Germaine Greer hits the ball out of the park in her Oct. 6, 2015 New Statesman review of James Shapiro's newest Shakespearean biography, 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Greer says:
"For any writer of an extended narrative the temptation to abandon the conditional for the indicative is almost irresistible and Shapiro has not resisted it."Greer complains specifically about Shapiro's cavalier attitude toward uncertainties in dating Shakespeare's plays, about unwarranted elaboration of Shakespeare's relationship with London landlady Marie Mountjoy, about inventing the meaning of daughter Susanna's failure to take communion, and other issues. Greer said:
With so little evidence, Shapiro is almost bound to overinterpret it.
. . .
It is not easy for readers of 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear to determine when assumption becomes assertion, not least because Shapiro has chosen to provide rather congested endnotes instead of footnotes. This is only too understandable given the blizzard of commentary that surrounds the meagre facts of Shakespeare's life.
In his continuing anxiety to bolster the Stratfordian perspective following his 2010 book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, James Shapiro wrote a three-part series, The King & The Playwright: A Jacobean History that appeared on the BBC in 2012 and is available in DVD as "Shakespeare: the King's Man" on Amazon. This work placed Shakespeare firmly in the rhelm of King James and presumably out-of-reach of any nasty Elizabethan pretenders to The Bard's quill and scroll.
Shapiro's book on the topic, 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear (Simon & Schuster, 2015), debuted yesterday to the acclaim expected for the award-winning professor from Columbia U.
But even Charles Nicholl, in a lavishly positive review in yesterday's Guardian twists himself in knots trying to untangle Shapiro's "novelistic" snarls:
Shapiro demonstrates once again his skill in shaping quantities of research into a brisk and enjoyable narrative. The material is extremely condensed but does not seem so. One could describe certain passages as tending to the 'novelistic' -- a dread word in some adacemic circles -- but animating the historical data is very different from obscuring it with madeup conversations in unevidenced locations.We say, "Hmmm."