Book Review: Contested Will

Title: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
Author: James Shapiro
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 6, 2010

Shapiro explores the authorship debate from historical and sociological perspectives. It's a refreshing change. Although the overall goal is to refute alternative claims, specifically those supporting Bacon and de Vere, the approach is as much concerned with why those claims evolved as it is with their potential validity.

The parallels Shapiro draws with the rise of new critical approaches in the nineteenth century and the questioning of sources behind the Bible and the works of Homer are well drawn and help frame the historical origins of the debate. And the examples of how the very fervor of Shakespearean critics opened the door for this debate in later years are rife with irony. If the admirers hadn't started reading the author's life so heavily into the works in the first place, it's doubtful that we would be having a "controversy" today. Certainly the discourse would be a lot more tame than it is.

That said, it's unlikely that this work will sway the opinions of those who support alternate authorship candidates. At the heart of the debate is whether or not we can discover the author's life in the works. For those convinced that we can, there will always be room for conjecture. But based on that criterion, it would seem that every Elizabethan playwright would be vulnerable to the same speculation.

In short, Contested Will is a good and relatively quick read, but it won't quell the dissenting voices.