Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reviews from Elsewhere: James Shapiro's 'Contested Will' reviewed by Cass Morris for the American Shakespeare Center

Coincidentally just before the March 22 lecture at the Harry Ransom Center by Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, publishes in the ASC blog a lengthy but entertaining view of his Contested Will (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), a history and rebuttal of those who have asserted that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the plays:

American Shakespeare Center Staunton Virginia

Wednesday, March 21, 2012Contested Will by James Shapiro, Simon & Schuster, New York

Book Review:

'Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?' by James Shapiro

by Cass Morris, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton , Virginia

One of the greatest challenges for a modern historian is to remove the filter of Romanticism and Victoriana when we look backwards through time. Modern society has inherited a lot of inaccurate notions about the pre-Industrial world from our more immediate forebears, creating an assumption that the medieval and early modern worlds shared the same values, the same culture, the same societal structures, the same goals as the Victorian world – an assumption that is, in many ways, far off the mark. To achieve greater understanding of anything early modern, a historian – professional or recreational – must first clear her eyes of the haze which the nineteenth century imposed on them.

Lifting this veil is, to my reading of it, the major triumph of James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?. Both history and historiography, this book examines the case both for and against Shakespeare as the author of the works attributed to his name – and comes down, quite definitively, on the side of Shakespeare. Shapiro notes, in the opening pages of the book, his interest, which lies "not in what people think – which has been stated again and again in unambiguous terms – so much as why thy think it. No doubt my attitude derives from living in a world in which truth is too often seen as relative and in which mainstream media are committed to showing both sides of every story."

[image from cover of the hardback edition, © Simon & Schuster, via the American Shakespeare Center blog]

Read full text (3,058 words) at the blog of the American Shakespeare Center

Extra: read the Economist's anonymous review of the book, March 25, 2010 (614 words)

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