Saturday, April 03, 2010

Contested Wont

James Shapiro (1599) has a new book out. Called Contested Will, it's about the Shakespeare authorship question. Reviews have appeared in a number of (predominantly British) publications you've heard about.

However, the best newspaper or magazine review yet published on this book comes from The Brooklyn Rail, penned by William Niederkorn (a former editor at the New York Times, who in the interest of full disclosure I've known for five or so years). Niederkorn's an independent thinker who remains agnostic on the authorship issue -- a fact that, since Niederkorn wrote a number of Shakespeare authorship-related articles for the Times, Shapiro takes pains to single Niederkorn out for attack in his book.

Well, the riposte is in.

A few excerpts after the jump.

Everything went wrong, Shapiro writes, when scholars started trying to read topical allusions into Shakespeare’s works, and he blames Edmond Malone (1741-1812), the lawyer whose work is generally acknowledged as the cornerstone of modern Shakespeare scholarship. The only way out for Shapiro, it seems, is to ban all topical interpretation: Shakespeare never alluded to anything, or if he did we don’t know enough to be able to say what he was alluding to.


If Shapiro has a bible on the Earl of Oxford it is Alan Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary, a life of de Vere that is one of the most bilious biographies ever written. Riddled with errors, which Oxfordians have pointed out since its publication in 2003, Nelson’s book is an embarrassment to scholarship. Contested Will, whose title is cast in the same syntactical form as Nelson’s and which revels in the same spirit, is almost as bad.

Though both books assemble a great deal of interesting information, they are patently biased and need to be read skeptically. While it is hard to find one page of Nelson’s book that is free of unfair statement, though, Shapiro can occasionally sound seductively considerate. He characterizes Nelson’s book as “harsh,” but also “authoritative,” and recycles Nelson’s opinions.


Perhaps he even contributed to the hatchet job that appeared on the front page of the New York Observer a month later, aimed at silencing my coverage of the authorship issue in the Times. In his bibliographical essay, he recommends it “for a helpful analysis of Niederkorn on Shakespeare.” And he repeats the same derisive remark used in the Observer article, another trademark Stratfordian analogy, saying that my “rhetoric smacked of that employed by Creationists eager to see intelligent design taught in the schools alongside evolution.”

That was for my suggesting that authorship studies be made part of the standard Shakespeare curriculum. If another reason for open-minded discussion of the authorship issue in Shakespeare studies were needed, Contested Will provides it, because it shows just what students are now having to swallow.


LAL said...

What? Don't you believe the Stratford man appeared in court over 100 times?

Unknown said...

Have you seen the new book - The De Vere Code - by Globe actor, Jonathan Bond? It deals with the authorship of the sonnets and its brilliant. It will be very interesting to hear what Shapiro says about it. It demolishes the Stratfordian case for the sonnets using Stratfordian scholarship, and it's completely sane. Those who say that there isnt any evidence that connects Oxford to the works of Shakespeare should definitely read this book.

Mark Rylance, actor and former Artistic Director, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, says of it: wonderfully articulate and engaging... His discoveries and conclusions regarding the authorship question are compelling... a pleasure to read”

and Charles Beauclerk, Earl of Burford, heir of the family of Edward de Vere, says: “Hats off to Jonathan Bond! This is an absorbing, beautifully crafted work, which provides what no other book on Shakespeare has provided: proof of the authorship of that most mysterious volume, Shake-speares Sonnets”

You can find it at