I have been a Shakespeare fan for some time, but am relatively new to the question of who actually wrote the plays. I found this book an ideal beginning place for those also interested, for in providing uncomfortable documentary evidence that traditional scholarship typically ignores, it pushed me farther along in my suspicion that, whoever wrote the works of Shakespeare, it was not the man from Stratford.
In very readable terms Price shows that there is indeed enormous room to doubt the traditional attribution of the plays. Rather than try to influence potential readers with only my opinions, I will let the book speak for itself by mentioning a few items which most impressed me, in the hope that this will convey the tone of the book as a whole:
Traditional scholars express disbelief at the suggestion that the Stratfordian was a "front man" for a high-born anonymous author: "Why use an actual person? Why not just a false name?" However, Price renders this objection moot by quoting the Elizabethan Robert Greene, who wrote of poets who "for their calling and gravity, being loath to have any profane pamphlets pass under their hand, get some other Battillus to set his name to their verses." (Battillus was an ancient who put his name to the works of Virgil.) Thus, Price provides proof that in Elizabethan England front men were indeed employed by anonymous authors to protect their reputations. Whether scholars want to believe it or not, it was done.
Traditional scholars also protest that no one doubted Shakespeare's authorship during his lifetime. Price again quotes contemporary records to prove this another falsehood. Apparently the mystery surrounding the Shakespeare authorship dates back to the 1590's, for even as the works were printed some readers took the name "Shakespeare" to be a pseudonym for (variously) Francis Bacon, Samuel Daniel, and Edward Dyer.
Traditional scholarship's claim that the actor Shakspere was also a writer is founded on an ambiguous passage about a "Shake-scene" from the 1592 pamphlet "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit." (Aside from this passage, they have *nothing* dating from Shakspere's life which clearly states that he was "Shakespeare.") However -- and for the first time that I've ever seen -- Price places the "Shake-scene" passage *within the context of the pamphlet as a whole*. I was shocked to learn that the whole first section of "Groatsworth" -- never mentioned by orthodox scholars -- deals with a seemingly autobiographical account of how Greene was misused and cheated by a greedy, moneylending actor who brokered plays and took credit for others' writings. The description of the actor tallies exactly with the picture we get of the Stratfordian's character from his later business activities. (Why have we never been told this in traditional biographies?)
(Price also shows that, despite scholars' claim that the "Shake-scene" passage represents Greene's envy that a mere actor should show success at playwrighting, that is apparently not how Elizabethans interpreted it. She quotes the one Elizabethan allusion we have to the passage -- and its author took the "Shake-scene" passage as representing an unethical moneylending actor who takes credit for others' writings.)
Similarly, Price shows how traditional scholarship -- for no good reason -- rejects some records related to Shakspere, but accepts others on far weaker grounds. For example, Shakspere's first recorded activity in London is a 1592 document which shows him lending 7 pounds (a large sum of money then). Most biographers, if they mention it at all, reject this record as referring to "another Shakspere" -- even though it is perfectly congruent with Shakspere's later known moneylending activities. Apparently the only reason this record is rejected is that this *fact* about Shakspere's early London activity does not match scholars' *beliefs* about his supposed early writing career.
Similarly, Price brings to light contradictions in the historical record which orthodox scholars gloss over. For example, biographers claim that during the Christmas season of 1597 Shakspere was fulfilling professional commitments by performing at Court with his theater company. (As it is documented that the company indeed did. It was their most important engagement.) They also acknowledge that the records show that Shakspere was regularly in Stratford, engaged in business. However, what they fail to mention is that the documents indicate Shakspere was doing mundane business in Stratford *at exactly the same time* that he was supposedly performing at Court as a key member of "his company." Price shows how traditional biographies typically deal with these incompatible records: by placing them in different chapters, apparently in the hope that no one will notice the obvious conflict in timing.
And much more ...
From what I have seen, this book has been a great embarrassment to traditional scholarship, for it clearly demonstrates how weak much of that scholarship has been, based on assumptions taken as fact, unquestioned received wisdom, and circular logic. And since Price quotes only orthodox sources, she shows how orthodoxy has painted *itself* into a number of mutually incompatible corners. This is an essential book for any open-minded Shakespeare fan.