Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

March Books 27) Contested Will, by James Shapiro

An excellent book about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, which was a topic I once wasted quite a lot of online time on (between about 2000 and 2004). Shapiro is not really writing about the balance of evidence on either side, though he makes it clear that his sympathies are with the Stratford man rather than with Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford. His subject is more an attempt to work out why various highly regarded intellects (Mark Twain and Helen Keller for Bacon, Sigmund Freud for Oxford) should be attracted by such peculiar theories. His answer is that, for Twain and Freud in particular, it was emotionally important to see the plays and sonnets as autobiographical and revealing of their author's state of mind, even though this is completely anachronistic in terms of how Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote and thought about writing.

The grand Oxford conspiracy theory (which in its wilder variations has the Earl as both son and lover of Queen Elizabeth, as well as being the author of the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe and many more) then happened to hit the Zeitgeist of the last few decades, when we have learned that governments often do lie to us about more important issues than who wrote a play, and questioning received wisdom has become habitual.

Finally, Shapiro points out that Shakespeare's claim to sole authorship of all the plays is no longer accepted by mainstream scholars, in that several of the plays are in fact collaborations (with Fletcher, Middleton, Wilkins and Peele; and he omits Kyd and Edward III). The idea that even a small part of Shakespeare might not be by Shakespeare was heretical until surprisingly recently. But real research, unlike Oxfordianism or Baconianism, moves on.

A good book to read as I crystallize my own biographical endeavours.
Tags: bookblog 2011, writer: james shapiro, writer: shakespeare
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