said.
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  • Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
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  • Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard
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  • Shakespeare by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare
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A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 Shakespeare and the Jews Oberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World's Most Famous Passion Play The Columbia Anthology of British Poetry Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare

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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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