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April 28, 2010

Shakespeare’s Words & Shapiro’s Unsullied Text

Filed under: Dartmouth College — Peter Arnold

BARDYes, Christopher Marlowe was a wonderful writer. So were Sir Walter Raleigh and especially Francis Bacon. But none of them wrote William Shakespeare’s plays. Period.

The reason for such Euclidian certitude is former Dartmouth College English Professor James Shapiro, now safely decamped to Columbia.  The author of 1599: a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare which earned him the 2006 Samuel Johnson Prize, Shapiro has just published Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? At nearly 400 pages brimming with 16th century detail, this might not be the best option for the Hamptons this summer.  But for anyone who seriously entertains the idea that someone other than The Bard wrote his plays, this book is indispensable.

A few years ago (OK, about 25), I was lucky enough to spend a semester as a student of Shapiro’s.  It was the kind of small seminar for which Dartmouth is renowned and which bore a charmed life.  Shapiro’s pedagogy was astounding.  Boldness was his friend and his intellect was sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

Incidentally, here’s a good review and analysis from The Independent of both Shapiro’s book and the larger authorship issue.  To purchase a copy, here’s a link to Amazon.