Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?James Shapiro’s latest book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? examines the Shakespeare authorship question in a way that it traditionally hasn’t been examined by academics: seriously. An interesting problem has arisen in the age of the Internet: the conspiracy theorists have been able to be heard in ways that were impossible 20 or 30 years ago, and their claims have been taken much more seriously as a result. We live in an era that thrives on conspiracy and hidden history. Shapiro, rightfully I think, recognized that it was time for a serious Shakespeare scholar to examine and present the case for Shakespeare as the writer of his plays—which he has managed to do brilliantly and without resorting to attacking the intellect of the anti-Stratfordians.

Shapiro begins by examining the origin of the anti-Stratfordian movements in an unlikely place—the early biographies of Shakespeare, which sought to correlate Shakespeare’s life to his plays and sonnets. It’s a slippery slope, Shapiro warns, because it ultimately deprives Shakespeare of an imagination. Shapiro also examines the rise and fall of the Baconians. The history of the Oxfordian movement was particularly interesting in light of the fact that many famous actors and even Supreme Court justices have decided in favor of Oxford over Shakespeare. And Shapiro does not flinch from describing the uncanny resemblances some parts of Oxford’s life have to the plays; however, he also presents solid evidence in favor of Shakespeare that should put to rest any doubts. It should, but it won’t precisely because people seem compelled to believe in their favorite candidates with the zeal almost of adherents to a religion. Terms like “heretic” and even “blasphemy” are thrown around. And in such a tightly contested matter, even if the preponderance of the historical evidence is in favor of Shakespeare, minds are not going to be changed. However, what Shapiro’s book likely will do is offer those skeptical but not entrenched a solid argument for Shakespeare. This book is a must read for Shakespeare lovers and teachers of Shakespeare. Every year my students ask me about authorship. I feel much more informed now than I have felt in the past.

Rating: ★★★★★

I don’t know that I can attain Litlover status in the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, but this book would make a fourth book toward the six required to meet that challenge level. I committed to reading three: the Bookworm level.

As a postscript, I enjoyed reading this book on my Kindle very much. I was much more absorbed into the book than usual, interestingly enough, and I forgot these books usually have a lot of notes and a large index, so I reached the “end” well before I realized it.

Kindle Update

Stratford upon Avon

I am about halfway into my first book on the Kindle. I’m reading James Shapiro’s discussion of the Shakespeare authorship question: Contested Will. I am happy to report that I love reading on the Kindle. The digital e-ink display is easy to read. I quickly lost myself in the book, and I even discovered a couple of advantages of reading on the Kindle as opposed to paper.

  1. When I read lying down, the book is easier to manage, and I don’t have to do that awkward shifting thing you have to do when you change sides of the book.
  2. I am not shuffling through the book as much. I am re-reading a little less. The focus is on the page at hand.
  3. I’m not trying to calculate how much I have until the end constantly. I already know.
  4. I am not flipping to the end to see what Shapiro will discuss next. I imagine the benefits of not flipping to the end will be even greater with fiction as I won’t be as tempted to ruin the ending.

Admittedly, the reason I’m not doing 2 and 4 is that they’re a little harder to do on the Kindle, though not impossible. I like knowing the percent of the book I’ve read, so there is no need to flip to the end, subtract the number of pages I’ve read, and compute the percentage.

One disadvantage is that I do like to read in the tub, and I can’t bring the Kindle into the tub.

I am finding it just as easy to disappear into a book, and so far, no problems losing my place.

As to the book, I have read about the history of the claims of Baconian and Oxfordian camps, both of which I found interesting. I am finding the book to be a fair-minded discussion of alternative theories of authorship. As Rob Hardy, an Amazon reviewer, writes, “Shapiro is never condescending.” Another reviewer notes that “this book is the most sympathetic and serious analysis of [anti-Stratfordian] views they are likely ever to receive from a legitimate scholar who does not agree with them.” Still, Shapiro is correct is that the zeal some have shown for their particular views on the authorship question borders on religion. It’s amazing to me that we live in an age when the simplest explanation is no longer the best—conspiracy and hidden agendas are favored over history. I find it intriguing too that the Oxfordians have been so successful in promoting their candidate that many folks believe that people who believe Shakespeare wrote the plays ascribed to him are the nutters.

I’m looking forward to reading Shapiro’s case for Shakespeare next. Shapiro said many expressed disappointment that he was tackling this issue in a book, but I’m glad he did.

photo credit: jlcwalker

Kindle TBR Pile

Most avid readers I know have a TBR (to be read) pile. I mostly keep my TBR pile on Goodreads. I sometimes remember to put these books on my Amazon Wishlist. I have recently acquired a Kindle, and my department at school gave me an Amazon gift card in honor of my being selected as the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (GCTE) Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Since purchasing my Kindle, I have downloaded several books, all now in my TBR pile.

HornsContested Will

Medieval LivesThe Dream of Perpetual Motion

I really added Horns at Steve’s request, as he has been wanting to read it, but it has received good reviews, and I think I’ll eventually check it out, too.

I think I first heard about Contested Will via Twitter, but I’m not sure if it was @shakespearetav or @madshakespeare. I’m reading A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro, the author of Contested Will, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I see the anti-Stratfordians have begun panning Contested Will in Amazon reviews.

I have long enjoyed Terry Jones’s take on medieval history. Many people don’t know it, but Jones is a medieval scholar with a degree in English from Oxford. He has a gift for bringing history alive with humor, and I always enjoy whatever he does. Medieval Lives has been on my Amazon Wishlist for ages, so I finally purchased it.

I found out about The Dream of Perpetual Motion via Mad Shakespeare, which is a clever blog that you should be reading if you are a Shakespeare fan. This novel is a steampunk version of Shakespeare’s late romance The Tempest. I have never tried steampunk before, but I have tried books with elements of steampunk, such as Stardust. I was dithering about whether to download this book when @paulwhankins, who created a wonderful introduction to steampunk using LiveBinders, said it was good. That was enough for me.

I also found a good deal on three novels from the Brontë sisters on Kindle for $0.99. I haven’t read anything by Anne Brontë, and this collection affords me the opportunity not only to add an additional Brontë novelist to my TBR pile, but also to have my favorite novel (Wuthering Heights) and Jane Eyre at my fingertips wherever I go. The collection comes with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey. If I can, as we say down here in the South, “get off the stick” and read it, I might finish it in time to include it as part of the All About the Brontës Challenge.