London Review of Books, Vol. 23 No. 5, March 11, 2010 (pp. 21-22) published a review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare, “Best Known for His Guzzleosity” by Helen Hackett, a reader in English at University College London. Her book, Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths, was published by Princeton University Press in 2009.
The full article is available for sale through the LRB website and through subscribing libraries on the web. In the pre-jump section of Hackett’s review, she says of Contested Will:
The case for Shakespeare is made cogently and convincingly. Shapiro cites contemporaries who identified him as the author of the plays, and shows that the early printing history corroborates the attribution. The textual vestiges of rehearsal and staging practices, and of collaboration with other writers, demonstrate that the playwright was a working member of a theatre company, not a courtier or someone writing plays in his closet and delivering them fully formed to the actors. Moreover, the author can’t have died as early as 1604, as the Earl of Oxford did, because his late writing reflects the changes in dramaturgy brought about by the increasing use of indoor playhouses, and by Jacobean developments in court masques. Shapiro weaves together various strands of recent scholarship to make a case which is about as watertight as it can be.
I advise Ms. Hackett not to set sail in that watertight bark.
Meanwhile, over at The Observer/Guardian, staunch Stratfordian Robert McCrum polls the cognoscenti and wonders about the deepest recesses of Shapiro’s soul:
Finally, in January, along came the first proof of Shapiro’s new book. But no, it was not about 1605 or 1606. Entitled Contested Will, it bore a fatal subtitle, “Who Wrote Shakespeare?“. Apparently, Professor Shapiro had gone over to the dark side, the blasted heath of the authorship question.
In today’s article, “Who really wrote Shakespeare?” McCrum states the authorship problem:
There was such an unbridgeable chasm between the complex brilliance of the plays and what they reveal about their author’s education and experience, on the one hand, and the bare facts of Shakespeare’s life, on the other, that a better explanation than “genius” had to be found. Unquestionably, said the “anti-Stratfordians”, as they came to be known, the recorded life of the man called Shakespeare could not possibly yield the astonishing universality and dazzling invention of the canon.
They had a point.
McCrum doesn’t bother to refute or respond to these plaints, he just refers to the “bizarre fraternity” of authorship doubters and criticizes Shapiro for responding to them:
This is the delusional world that Shapiro has chosen to explore inContested Will. He justifies his investigation with an assertion of scholarly daring – “this subject remains virtually taboo in academic circles” – and claims that his interest is less in what people think about the authorship question, more why they think it. “My attitude”, he goes on, “derives from living in a world in which truth is too often seen as relative and in which mainstream media are committed to showing both sides of every story.”
In fairness to “mainstream media”, even the most half-baked investigative journalism would swiftly dismiss the main contenders.
In McCrum’s pursuit of Shakespearean truth via the psyches of various theatrical types, he spoke to former Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble:
Talking about the man, Noble struggles momentarily and then comes up with a formula for an explanation of the mystery that will recur in my later conversations. “It’s like Mozart,” he says, citing the other most celebrated example of inexplicable, even divine, genius. Confronted with the mystery of Shakespeare’s extraordinary gifts, Noble has no time for the anti-Stratfordians. The idea that Bacon or some cabal wrote the plays is, on the basis of his experience, “utter nonsense. We know more than we think about Shakespeare. The more I work on him, the clearer his work becomes.”
It’s like Mozart, he says — evoking the universal poster boy for the highly prepared, highly documented genius. Noble apparently feels no sense of the chasm between the richness of Mozart’s life and the blank slate in Stratford.
McCrum’s article is a great read. I especially liked the part about fleas breeding in pizz-flooded corners.