Contested Will – Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro. 2010. Read in September 2011.
With monotonous repetition the question of who really wrote Shakespeare pops up and makes the rounds. Even people who should know better claim that someone else did and I find it more and more puzzling. It shouldn’t really bother me but the substitutes offered are so silly it’s insulting.
That’s why this book is so refreshing. In a calm, thoughtful, scientific manner Shapiro goes through the history of this odd phenomenon, explains why the theories were presented when they were and how none of the candidates are feasible.
In the 19th century Shakespeare had been burdened with a Godlike status similar to that of Jesus and when scientific development brought doubt to the veracity of the tales in the Bible, a doubt of Shakespeare’s divinity also swept through the western world. Good so far. I doubt that Shakespeare ever wanted to be divine. The problem was that, while the evidence against the possibility of the Bible being true is sound, the evidence against Shakespeare writing Shakespeare is not. And there is fact a difference between trying to prove that Shakespeare was God, or at least God’s word in literature, and that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.
As for the candidates – mainly Delia Bacon and Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, Shapiro shows with meticulous reference to existing documents, that nobody but Shakespeare is a plausible alternative.
Shapiro ends his study with a discussion on why this question seems to be so interesting and he writes, “It makes a difference as to how we imagine the world in which Shakespeare lived and wrote” (page 316). This book is a fascinating study of that. If you believe someone else than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and you want to continue to believe that, don’t read this book. If you haven’t figured out what you think about it, or if you want thorough and reasonable arguments favouring Shakespeare, then this is a must read.