Monday, March 29, 2010

Book: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro

The daily ArtsJournal on-line signals this review of James Shapiro's history/investigation of the question, published March 25 in The Economist:

William Shakespeare

Hero or hoax

The man and his pen

Mar 25th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? By James Shapiro. Simon & Schuster; 367 pages; $26. Faber and Faber; £20. Buy from,

[ . . . ] “What difference does it make who wrote the plays?” someone asked the author wearily. Mr Shapiro (for whom Shakespeare was definitely the man) thinks it matters a lot, and by the end of this book, his readers will think so too.

The authorship controversy turns on two things: snobbery and the assumption that, in a literal way, you are what you write. How could an untutored, untravelled glover’s son from hickville, the argument goes, understand kings and courtiers, affairs of state, philosophy, law, music—let alone the noble art of falconry? Worse still, how could the business-minded, property-owning, moneylending materialist that emerges from the documentary scraps, be the same man as the poet of the plays? Many have shaken their heads at the sheer vulgarity of it all, among them Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Henry James, his brother William, and Sigmund Freud.

Mr Shapiro teases out the cultural prejudices, the historical blind spots, and above all the anachronism inherent in these questions. No one before the late 18th century had ever asked them, or thought to read the plays or sonnets for biographical insights. No one had even bothered to work out a chronology for them. The idea that works of literature hold personal clues, or that—more grandly—writing is an expression and exploration of the self, is a relatively recent phenomenon. [ . . . ]

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