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This is not your average book recommendation -- but at least some of you may find the following of interest.

As many of this journal's readers are probably aware, I'm a Shakespeare buff.  I have seen most of the canon performed (including Pericles, but not yet Timon, King John, or Henry VIII), and I've read, albeit pretty lightly, in the newer scholarship.  So I was intrigued when I ran across a book recently entitled Contested Will by noted scholar James Shapiro, exploring the minefield that is the Great Authorship Question.



For those not familiar with said minefield: there's a sizeable body of individuals, including academics, noted actors, and Supreme Court justices, who believe that Stratfordian actor William Shakespeare did not write Hamlet, King Lear, or any of the other plays and poems commonly attributed to him -- instead, depending on whose theory one adopts, the Shakespearean canon may be the work of the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or any of a host of others (or possibly by a collective of several different writers working in concert).  Of the rival candidates, the most prominent have been Bacon (now mostly discredited) and Oxford, also known as Edward de Vere (now the primary contender).

Contested Will isn't a strictly neutral examination of the controversy; Shapiro acknowledges up front that he's a Stratfordian, and spends roughly the last quarter of the book making his case.  But before he gets to that case, he delivers a concise yet detailed history of the authorship controversy itself, examining the larger context in which the leading alternative theories arose and the lives of the leading proponents of those theories -- notably Delia Bacon, Mark Twain, and Dr. Sigmund Freud.  Shapiro also looks at many of the key books and documents produced and cited by early anti-Stratfordians, discussing not merely their conclusions but the thought processes that lie behind them.  There's briefer but no less observant coverage of more contemporary developments, including televised "moot court" trials and Internet authorship-studies sites defending both sides of the conflict.  A thorough bibliographic essay provides extensive annotations and avenues for further reading.

The authorship debate being what it is (and judging by the online responses to published reviews), Contested Will isn't likely to convince devoted Oxfordians to abandon their cause -- though I'd recommend it to them nonetheless.  Some of the source material Shapiro examines is either quite recently discovered or notably obscure, and a few of his analytical barbs are aimed -- if gently -- at traditionalists as much as at anti-Stratfordians.  I'd also recommend the book to anyone with a broad interest in Shakespearean lore and literature; Shapiro's prose is engaging and his style is accessible, with little recourse to academic jargon. 

For those interested in exploring the authorship controversy more generally, two sites:
For the Stratfordian case: Shakespeare Authorship
For the anti-Stratfordian case: Shakespearean Authorship Trust

djonn: Self-portrait (Default)
In the department of "time sinks I probably didn't need to fall into":

There is apparently a growing kerfuffle in various parts of cyberspace about the plot line of a particular episode of the upcoming Stargate: Universe TV series, for which Hugo-winning writer John Scalzi is a consultant. I happened on a discussion of the matter in John S.'s blog, and -- after holding out for a bit -- failed to resist the temptation to wade in. [Fair warning: as I post this there are 240-odd posts in the reply-stream, and the most significant current subtopic starts about 200 posts in. If you're inclined to look, don't hesitate to use your browser's "find" function to skip to individual posts.]
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Up this morning at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: my latest contribution to the Sony Reader Test Drive.

Passion Among the Pixels is a tale of high technology, low humor, and the things romance-novel characters do in their spare time.  Also it discusses -- or will discuss, as this is only Episode One -- that which is nifty and not so nifty about the Sony PRS-505 eReader.  [While a certain gentleman from Corporate does not appear, those familiar with that individual's exploits may find a certain snark factor in some of the goings-on.]

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My first contribution to the Sony Reader Test Drive is up!

Rather than a review of the hardware, it's a review of one of the category romance novels I acquired along with the hardware -- Medusa's Master by Cindy Dees, in the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line.  [No, not that kind of Medusa; in this book, the Medusas are an all-female Spec Ops group within the US armed forces -- and Dees is the right kind of former military herself, so the action reads as convincing.]

See the review via the link, or visit Smart Bitches, Trashy Books at its main page for ongoing windows into the romance world.  (They don't bite, really they don't!  Except sometimes by mutual consent, I suppose.)

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While most of the rest of the world seems to have been at Worldcon, I was on my annual pilgrimage to Ashland, Oregon for a five-play weekend marathon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The short report: three winners, one take-it-or-leave-it, and one unexpected clunker. 

More detailed comments will follow as the week progresses; I should also have some notes on the ongoing Sony Reader Test Drive and possibly a further book review or two.  In the meantime, two links:

My comments from last week on Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child

A contest: if you have $100 to spare and the right culinary mindset, you can win a landmark Oregon restaurant

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