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May 11, 2021
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
James ShapiroFor more than two hundred years after William Shakespeare's death, no one doubted that he had written his plays. Since then, however, dozens of candidates have been proposed for the authorship of what is generally agreed to be the finest body of work by a writer in the English language. In this remarkable book, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays. Among the doubters have been such writers and thinkers as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, and Helen Keller. It is a fascinating story, replete with forgeries, deception, false claimants, ciphers and codes, conspiracy theories—and a stunning failure to grasp the power of the imagination.

As Contested Will makes clear, much more than proper attribution of Shakespeare’s plays is at stake in this authorship controversy. Underlying the arguments over whether Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays are fundamental questions about literary genius, specifically about the relationship of life and art. Are the plays (and poems) of Shakespeare a sort of hidden autobiography? Do Hamlet, Macbeth, and the other great plays somehow reveal who wrote them?

Shapiro is the first Shakespeare scholar to examine the authorship controversy and its history in this way, explaining what it means, why it matters, and how it has persisted despite abundant evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him. This is a brilliant historical investigation that will delight anyone interested in Shakespeare and the literary imagination.
Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future
James Shapiro
A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599
James Shapiro1599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England

Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen.

James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606
James ShapiroPreeminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro shows how the tumultuous events in England in 1606 affected Shakespeare and shaped the three great tragedies he wrote that year—King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

In the years leading up to 1606, since the death of Queen Elizabeth and the arrival in England of her successor, King James of Scotland, Shakespeare’s great productivity had ebbed, and it may have seemed to some that his prolific genius was a thing of the past. But that year, at age forty-two, he found his footing again, finishing a play he had begun the previous autumn—King Lear—then writing two other great tragedies, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

It was a memorable year in England as well—and a grim one, in the aftermath of a terrorist plot conceived by a small group of Catholic gentry that had been uncovered at the last hour. The foiled Gunpowder Plot would have blown up the king and royal family along with the nation’s political and religious leadership. The aborted plot renewed anti-Catholic sentiment and laid bare divisions in the kingdom.

It was against this background that Shakespeare finished Lear, a play about a divided kingdom, then wrote a tragedy that turned on the murder of a Scottish king, Macbeth. He ended this astonishing year with a third masterpiece no less steeped in current events and concerns: Antony and Cleopatra.

The Year of Lear sheds light on these three great tragedies by placing them in the context of their times, while also allowing us greater insight into how Shakespeare was personally touched by such events as a terrible outbreak of plague and growing religious divisions. For anyone interested in Shakespeare, this is an indispensable book.
Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now: Library of America #251
Various, James Shapiro“The history of Shakespeare in America,” writes James Shapiro in his introduction to this groundbreaking anthology, “is also the history of America itself.” Shakespeare was a central, inescapable part of America’s literary inheritance, and a prism through which crucial American issues—revolution, slavery, war, social justice—were refracted and understood. In tracing the many surprising forms this influence took, Shapiro draws on many genres—poetry, fiction, essays, plays, memoirs, songs, speeches, letters, movie reviews, comedy routines—and on a remarkable range of American writers from Emerson, Melville, Lincoln, and Mark Twain to James Agee, John Berryman, Pauline Kael, and Cynthia Ozick. Americans of the revolutionary era ponder the question “to sign or not to sign;” Othello becomes the focal point of debates on race; the Astor Place riots, set off by a production of Macbeth, attest to the violent energies aroused by theatrical controversies; Jane Addams finds in King Lear a metaphor for American struggles between capital and labor. Orson Welles revolutionizes approaches to Shakespeare with his legendary productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar; American actors from Charlotte Cushman and Ira Aldridge to John Barrymore, Paul Robeson, and Marlon Brando reimagine Shakespeare for each new era. The rich and tangled story of how Americans made Shakespeare their own is a literary and historical revelation. As a special feature, the book includes a foreword by Bill Clinton, among the latest in a long line of American presidents, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Abraham Lincoln, who, as the collection demonstrates, have turned to Shakespeare’s plays for inspiration.

From the Hardcover edition.