Contested Will

Contested Will

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

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For more than two hundred years after William Shakespeare's death, no one doubted that he had written his plays. Since then, however, dozens of candidates have been proposed for the authorship of what is generally agreed to be the finest body of work by a writer in the English language. In this remarkable book, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. Among the doubters have been such writers and thinkers as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller. It is a fascinating story, replete with forgeries, deception, false claimants, ciphers and codes, conspiracy theories—and a stunning failure to grasp the power of the imagination.

As Contested Will makes clear, much more than proper attribution of Shakespeare’s plays is at stake in this authorship controversy. Underlying the arguments over whether Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays are fundamental questions about literary genius, specifically about the relationship of life and art. Are the plays (and poems) of Shakespeare a sort of hidden autobiography? Do Hamlet, Macbeth, and the other great plays somehow reveal who wrote them?

Shapiro is the first Shakespeare scholar to examine the authorship controversy and its history in this way, explaining what it means, why it matters, and how it has persisted despite abundant evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him. This is a brilliant historical investigation that will delight anyone interested in Shakespeare and the literary imagination.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439170229 | 
  • April 2010
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Who wrote Shakespeare?

Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro examines and debunks the notorious "controversy" over the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

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PROLOGUE

This is a book about when and why many people began to question whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays long attributed to him, and, if he didn’t write them, who did.

There’s surprising consensus on the part of both skeptics and defenders of Shakespeare’s authorship about when the controversy first took root. Whether you get your facts from the Dictionary of National Biography or Wikipedia, the earliest documented claim dates back to 1785, when James Wilmot, an Oxford-trained scholar who lived a few miles outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, began searching locally for Shakespeare’s books,... see more

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About the Author

James Shapiro
Photograph © Philippe Cheng

James Shapiro

James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he studied at Columbia and the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. He has been awarded numerous fellowships and grants from institutions such as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He has written for The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Mr. Shapiro lives in New York with his wife and son.

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