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Publisher's Summary

For nearly two centuries, the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays has been challenged by writers and artists as diverse as Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Henry James, Helen Keller, Orson Welles, Malcolm X, and Sir Derek Jacobi. How could a young man from rural Warwickshire, lacking a university education, write some of the greatest works in the English language? How do we explain the seemingly unbridgeable gap between Shakespeare's life and works?

Contested Will unravels the mystery of Shakespeare's authorship, retracing why and when doubts first arose, what's at stake in the controversy for how we value Shakespeare's achievement, and why, in the end, there can be no doubt about who wrote the plays.

©2009 James Shapiro (P)2010 Tantor

Critic Reviews

“A thorough, engaging work.” (Kirkus)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall

Somewhat Surprised and very pleased

I was really interested in the Shakespeare Authorship controversy and was looking fowarard to finding out more about William Devere. This book presents a very thorough and balanced position that gave me a lot to consider that the question is far from the black and white case that I once thought it was. The narrator is absolutely the best I have ever heard (imho)on an audio book, I would pay money to listen to her reading the telephone directory

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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The History of the Debate

The question of the Shakespearean "authorship problem" is addressed in a rather unique way here. The author comes right out and tells you that he believes in the idea that Shakespeare wrote his own works, but that the target of the book is instead to present a history of the debate itself, letting the very nature of the debate reveal its own merits and flaws. The cases for Sir Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere are examined in depth, being representative of many of the other cases for alternate identity. The opinions of notables such as Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Henry James, and many others are spotlighted and, in many cases, skewered as being ridiculous and unfounded. And yet, at the same time, the case for the Bard seems ever stacked against him due to a lack of supporting evidence and the ever-widening gap between what we know about him and what is revealed in his works. As a result, the process of how the problem has evolved over the course of time is as interesting as the problem itself.

This book is easily accessible for both the casual reader as well as the scholarly-minded, so the curious at every level will have little difficulty taking it all in and walking away with more than they might have expected.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Walter
  • Towson, MD, United States
  • 05-26-10

Excellent, if long winded

Many have questioned whether Shakespeare could have written what it is claimed that he wrote. The book does an excellent job of laying out how these arguments came to be. It also does an excellent job of refuting them. The book is well read. I would have given it 4 stars had it not been so long-winded. The author makes a point, then makes it again, and again, and again.... It is probably a bit better suited for the scholar. Still, worth a purchase for those intersted in such things.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Margaret
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 09-06-10

Expert

The author is obviously an expert in the topic. The book is long-winded, true, but I learned a lot about the history of the debate. In the end, I was convinced by Shapiro's even reasoning and converted to his way of thinking about who wrote the works of Shakespeare. I will keep in my library and listen to again to absorb more of the detail. A thorough job.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 06-17-12

Fascinating

I find the debate about Shakespeare's authorship to be downright irresistible. It really tells you more about the critics involved than about the actual argument, which seems to me to be ridiculous. Shapiro is an expert and a good writer, and this book presents the arguments in a most entertaining manner. It also explains why, despite the lack of evidence that anyone but Shakespeare wrote the plays, the argument will not die. Conspiracy theorists are fascinating characters, and they will continue to hold up their opinions no matter what.

If this silly debate does not interest you, then the book probably will not either. If however, you appreciate the strange foibles of eccentric characters, you will likely enjoy this as much as I did!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not so much as argument as a narrative

I bought this book because it was on sale. I never much cared who wrote the plays just so long as we had the plays themselves. If this book convinced me of anything it was that the question of authorship was more important that I thought it was.

What a wonderful surprise this book was. I never even guessed that the realm of Shakespeare research was so full of intrigue. I love the way the author puts the arguments about Shakespeare in historical context using them to highlight the thinking on storytelling of that particular era. The best part of this book is when he puts Shakespeare himself in historical context during the last two chapters. I never expected to laugh or be emotionally moved by a text written by a scholar of all people.

The greatest surprise of all was the epilogue which is a passionate essay arguing for the importance of imagination in storytelling. It really made me realize just how relevant the plays still are. It also justified the feelings I've had since I was little kid first capable of sitting through an episode of Wishbone: I don't have any patience for Hamlet and I think Prospero is pompous and self-absorbed. Puck has always been my favorite.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • Whitby, ON, Canada
  • 06-04-12

Great work

I have to admit, I came into this book having read several other pieces that argue both for and against William Shakespeare as the author of his works.

This one was by far the best researched and best presented of them all.

It was interesting, compelling and kept me listening.

If you've read other books in the past or have never been presented with the concept of Shakespeare as the author of his works, you'll be engaged.

Check it out!

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Interesting take on the authorship debate

I had always been interested in the authorship controversy, but I have never done much research on the topic. When I came across this book during a promotion, I decided to check it out. The author brings up all sides of the debate as well as evidence to support and refute each one. As the description states "in the end, there can be no doubt about who wrote the plays."

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More than just Shakespeare

Where does Contested Will rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is a terrific book, only about a third of which directly addresses who authored those works ascribed to William Shakespeare. The rest explores our beliefs regarding authorship in general; how what we say about authors -- and history, for that matter -- often tells more about us than it does about our subject. I so enjoyed this audiobook, I bought the iBook (ePub) version as a reference, and gave it as a Christmas gift to four friends.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Contested Will?

Discovering Sigmund Freud annoyed his friends by his consuming interest in the Shakespeare authoring problem.

What does Wanda McCaddon bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

A nice English accent appropriate to the book's author and subject.

  • Overall
  • David
  • Halifax, NS, Canada
  • 12-18-10

Excellent

This is the best book on the so-called authorship controversy because Shapiro is the first well known Shakespearean scholar to accept an uncomfortable truth: that an idea that has gripped the public imagination needs to be studied, even if scholars find it nonsensical.

Although his book does include a superb chapter that concisely explains the absurdity of the 'authorship controversy', that is not the best thing about the book. Its most admirable quality is that Shapiro begins by explaining how slowly the biographical facts of Shakespeare's life were uncovered, helping you to understand why the nineteenth century was an environment in which daft ideas might seem plausible. It helps the orthodox Shakespearean to understand why such ideas flourished, even as it insists that they're wrong.

The narrator does a great job. She has the tone of a stern but patient schoolmistress.