Is anyone remotely surprised this debate still carries on? It’s like the moon landing. Writing for the Times Online, Charles Nichols examines a new book by James Shapiro.
James Shapiro is too expert and too courteous a scholar to descend into a cantankerous cataloguing of the basic flaws in the anti-Stratfordian argument. He certainly thinks the argument is wrong, as his new study of the controversy makes clear, and he offers precise reasons why William Shakespeare of Stratford is really the only cogent candidate for authorship.
But his purpose is not – or not primarily – refutation: he is interested, he says, “not in what people think – which has been stated again and again in unambiguous terms – so much as why they think it”.
Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare? is precisely about the question posed in the subtitle, but while most other books on the subject are about the answer to that question, this one is about the question itself. Who asked it, and when did they ask it, and most of all why did those particular people ask it at those particular times?
This is essentially a historiographical study of the controversy, looking at the cultural contexts of its emergence and evolution, and at the lives, circumstances, agendas and pathologies of those who have contributed to it. It is also unlike most other books on the subject because it is a pleasure to read. Like its splendid predecessor, 1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare (2005), it is briskly paced, cleverly detailed, elegantly argued, and never forgets that for all the complexities and quiddities of the material, the writing of history is essentially the telling of a story (or in this case, the story of a story).
Sold. Love a good literary/historical mystery, none, moreso than who was William Shakespeare.