Customer Reviews


49 Reviews
5 star:
 (26)
4 star:
 (16)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (4)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Alarming Triumph for Obvious Common Sense
If his supporters are correct, the 17th Earl of Oxford would not have been surprised to have been contacted over 300 years after his death and asked how he managed to write the Complete Works of Shakespeare without anybody finding out. In fact, as of course befits the aristocracy, the Earl was most accommodating and even invited the spirit of William Shakespeare along to...
Published on 27 Jun. 2010 by Terrace Ghost

versus
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What Will Shakespeare doubters think?
This book divides opinion. I seem to be the first to give it three stars. It is an interesting story and James Shapiro is clearly very knowledgeable about the subject, but it is biased and employs some weak arguments that would not stand up to serious opposition from the Shakespeare doubters. One aim is to try to explain their thinking, which is a rather pointless...
Published 6 months ago by P. Matthews


Most Helpful First | Newest First

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No contest!, 19 May 2010
By 
A. B. Darbey (U.K.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Comprehensive, witty, authoritative and convincing. The "Who wrote Shakespeare?" debate could be (and usually is) so densely detailed and obscure that the "ordinary" reader loses heart and interest quite quickly. Shapiro manages to be thorough but also very readable. His underlying humour is one factor in this achievement, suggesting that, despite his serious intent, Shapiro can see the funny side of much of the debates of the past. Ultimately, the arguments for Bacon or Oxford or some other supposed writer seem to come down to an inability to accept that genius can surface anywhere and can transcend its social milieu, to produce the kind of quality that Shakespeare's own contemporaries saw in his work. It will now no longer be necessary for me to plough through any more dull conspiracy theories - no contest!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The case for Shakespeare...case closed?, 25 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ? (Paperback)
For his sequel to 1599 James Shapiro turns to a much more esoteric subject-the long and convoluted history of alternative authors of Shakespeare. For a long period after Shakespeare's death no one questioned Shakespeare's authorship. However, with the death of Shakespeare's only surviving granddaughter who died childless in 1670 conclusive biographical detail by people who actually knew him slipped from our grasp forever. Frustratingly, a local priest made a note to question Shakespeare's younger daughter Judith in 1662 but she died before the clergyman found the time to do so. Betterton, Aubrey and Fuller did glean some possibly credible anecdotes when they visited Stratford in the mid-seventeenth century but by this time the trail had gone cold. People living through the trauma of the civil war probably had other things on their minds, anyway!

However, something strange happened to Shakespeare at the end of the eighteenth century, something akin to deification. David Garrick, as Shapiro notes played a big part in this, taking his love of the Bard into the realms of idolatory. Alongside some genuine artefacts fraudulent Shakespeare material began to emerge including 'Vortigern' a fake Shakespeare play by William Henry Ireland. Shapiro details all of this information merely as a prelude to the main thrust of the book which begins with the introduction of one of the key figures in the alternative Shakespeare story-an appropriately named American, Delia Bacon.

According to Shapiro Bacon was the first person to champion the case for her Elizabethan namesake. She was a remarkable woman in personal contact with both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Carlyle. Even Shapiro concedes that 'very few Americans could rival her knowledge of Shakespeare's works.' Shapiro also reminds us of the then current influence of so-called 'Higher Criticism' and the revolutionary theology of Strauss which effectively undermined the historicity of the New Testament-and by implication-that of Jesus himself. If Jesus' historicity could be questioned; why not Shakespeare's?

Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Henry James and Freud all put in appearances as does Ignatious Donnelly and his Baconian cyphers and here the theories become really outlandish, including a cypher based theory that Bacon (and Essex!) were both Elizabeth's secret offspring! The next big figure-according to Shapiro is the South Shields born school teacher JT Looney, the first proponent of the case for de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, a case based on the familiar premise that only an aristocrat could have written 'aristocratic' plays.

What I shall really take away from this book is not that various people (for a variety of reasons) have sought alternatives to Shakespeare but rather the extraordinary lengths that they went to to try and prove their conjectures: fortunes were squandered, oceans crossed, tombs exhumed, even the River Wye gets dredged at one point!

Following a humourous episode involving spirit mediums Shapiro documents the precipitous decline of the de Vere cause in the mid twentieth century...and then the internet happens! Shapiro is excellent on Shakespeare and the internet and how this new medium has almost levelled the debate where in Shapiro's words 'Persistence and the ability to get the last word, rather than expertise, are rewarded'

Given the challenging nature of the subject matter, the book is nowhere as immediate as 1599 but the final chapter, simply called 'Shakespeare' sees James Shapiro going into bat for the Stratford man...needless to say he does him proud. Not quite Q.E.D but a very convincing performance regarding Shakespeare's collaboration with other writers, his stylistic evolution over time and most importantly of all, the fact that Shakespeare produced his plays for specific actors knowing their individual talents and abilities; Will Kemp, for example. I think some people will perhaps find this book a little dry but it is probably worth reading if you enjoyed 1599. Shapiro certainly knows his stuff.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much ado about nothing..., 12 Aug. 2012
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ? (Paperback)
This is a book about the Shakespeare authorship controversy - but it's more about the history of that controversy, and how and why people came to believe that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays, than it is a book weighing the merits of those various claims. Shapiro states right from the outset that he is a Stratfordian, that is, someone who believes William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and no-one else.

Whilst there are quite literally dozens of potential claimants this book focuses on the two main contenders, Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Without going into all the details, Shapiro's argument is that no-one really thought to question the authorship of the Shakespeare plays until the rise of autobiography in the eighteenth century. That was the point when critics and scholars started believing that all fiction, all poetry and novels and plays, necessarily drew on the author's own experiences, that you could understand an author's mind and life by reading between the lines of his work. And using that argument, how could Shakespeare, a rural glover's son with a grammar school education, possibly write about kings and queens, about shipwrecks and far away countries, about love and heartbreak and murder and betrayal? The facts of his life, the argument goes, don't fit. How could someone from Shakespeare's background display such knowledge of falconry, the Court, the law, geography, languages? Only someone from a more exalted background, someone who mixed with the very finest in the land, with all the resources and experiences money could buy, could possibly have known such things intimately enough to write about them. Someone like Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere, for example.

I, like Shapiro, don't buy it. It smacks of elitism, to me, this idea that because Shakespeare wasn't rich or noble, because he didn't travel or live in a fine house or hunt or joust, that he couldn't write about such things as if he knew them. To me it seems to reject the power of imagination, of genius. Authors don't have to have experienced something to write about it. That's what the imagination is for, to so powerfully evoke things unseen and unknown. That's why Shakespeare is such a genius. The arguments against Shakespeare seem so strained to me and so tenuous. Just because we don't have all the facts about Shakespeare that we would wish is not evidence that he wasn't who we believe him to be. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

And at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. As the man himself, whoever he may have been, once said, 'the play's the thing'. The plays are what is important, that we have them, that they've lasted, that they have as much impact today as they did 400 years ago. It would be wonderful to know about the man who wrote them, but we shouldn't let that obscure the really important thing, the legacy of his genius.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensible and eloquent, 13 Nov. 2011
By 
Pamela Thomas (Wiltshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I read this book after seeing reviews and comments on 'Anonymous', the film which alleges that the Earl of Oxford not only wrote Shakespeare's plays, but was also the illegitimate son of Elizabeth I AND her secret lover - quite a feast of assertions. I thought I'd better mug up on the orthodox scholarly position, in case I was buttonholed online by a convinced Oxfordian, and I found Shapiro's book a fascinating account of how, and why, so many eminent people became convinced that a plain glover's son from Stratford could not have penned the transcendent verse or invented the rich variety of characters in the plays. As a historian by training, specialising in the 16th and 17th centuries, with an interest in Shakespeare's works on the side, I've always inclined to the view that those who doubt his authorship are at best misguided, with a deep misunderstanding of how Elizabethan and Jacobean society worked, and at worst, I'm afraid, quite daft - a view confirmed by the fact that at least one modern 'Oxfordian' has stated publicly that he has convincing evidence for Oxford's authorship, which, unfortunately for his credibility, he gained at a seance. Shapiro exhaustively debunks all the theories, both for the alternative authorship of the plays and for the plain ridiculous suggestion that Oxford was the son of Elizabeth I - the 'Prince Tudor' idea. Modern assumptions that all fiction is 'autobiographical' - an attitude that would have astonished writers in Shakespeare's day - are largely to blame, along with a hefty dose of snobbery, and complete ignorance about, amongst other things, the curriculum of a small-town grammar school, the way Tudor type-setters worked, the daily routine of the Elizabethan theatre, and the chaotic state of publishing at the time.
Where Shapiro really struck a chord with me, though, was in his epilogue, where he passionately argues that to assume that Shakespeare could only have written about what he knew (and therefore had to have been a much-travelled aristocrat) is to diminish his stature profoundly, for it fails to allow him any imagination. I can relate to this because I write historical fiction (not, I hasten to add, in any way worthy to be compared with Shakespeare), and I too draw on my imagination for my novels. After all, I've never donned a suit of armour, or played host to a wild bunch of roistering Cavaliers, or taken a steam bath in 18th century London. Nor are my characters, with a very few exceptions, directly based on people I know, but seem to grow and take on a life of their own. Shakespeare may never have been to Italy, or walked the streets of ancient Rome, or fought in a battle, but what he couldn't get from books, or from people he knew, he could summon up from an imagination that must, in its breadth and scope, be one of the most fertile in literary history, and a deep knowledge of what makes human beings tick.
Well done, Mr. Shapiro - this is a book that needed to be written, and deserves to be read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare, 14 April 2010
By 
Mrs. Susan Black (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I enjoyed this book partly because I was already convinced that Baconites etc are a bit loony. I liked the author's measured tone and lack of hysteria. I don't think it is a matter of identifying a single person as the writer of all the plays. The author's explanation of the way things were done in Shakespeare's time was lucid and convincing.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars this is a wonderful antidote to the mad theories on the non-Shakespeare Authorship ..., 9 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ? (Paperback)
Amusing and erudite, this is a wonderful antidote to the mad theories on the non-Shakespeare Authorship Question. It won't convert the Bacon and Oxford folk - but, then, they never could be, could they?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Brilliant, 7 July 2010
As somebody who had been toying with a Marlovian variation for the past couple of years, I want to thank James Shapiro for snapping me out of it and making me act my age. This is scholarship as it should be: deep, accessible, legible and definitive. What's more, Shapiro delivers it without a trace of academic curmudgeonliness. If other academics had engaged with the nonsense of anti-Stratfordianism sooner instead of standing on their dignity, we'd all be better off. Some on this site have complained that he fails to prove conclusively that the man from Stratford is actually the author of the plays. That's like asking for proof that the man who became British prime minister in 1940 was actually Winston Churchill; why on Earth would you think he wasn't? For me, the clincher came in the last section when Shapiro showed (I think quite comprehensively) that the author of the plays had to be physically present in the theatre when they were being written and produced, and that excludes every rival candidate. There's only one candidate left standing and it's the one that everyone assumed it to be until people started looking for details of his life in the late seventeenth century, when his contemporaries had all died off and there was nobody left to fill in the gaps. Had somebody bothered to take notes in the early 1600s, there would be no problem now. Unfortunately, nobody did, and that left the door open for this entire idiotic debate. Do yourself a favour and read this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No contest, 6 Jun. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ? (Paperback)
This book is a good start for anyone who wants to understand the authorship controversy. It focuses on two "rivals" Francis Bacon and Edward De Vere. Having read 1599 I know that Shapiro is an excellent writer and again this book, from an academic standpoint, does not disappoint.

The book gives an excellent historical account of the two claimants to throne of bard and it is a great read. The only problem I have with it is that it is merely a history lesson, telling us about who thought what but there is no proper discussion of the evidence from the plays and sonnets which link in to the biographical details of Bacon and De Vere and this is what I found lacking in this book.

However don't be put off as it is still an excellent read and very informative!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Willdunnit, 20 Dec. 2010
By 
therealus "therealus" (Herts, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Back at college in the 70s we were introduced to the "Shakespeare controversy", the suggestion that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. We agreed, and concluded that it was some other bloke who just happened to have the same name. He also, we may have added, had a remarkably similar biography to the infamous impostor and, unlike the pretender, really was married to Ann Hathaway. More recently, I once more came across the "controversy", revisited in hilarious style in Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco's satire of conspiracy theories. "Bacon," he says of one of the several alternative authors proposed by the anti-Shakespearians, "was a pig."

In some ways, for relatively casual scholars such as me, the provenance of the canon attributed to the bard is of less import than their fact. For a remarkable number of people, though, some of them of otherwise sound reputation, the authorship of the plays and poems became a preoccupation occasionally spilling into obsession. In the case of Delia Bacon, long an advocate of her namesake as the true author, it is unclear whether this obsession was the cause or a symptom of her ultimate decline into mental breakdown. Would she have been helped, one wonders, by the ministrations of Sigmund Freud, another drawn inexplicably to Shakespeare denial?

For some, such as Henry James, it appears that some kind of snobbery was involved. A man of so little education could not possibly have turned out such finely crafted masterpieces, he believed. For some it is simply an inability to comprehend that good art does not always have to emanate from personal experience. Mark Twain may fall into that bracket, although he may also be one of those who saw a bandwagon to jump on to enhance their profiles; Freud, having changed his mind about authorship, argued that Shakespeare was in fact writing from experience, but that of signs and symbols. For others, though, it was possibly just a healthy intellectual curiosity taken a little too far, as in the case of Helen Keller.

Part of the difficulty, of course, is the relative sparsity of biographical detail on Shakespeare. It was doubtless desperation for such material that allowed fraudsters such as William-Henry Ireland to hoodwink some of the academic community with their often wildly transparent forgeries. Whilst some in the literary community are consumed by the need to preserve their names for posterity - Twain himself, for instance - others are too busy scraping by to worry about what we'll think of them when they're dead. That's likely to be the case initially with Shakespeare. Later in life it appears the lure of the quiet life may have won over the exigencies of fame. It seems by then he was not short a bob or two, a condition likely enhanced by his ferocity in pursuing his debtors, a tendency which has bequeathed documentary evidence, but otherwise the papertrail is thin: Shakespeare apparently kept no journal, nobody thought to interview family members about him before they died, and at least one potential trove was destroyed weeks before investigators arrived at the scene.

Nevertheless, the fact that it is sparse does not make the evidence for Shakespeare unconvincing and, having reviewed the "evidence" against, Shapiro fairly nimbly romps through a selection of contemporary records of Shakespeare's existence and his claim to the canon attributed to him, all of which appears substantive. This chapter arrives just in time, really, as the self-delusions, intellectual contortions and simple loony-tooniness of the Shakespeare deniers eventually gets to the point where even the most hardened conspiracy theorists would be tearing their hair out and crying "Enough!"

The ultimate spanner in the deniers' wheel is delivered towards the end, with the discussion of the relatively recent analyses of collaboration between Shakespeare and other playwrights. In one particularly telling example Shapiro cites The Two Noble Kinsmen, a later collaboration with John Fletcher in which, in the printed edition there is a "continuity problem" between two scenes written by the different authors, putting to bed the theory that the play was written by Edward de Vere and "touched up" post mortem.

Overall, Contested Will is a diverting read, at times in the sense of amusing in its own right. Shapiro keeps the anecdotes moving, and they're always interesting and insightful. The author shows little understanding of English sensibilities, however, in expecting James I to hold equal status with Good Queen Bess in our esteem. Elizabeth saved us from the Armada (almost single-handedly, though Francis Drake and the English weather helped a bit); James just didn't get himself blown up. I was also surprised to find a Faber publication with quite so many typos, I found the punctuation slightly excessive in places - he should have a comma limit imposed on him - and occasionally inappropriate, and toward the beginning of the book he uses the word "reticent" where he means "reluctant".
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At Last - A champion from an ivory tower, 13 April 2010
By 
Matthew Gould (New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Shapiro braves the flibbertigibbet world of the conspiracy theorists with this detailed, well sourced, and eminently readable treatise on the bard. It is rare for genuine scholars of The Works to enter the turgid world of the conspiracy theorists. It takes guts to offer challenge to those who derive a sense of self-esteem from their secret knowledge, cryptographic skills, or retrofitted theories. Too much hate mail. Shapiro shines a torch on the realties of what we do know of Shakespeare's life, and there is a lot. Particularly enjoyed the final chapter where he describes the collaborative approach the glove-maker's son from Stratford took to many of his plays - facts well known to scholars for years, but rarely discussed outside of the more erudite journals. Despite this book the conspiracy theorists will continue to throw up fresh candidates for the mantle of greatest writer ever in the English language. Let them. It makes them feel good. If you like good scholarship, and new perspectives on Elizabethan drama buy it. If you believe Elvis lives, and the CIA killed Kennedy try another author. Or Dan Brown.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ?
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare ? by James Shapiro (Paperback - 6 Jan. 2011)
£10.99
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews