Friday, January 21, 2011

Anti-Anti-Stratfordian Resources

Shapiro, James. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

McCrea, Scott. The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question. Westport: Praeger, 2005.

In addition to the valuable information provided by the good people of The Shakespeare Authorship Page ("Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare"), two books stand out as excellent for refuting anti-Stratfordian positions and re-establishing Shakespeare's claim to the authorship of his own works: James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? and Scott McCrea's The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.

McCrea's book tends to be a bit more haphazard, and it is occasionally inclined to state the case for Shakespeare's authorship too strongly. For example, he addresses the question of The Merchant of Venice's Gobbo characters (for my take on which, see "Another Oxfordian Children's Book") with this argument:
. . . the word "gobbo" was Italian for hunchback. The Author did not have to go to Italy to discover it; it was even collected in John Florio's 1598 Italian dictionary, World of Words as meaning "crook-backed."
That's all true, and McCrea doesn't actually say that Shakespeare could have found the word in Florio's dictionary, but the implication seems to be that he did. But it's most likely that he didn't. Since the absolute terminus ad quem for the play's composition is 7 September 1598 (when Francis Meres mentions it in his Palladis Tamia) and a more probable terminus ad quem is 22 July 1598 (with its entry in the Stationers' Register—see the Arden edition of the play (ed. John Russell Brown) for this information—the probability is that Shakespeare did not have access to Florio's dictionary when he composed The Merchant of Venice. I ought to note, to be absolutely fair, that the first quarto of The Merchant of Venice wasn't printed until 1600, and the late date of its printing gives Shakespeare time, during revisions to the play, to look up "Gobbo" in A World of Words and appropriate it for the names of two minor characters. It's a minor point, and it may not be intentionally misleading, but it's not quite as meticulous about the evidence as it could be.

Shapiro's book has a bit more scholarly weight to it—though it is geared to both popular and scholarly audiences. Both books address not only the evidence for Shakespeare's authorship and the most common claims the anti-Stratfordians make but also the reasons behind the claims.

They are both highly recommended.

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Elizabeth said...

I read "Contested Will" this summer and I really enjoyed it. I always feel more comfortable with Shapiro's popular history, as it feels lest revisionist than Greenblatt's work. What did you think of the somewhat apologist final chapter/epilogue?

While more than likely you have already read it, I highly recommend his "1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare" (2005). In a similar vein, next on my list is Stanley Wells' "Shakespeare & Co.," which seems to be trying to get at similar issues of authorship from the angle of giving a straight-forward catalogue of Shakespeare's co-authors.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

kj said...

Thanks so much, Elizabeth! Yes, Shapiro is very fair to the evidence. Although it feels a bit like heresy to say so, Greenblatt is occasionally inclined to drift from speculation to certainty without clearly notifying the reader that he's doing so.

I think Shapiro's epilogue does a good job of pinpointing the frustration inherent in a desire to read Shakespeare's plays autobiographically. There must be something of the author in these brilliant works—but we don't have as much evidence as we'd like to have. Still, we have enough to know that the man from Stratford wrote these remarkable plays and that he had the literary imagination necessary to do so. He didn't need to be an old king dividing his kingdom to write King Lear: his imagination was fertile enough to enable him to create a character who behaves in a thoroughly credible way.

Shapiro's 1599 is remarkable as well. Wells is waiting on my bookshelf. Have you read Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife?

Take care!


Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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