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Much Ado About Authorship in Media
The Shakespeare Authorship Question has reached a new level of legitimacy upon the fresh release of a book devoted to the topic by English professor James Shapiro, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? The major media has embraced the book, and the controversy, by featuring interviews with Shapiro and reviews of his book online, and in English and American newspapers.
Academics have long ignored, dismissed, and even ridiculed those who doubted the Stratford Man as Shakespeare, but the public’s fascination with the controversy has put them on the defensive. Shapiro, in his recent interview with The Wall Street Journal (April 2, 2010), admitted his fears about this surging public attention. He stated that Roland Emmerich’s upcoming film portraying the Earl of Oxford as Shakespeare, “will be a disaster for those of us who teach Shakespeare.” Yet he also stated that Shakespeare was a “court observer” due to his having “performed at court over 100 times probably in the course of his career …” Although Oxfordians would agree with the former statement, the latter about the Stratford Man is a fantastic piece of guesswork.
In his interview, Shapiro also revealed the new defense strategy that academics are being forced to adopt: the sonnets of Shakespeare, written in the first person, are not autobiographical, nor are there autobiographical sources or references anywhere in the Shakespeare canon. He stated that “either you believe he’s recycling bits and pieces of his life, or you believe that he imagined them, and I like to think that he had the greatest imagination of any writer in the language. And I don’t want that belittled.”
Oxfordian scholars and enthusiasts, as well as other anti-Stratfordians, were also heartened by a clear-sighted and incisive review of Shapiro’s book in the April 2010 edition of The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture. The reviewer is William S. Niederkorn, a well-known commentator on the authorship question, and one of the most perceptive observers of its growing importance. Niederkorn’s 5,000-word essay, “Absolute Will,” reveals the inconsistencies, circular reasoning, and ridicule of anti-Stratfordian scholars that permeate Shapiro’s book, which has just been published by Simon & Shuster. Niederkorn describes Alan Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary as “one of the most bilious biographies ever written,” “riddled with errors . . . and an embarrassment to scholarship.”
In recounting the recent history of the authorship question, Niederkorn also remarks that The Oxfordian, “the best American academic journal covering the authorship question, publishes papers by Stratfordians. By contrast, there is no tolerance for anti-Stratfordian scholarship at the conferences and journals Stratfordians control.” Niederkorn’s piece was chosen as the book review of the week by the National Book Critics Circle.
Perhaps the most notorious Shakespeare-related book of the last decade, Contested Will has already been reviewed in Publishers Weekly and The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Los Angeles Times, salon.com, The Economist, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The London Review of Books, The Guardian and The Independent and others. The book was also reviewed on the SOS’s website (SOS Online, Archives, Dec. 2009). Oxfordian scholars Richard Whalen and Tom Hunter provide additional reviews in this issue on pp. 7 and 12. It appears that the Anti-Anti-Stratfordian movement is “at last gasp,” to quote Oxford’s phrase in Cymbeline (1.5.53).