Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

In an earlier post on Jim Shapiro’s new book, Contested Will,  I noted that it had gotten very good press.  It’s a great read, accessible and engaging.  Shapiro examines the underlying issues surrounding the authorship question.  As Shapiro notes, for two hundred years after his death, no one questioned Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays.  Now there are dozens of candidates, from Francis Bacon tot he Earl of Oxford.  One reponse to the post took the position that Shapiro failed “… to address any of the important questions that have been raised over the past century” and that Shapiro “…”seems to miss the point of authorship studies altogether.”  It would be great to hear from more readers on this question: “Who wrote Shakespeare?”  Are your students asking this question? Are you?  What’s your take on this controversy?


  • James Shapiro’s “Contested Will ” presents a reasonably good analysis of the history of the authorship question, but in focusing on the motives of authorship doubters, it fails to address any of the important questions that have been raised over the past century regarding, for instance, the playwright’s uncanny knowledge of the law, his use of numerous untranslated sources, his adept employment of music in the canon, or, most glaringly, the evidence of topicality and political allegory in the plays. By focusing on the obsession with autobiography, which Shapiro traces to Edmund Malone, the professor seems to miss the point of authorship studies altogether. For a balanced critique of “Contested Will”, I recommend readers consider the recent book reviews posted by NY Times writer William Neiderkorn on the Brooklyn Rail or author Warren Hope, on the Shakespeare Fellowship website. Authorship studies offers a much wider view of the Shakespeare corpus than the limitiations of autobiography circumscribed by Shapiro.

  • Earl,

    I don’t think that Dr. Shapiro “missed the point of authorship studies” at all. He questioned the point of authorship studies. By tracing the history of this sub-specialty, he pointed out how random and arbitrary the whole search for a “true author” really was. While not going wholesale Formalist on us, Shapiro questioned the value in author studies for a playwright whose biography is so skimpy to begin with. All that can be done is blind speculation and frankly, that’s kinda worthless in scholarship.

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