First of all, great Shakespeare questioned? How unthinkable, controversial, bizarre…
I had scraps of information on Shakespeare’s authorship question, from “The Everything Shakespeare Book”, that I read years ago and some recently viewed TV programs, such as “Shakespeare Uncovered” and “Shakespeare: The legacy”. Nevertheless, it was appealing enough for the skeptical mind to question – was really William Shakespeare of Stratford the writer behind these great comedies, tragedies, historical plays, and sonnets?
Looking into the materials on authorship, James Shapiro’s book “Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare” came up. How exciting! I would finally know who wrote Shakespeare.
James Shapiro is an English and Comparative Literature professor and the book feels quite academic at first, although well structured.
Then book unfolds to a quest through principal candidates to Shakespeare himself. The division of text by a candidate gives the opportunity to read it by paying attention to one particular contestant, allowing to step out and research other materials, before continuing to the next one.
James Shapiro is leading the reader on a path to rediscover Shakespeare. He navigates the wide historical timeframe from 15xx to modern days, up to 2007. On that journey, that is full of caveats, the reader will meet Freud, Mark Twain and number of Shakespeare’s followers and doubters and discover how authorship movement was born and how political inclinations affected it.
And as in life, the journey feels more important than the outcome.
I definitely came up with much more understanding what is behind the authorship question as well as learning along the way some fascinating tidbits (such as why intermissions in theaters were introduced) – an additional benefit to history nerds!
We might never know the truth behind historical events and personages, although research brings us as close as possible to a realistic version.
I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers interested in Shakespeare’s life and works. Though it’s not a book for a novice – some historical interest in medieval times, Britain’s history or 18-19 century’s literature exposure would help to appreciate this meticulously researched and well-written work.
Just after completing this review and verifying some of the titles, one more interesting resource came up on Amazon Prime “Shakespeare: The King’s Man”, the series by James Shapiro as well. This is on my watch list now!
About the Guest Author:
My name is Maya Cherny,
I’m a software engineer and mathematician by profession, ballet dancer at heart and recently (about 2 years ago) discovered my interest in British medieval and Tudor history. Started with Philippa Gregory books and then continued to look for authors of fiction and non-fiction for that period in British and medieval history. I picked up Alison Weir “Innocent Traitor” and was enchanted with her style. This prompted me to dive into Alison Weir’s non-fiction (Princes in the Tower were the first, of course), and now almost through her published books.
My favorite historical personages so far are Elizabeth Woodville (started with Elizabeth I and Elizabeth of York) and Reginald Pole (Richard of York and Richard III were on the list as well 😉.
Expanding my learning resources, I completed courses on FutureLearn “The Tudors” and “Learning Shakespeare”. Thus – “Contested Will”, the book which I’m posting a review, seemed to be a good addition to the Shakespearean course.
This is an enjoyable learning process, starting at the point “why they all were called the same name and is it possible to distinguish them?” and moving on to talking only about history and looking for the kids’ history books to involve them as well.