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Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

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Published by JOHN HUDSON
BOOK REVIEW of James Shapiro's book Contested Will;Who Wrote Shakespeare? (April 2010)
BOOK REVIEW of James Shapiro's book Contested Will;Who Wrote Shakespeare? (April 2010)

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Published by: JOHN HUDSON on Mar 29, 2010
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www.darkladyplayers.com

ContestedWill:WhoWroteShakespeare? 
byJamesShapiro.ABookReviewbyJohnHudson
Shapiro’sfinalconclusioniscorrect.Itmakes“alot”ofdifferencewhowrotetheplays(pg279)becausethathelpsdeterminehowwereadthem,andthemeaningthatwefindinthem.UnfortunatelyShapirodoesnottrytohelpsolvethisimportantproblem,butjustprovidesahistoricalexaminationofthethreemaincandidateswhohavebeenputforwardinthepast,theEarlofOxford,FrancisBacon,andWilliamShakespeare.Shapirofindsiteasytomocktheproponentsofthealternativecandidates.ItisamusingthatLooney,thefirstsupporterofOxford,belongedpreviouslytoamovementwhichsanghymnstoShakespeareandnamedoneofthemonthsoftheyear‘Shakespeare’.ItisfascinatingtolearnhowDeliaBacon,apioneerinrecognizingthecollaborativeandpoliticalnatureoftheplays,finallybecamecrazyandattemptedtodigupBacon’sandShakespeare’stombs.ItisawarningtoallinterestedinthisquestionthatonesupporterconstructedaBaconianciphermachine,asortofrandomwordgeneratorthatledhimtotrawltheriverSevernsearchingforsealedleadboxesthathebelievedwereatthebottomoftherivercontainingdefinitiveproofofBacon’sauthorship.Crazinessisfascinatingandsellsbooks.ButleavingtheobsessionsofLooneyandDeliaBaconaside,werethequestionstheywereaskingtherightones?ThisiswhereShapirobeginstodisappoint.Byexcludingtheevidenceoftheplaysthemselves,ShapiroisleftwithaseeminglyconvincingcaseforMr.Shakespeare.Thisisacleveracademictrick,butitdoesn’texplainhowMr.Shakespearecouldhavewrittentheseplays,howhehadtheskillsandsocialnetworksandknowledgetodoso.Shapiroknowsbetterthantotryandanswerthatquestion‐‐‐becauseheknowsperfectlywellthatthereisnoindependentevidenceofMr.Shakespearehavinganyofthoseskills.As17,000literarypseudonymsdemonstrate,thenameonabook’scoverisnotalwaysthatofthetrueauthor.Forinstance,thepoetJohnTaylorparodiedanactorwhogaveoutcopiesofaplay,claimingtheywerehisown“motherwit”,whereasthe“mattercamefromalearnedbrain”forwhomhewasjustaplay‐broker.Couldthisalsoapplyin
 
www.darkladyplayers.comthecaseoftheShakespeareanplays?ThedocumentaryevidencethatMr.Shakespearewastheauthorappearsstrong:hehadhisnameonthecover,theplayswerewrittenbysomeonewhoknewtheactingcompany,heactuallygavethemanuscriptstotheactors,andtheyandothersassumedhewrotethem.Theproblemistheevidenceoftheplaysthemselves,whicharecomplexscholarlyworksreflectingvariousspecializedknowledge.Thisknowledgeisusedinawaythatisintegraltotheplaysandshowsthattheauthorcamefromahighlymusicalenvironment,hadaknowledgeofHebrewandJudaism,veryunusualknowledgeofItalyincludingthesmalltownofBassano,andatsomepointhadsufficientexposuretotheworkofalawofficetobeabletoreadtheNormanFrenchlawhand.NoneofthesecorrespondtowhatisknownofMr.Shakespeare'slifehistory.NoristhereanyreasonwhyaCatholiclikeMr.Shakespeareshouldwriteplaysthatcontainsuchhostileanti‐Christianallegoricalparodies.SoletmetryandprovidethecommentarythatShapiroshouldhaveprovidedonsomeofthecontentoftheplaysandwhatitimpliesabouttheauthor.Unlikeplayscomposedbyworkingactors,theShakespeareanplaysareextremelyscholarly.NoworkingactorwouldhavehadthetimeorreasontocomposetheFolioversionof
Hamlet
whichwasfartoolongtobeperformedonstage.TheStratfordianviewthat"theplaysshownoevidenceofprofoundbooklearning"expressedbyLouisB.Wright,formerdirectoroftheFolger,ishardlycorrect.Onlythetopdozenlibrariesoftheperiod,includingthoseoftheQueenandLambethPalace,hadmorebooksthanwereusedtocomposetheShakespeareanplays.FourteendifferentBibletranslationswereusedtomakethe3000BiblicalandreligiousreferencesidentifiedintheplaysandStuartGillespie's
Shakespeare'sBooks:ADictionaryofShakespeare'sSources
(2001)providesa500pageexaminationofthehundredsofbooksthattheplaywrightused‐‐‐atleasttentimesmorethanthelibraryofEdwardAlleyn.DespitebeingEngland’srichestandmostfamousactorandthefounderofDulwichCollege,Alleynadmittedthathehadnoknowledgeofrhetoric,unliketheauthoroftheShakespeareanplayswhousedalmosteveryknownrhetoricalfigure.
 
Atleast200legaltermsorconceptsareusedintheShakespeareanplays,mentioned1600timesandrecordedinSokolandSokol's
DictionaryofShakespeare'sLegalLanguage
(2000).ItistheaccuracyandqualityoftheseShakespeareanusages,thathaveledhalfadozenexpertstoconcludethattheplaywrighthadlegalexperience.However,itwasnotuntil2003thatThomasRegnierin
TheUniversityofMiamiLawReview
pointedoutthattheuseofinheritancelawin
Hamlet 
“bespeaksalevelofexpertisethatisnotconsonantwithmerelyanintelligentamateur”becauseitdrawsuponthemanuscriptnotebooksofSirJohnDyer“writteninLawFrench,anarchaicformofNorman‐English,andinscribedinlawhand,ararestyleofwritingusedbylawclerksandfewothersevenbackthen”.Onlysomeonewhocouldreadlawhandcouldhaveunderstoodthem,andMr.Shakespearecouldnothavegainedthisknowledgecasuallybytalkingtopeopleorthroughhisownpettylawsuits.
 
www.darkladyplayers.comTheplaywrightreadItalianfluently‐‐‐nearlyadozensourcesincludingCinthio,Guarini,Tasso,Aretino,BoccaccioandDantewerereadintheoriginal.Ratheroddly,theplaywrightalsosetnearlyathirdoftheplaysinItaly,andturnedfromtheCourthistoryplaystowritingItalianmarriagecomediesaround1593.UnlikeWebsterorJonson,whoalsosetplaysinItaly,theShakespeareanplaysdonotdrawuponbookstodescribelocalgeographicalandarchitecturalfeatures.Thissuggeststheauthorwaswritingoutofpersonalexperience.Criticsusedtothinkthattheplaywright’sreferencestoasailmakerinBergamoandawaterwayatMilanwereerrorsbecausetheydidnotmatchdescriptionsinEnglishbooks.Itwasnotuntiltheearly1900sthatSirEdwardSullivan,pointedoutthattheywerenotderivedfrombooks—whichwereinaccurate‐‐butactuallymatchedtherealityonthegroundandin17
th
centuryItaliansources.ContrarytoShapiro’ssuggestionthattheknowledgeofItalianlocationscouldhavebeenderivedfrom“afewchoiceconversations”withLondoninformants(pg275),RogerPrior’srecentarticle‘Shakespeare’sVisittoItaly’(2008)demonstratesthattheauthormusthavevisitedthesmallItaliantownofBassanoandsawafrescothere.Thisisextensivelyreferredtoin
Othello
inawaythatsuggeststheauthorhad"first‐handexperience“anddisplaysknowledgethatis"farmoredetailedandvivid"thananythingthatcouldhavebeengatheredby“recallingasecondhandaccountfromanItaliancontact”.DespiteShapiro’sinsistencethattheplaywrightobtainedhisdetailthroughtheuseofimagination,preciselyaccuratedetailsoftheconfigurationofacanalsystemorofafrescocouldhardlyhavebeenachievedsimplythroughimagination.AccurategeographicaldescriptionsbyotherEnglishauthors,likeChaucer,donotreflectimaginationbutpersonalexperience.
 
ItisalsoimpossiblethatthroughsheerimaginationMr.ShakespeareprovidedtheaccurateknowledgeofJudaismintheplays.IfthatknowledgeappearedincidentallyonlyoneortwotimesitcouldperhapshavebeenderivedfromcasualconversationwithoneofthehundredMarranoJewslivinginthecity.Howeveritappearsmoreoftenthanthatandisinsomecasesessentialtotheentireplot.Forinstance,Hebrewpunsareacoreaspectof
MerchantofVenice
,leadingS.J.Schonfeld,inanarticlein
ShakespeareSurvey 
(2002)toconcludethattheauthorwasusingaHebreworiginalsince“ShakespeareishardlytobecreditedwithanyextensiveknowledgeofJewsandcertainlynoneatallofHebrew”.Similarlyinanarticle‘TheMeaningofNedarin
 AMidsummerNight’sDream
’(2007)AltimontshowedthattheplaywrightusedtheMishnahtocreatesomecleverHebrewwordplayshapingtheplotbetweenHelenaandHermiaalthoughMr.Shakespeare"clearlylackedthewherewithaltouseHebrewsocleverly".Similarlyinaforthcomingarticle‘ShakespeareUnmasked’intheSummerissueof
ReformJudaism
(2010),MichaelPosnershowsthatsomeofthenonsenselanguagein
 All’sWellThatEndsWell 
,isactuallyspokenHebrew.
 
Finally,asshownin
MusicinShakespeare;ADictionary 
(2005),musicalityisintegraltotheplays.AsTommyRuthWaldonotedin
MusicaltermsandRhetoric:TheComplexityofShakespeare’sDramaticStyle
(1974),theestimated2000musicalreferencesintheplaysmakesthem300%moremusicintensivethanthoseofanyothercontemporary

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