For more than two hundred years after his death, no one doubted that William Shakespeare 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. 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.
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.
James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the author of several books, most recently A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. He has written for The New York Times, the Financial Times, and other publications.
This event is co-sponsored by the Newberry Library's A.C. McClurg Bookstore.
Recorded Wednesday, May 05, 2010 at The Newberry Library.