Who Wrote Shakespeare?
The History of Shakespeare Denial
Reading James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? is like entering the charmed circle around a charismatic story-teller at a terrific party. Someone witty and erudite but not remotely arrogant. Someone who never brags about what he knows, just unreels one fascinating anecdote after another and you feel lucky to be listening. He’s a completely accessible scholar with a sly wit and a gift for compelling narrative; I read this book in two days, captivated, amused, entertained—and shocked.
The reviews for Contested Will here and abroad have been justly laudatory. Shapiro has broken new ground in the whole “authorship controversy” by writing a book that doesn’t survey the overly crowded field of crackpot theories so much as explore the history and development of the question. Why have people claimed that Sir Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe or dozens of other people are the true authors of Shakespeare’s plays? How and when did this kind of conspiratorial theorizing take root among academics, theater people, and amateur Shakespearologists? Why have cultural figures as different as Freud and Mark Twain been convinced Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays and can we find roots in their life experiences that make sense of what is really nonsense?
Shakespeare Deniers (my own term for people who don’t believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare) like to claim that the “authorship question” has always existed, but that’s simply not true; it took hold only in the mid-1800s, well over two hundred years after Shakespeare died. They contemptuously dismiss all evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays, and while they may be superficially convincing, their theories tell us more about themselves than about Shakespeare. Back in 1964, Union College professor William M. Murphy wrote a thoughtful essay exploring the indisputable evidence for Shakespeare as author of the plays and the indisputably perverse “reasoning” that challenges this evidence. He had a sharp assessment of the Deniers:
Most of us know that irrational behavior carried to extremes can result in a form of mental disturbance that may require hospitalization. In many cases, however, the victims seem superficially in control of themselves and act perfectly normal except when concerned with the subject through which their derangement is manifested; here they inhabit a universe of their own creation, like those unfortunate beings in mental institutions who think they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. In its simplest form the affliction is called Paranoia. Any student who has devoted considerable thought to the question of the authorship of the Shakespearean plays cannot avoid the conclusion that the tortured attempts to prove Shakespeare didn’t write his own works are the product of paranoid thinking . . . For the evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon (1564-1616) wrote the works attributed to him is not only abundant but conclusive.” Quoting the author of a four-volume history of Elizabethan theater, he went on to say that the evidence “is of the kind, as Sir Edmund Chambers puts it, ‘which is ordinarily accepted as determining the authorship of early literature. It is better than anything we have for many of Shakespeare’s dramatic contemporaries [and] there is not the remotest possibility that anyone else was the author.’ ”
Murphy concluded that “students of abnormal psychology have neglected a rich mother-lode of basic research by ignoring the [Deniers], who exhibit clearly defined symptoms that mark the paranoid mind.” Among the handful of paranoid symptoms Murphy noted were “a belief in conspiracy,” “the invention of new logical systems to provide desired answers that fail to be revealed by older and more widely accepted ones,” and “preternatural persuasiveness.”
This paranoid Shakespeare Denial took root thanks to Delia Bacon, a woman who ended up confined to a lunatic asylum at the end of her life. She claimed the plays were written by Sir Francis Bacon (no relation) and others. Who were these mystery men? Sir Walter Raleigh, and possibly Edmund Spenser and the Earl of Oxford—along with others she left unnamed. According to Bacon, these men formed “a little clique of disappointed and defeated politicians who undertook to head and organize a popular opposition against the government, and were compelled to retreat from that enterprise.” Politics didn’t work, so they chose drama. Isn’t that special?
Delia Bacon apparently never speculated as to why Shakespeare the actor—if he was merely a front man for these plotters—would associate himself with such a dangerous enterprise that was nothing less than treasonous. But that’s the kind of huge logical hole you find again and again in the writings of Shakespeare Deniers. They tend to cover such gaps with a blizzard of pseudo-facts and dramatic rhetorical questions. Or they simply reverse the truth, as in their persistent claim that Dickens didn’t believe Shakespeare wrote the plays. Not that his verdict matters, but Dickens said nothing of the sort, yet still the Deniers go on and on, pretending he did, enlisting his fame to their meretricious cause.
Profoundly disappointed in her writing career and in her personal life, the deeply troubled and increasingly obsessed Bacon still managed to impress Nathaniel Hawthorne. It certainly helped that this was a period in which Francis Bacon was considered a greater genius in the Anglo-Saxon world than Shakespeare, an assessment that seems quaint and even bizarre today. But despite never discovering any corroborative evidence whatsoever in her research in England, she sparked a movement with just one anonymous article in Putnam’s Monthly and an 1857 volume of a projected two-volume survey of the plays and their purported meaning.
There’s a surprising religious dimension to her work. One of the most fascinating and previously unexplored aspects of the story Shapiro tells is the way in which the nineteenth century’s Higher Criticism affected Shakespeare Studies. Based in textual and historical analysis, this methodology studied “the origins, date, composition and transmission of the books of the Bible,” starting with Hebrew Scriptures and leading ineluctably to the New Testament. Published in 1835, David Friedrich Strauss’s book The Life of Jesus was a global bombshell because it exposed “the discrepancies, contradictions and mistakes in the Gospel narratives and made the supernatural explanations appear weak and untenable.”
If scholars could effectively demonstrate that what people thought they knew about Jesus was actually myth, then Shakespeare was the next figure to dethrone and demystify. For Delia Bacon, daughter of a minister and a would-be writer, this double toppling of idols had an unnerving effect that Hawthorne astutely noted: “Unquestionably, she is a monomaniac: this great idea has completely thrown her off her balance.”
Some of the Deniers that Shapiro treats seem to have experienced a kind of epiphany. For Freud it was the insight about his Oedipus theory that made him see Hamlet as someone in love with his mother who wished to kill his father and actually brought death upon himself as punishment for these taboo desires. That’s when Freud stepped Through the Looking Glass, and the links between his psychological theory and his dramaturgical fancy are fascinating. Likewise the ways in which Shakespeare became a hobbyhorse of Freud’s: it wasn’t enough for him to believe Shakespeare hadn’t written the plays—he wanted his associates to do so, too, and turned into an insensitive boor about it.
With Twain, it was having someone show him an apparent acrostic in The Tempest (!) and this “revelation” fell on fertile ground. He was a man living out dual identities to begin with, so it was all too easy for him to see Shakespeare as split in two: a surface personality and a real author far different. And Twain was 100% certain that a writer could only write about what he had experienced himself and just couldn’t believe that Shakespeare had experienced what the plays seem to demonstrate.
Both men, like other Deniers, were profound snobs and doubted that anyone but a courtier or someone highly and formally educated could have produced works of such sophistication. Shakespeare didn’t go to university? Well, then he couldn’t have been the author of the plays. As Shapiro explains, holding this opinion ignores the limited scope of what people actually learned in university in Shakespeare’s day, and likewise ignores the complexity and depth of a period “grammar school” education. Ben Jonson didn’t go to university either and yet he became England’s premier playwright in the seventeenth century and a classical scholar as well, and was awarded honorary degrees. That’s an inconvenient set of facts, but ignoring reality is the Deniers’ stock in trade; they specialize in what Henry VIII in a very different context called “fantastical opinions and vain expositions.”
Here’s an example from a website devoted to pushing the candidacy of the Earl of Oxford to show the kind of fantasy world the Deniers live in: “There should be masses of contemporary documents about the life of the world’s greatest writer. His manuscripts, his letters, the letters sent to him, the letters about him between others, and printed stories and pamphlets about him.”
Should be? Not remotely true. There’s nothing surprising about an author’s letters not being extant from that period, and the absence of manuscripts is sad but unremarkable. Manuscripts and authors’ letters or autographs were not revered and collected in England until the end of the eighteenth century. And while we have contemporary references to several thousand plays from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, only a small percentage survived in manuscript. Turning to Jonson again, “not a leaf of a Jonson play in his hand has come down to us. Manuscripts did not belong to the playwright anyway—they were the property of the company producing the play, and would have been treated as tools, not jewels. According to Irving Matus, author of Shakespeare IN FACT, even theater shareholders, as Shakespeare was in both the Globe and Blackfriars companies, were "forbidden to derive personal benefit from what was viewed as the property of the company as a whole."
More importantly, in his own time, Shakespeare was not considered the world’s greatest writer. As Shapiro notes, Shakespeare was “typically equated with rivals, both classical and contemporary . . . It was only posthumously that Shakespeare was finally unyoked from the company of rivals or mortals.” And plays were hardly considered great literature anyway, as Matus reports. The founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Sir Thomas Bodley, actually criticized a librarian in 1612 for cataloging such “riffraffs” [sic] because “hardly one in forty plays” was worth keeping. Bodley was concerned that scandal would ensue when people learned the library was “full of baggage books.”
But even if Shakespeare had been the center of the Elizabethan or Jacobean universe, there simply wouldn’t have been the kind of material accumulating around him the Denier website demands. In an email to me, Shapiro pointed out that “Printed stories and pamphlets and the like, simply don’t exist for practicing playwrights at the time.” And diaries as we think of them today weren’t at all common either, though there is an amusing Shakespeare story surviving in the 1602-1603 diary of a law student named John Manningham. He reported a comic encounter when Shakespeare heard Richard Burbage, the first actor to play Richard III, arrange to meet a woman. Shakespeare “went before, was entertained, and at his game before Burbage came; then, message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.”
Shapiro’s main focus in Contested Will is the Earl of Oxford and the other prime candidate of the Deniers, Sir Francis Bacon, and he examines how each became a popular nexus for disappointment in the historical Shakespeare, then ably demolishes their candidacy. He doesn’t have to do much—sometimes just quoting the facts of the determined efforts to disprove Shakespeare’s authorship is enough. After Delia Bacon, there was, for instance, a Minnesota politician, Ignatius Donnelly, who believed that Bacon constructed a cipher revealing his authorship first and then wrote all of the plays to encode it.
My first response to that convoluted theory was “You can't make this stuff up!” But sadly, the Deniers can and do, again and again. A proponent of the theory that a Jewish woman wrote the plays can argue against all logic that “Belmont” in The Merchant of Venice means “mountain of the Lord” rather than “beautiful mountain” because of the letters “el” which he claims is Hebrew for “Lord.” (It’s actually Hebrew for “God.”)
But why stop there? Why not comb through the plays for every word using “el”? Or maybe “Shakespeare” is really an anagram of “Hera speakes” that points to hidden references to Greek mythology in the plays. Perhaps Shakespeare wasn’t just a woman, but Greek, too!
Truly, the Shakespeare Deniers make themselves easy targets for satire because they clutch so desperately at straws. Still, I don’t think I’ve read anything quite as off-the-wall as the proof Shakespeare didn’t write the plays that was supposedly offered by the “Bacon drums,” designed and constructed by a Detroit doctor, Orville Owen in the early 1900s. Baconians claimed that there were elaborate ciphers in the plays that proved Bacon was their author. Using a cipher that purportedly revealed the secrets in the plays (and more), he claimed to be following Bacon’s secret instructions and “built a decoding machine consisting of two large drums on which revolved a two-foot-wide and thousand-foot-long canvas sheet. He pasted onto this long loop the pages of each book attributed to Bacon—which the cipher told him, included not only Bacon’s and Shakespeare’s work but also those written under Bacon’s other masks; Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Edmund Spenser, Robert Burton, and George Peele. Owen and his capable assistants would spin the drums, and as the cut-and pasted writing revolved, key words would reveal themselves. Adjacent lines or phrases would be transcribed and textual messages reconstructed.”
Not surprisingly, this method “revealed” an amazing story fit for one of today’s tabloids: Bacon was the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth and Sir Robert Cecil strangled the queen.
In 1957, famed cryptographers William and Elizabeth Friedman “demonstrated with crushing finality that none of the ciphers or cryptograms or codes suggested up to that time had any validity whatever. The Friedmans, in one devastating display, employed the system used by one Baconian to prove that they themselves wrote the plays[.]”
I had to reread the passage two paragraphs above about Owen’s decoding drums to fathom the man’s lunacy, and the second time through, I caught Shapiro’s quiet use of “capable.” It exemplifies his light, witty touch throughout, as does his conclusion that “there was a good deal of interpretive latitude about which phrases or lines Owen could claim as part of the cipher message.” Interpretive latitude sums up the whole anti-Shakespeare project. As even Freud had to admit, despite his obsession with the question, this method is based on “concluding from faint traces, exploiting trifling signs.”
That’s why there are so many competing candidates for the role of author of the plays, including Queen Elizabeth herself (perhaps “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” was really a complaint about multitasking?). And that’s probably why some Deniers like Delia Bacon have even imagined informal committees writing the plays. There’s an inherent problem here the Deniers overlook: the “sheer number of candidates put forward as having had the unique qualifications of position and education to be the True Author is evidence that these qualifications were not at all unique in Shakespeare’s time.”
Just as far-fetched as this roiling crowd of would-be Shakespeares are the endless speculations about various plays being direct transpositions of court scandals, or even allegories aimed at abuses of royal power. So Queen Elizabeth (if she didn’t write the plays) and King James were dim-witted enough or lax enough to allow such dramatic shenanigans in their presence? Let me quote Alica Silverstone in “Clueless” here: “As if!”
The Deniers’ dogged search for clues to a mystery that simply doesn’t exist turns their works into detective fiction, as Irvin Matus has pointed out. And discovering secret knowledge and living as its ambassador to the world is an exhilarating role to play; most of the various proponents Shapiro discusses all radiate a sense of missionary zeal. At times, they sound suspiciously like the “Birthers” who will never believe that President Obama was born an American citizen.
Perhaps the misplaced ardor of the Deniers is also partly a response to the way Shakespeare has been almost deified in Western culture, a desire to pull down an idol. Shapiro is also quietly funny in Contested Will describing how Shakespeare became our literary God in the years after his death, thanks to prominent actors. In our own day, sadly, actors like Derek Jacobi spread doubt about Shakespeare’s authorship.
William Murphy (quoted above) observed “that the paranoid [Deniers] have been fantastically successful”—and that was over forty-five years ago. Today, it’s shocking how successful the Deniers have become in penetrating the traditional and electronic media to spread their bogus gospel. They have more and more attractive web sites, more slanted Wikipedia entries, and they get overly respectful TV and newspaper coverage. The media loves controversy, real or staged, and love “debate” no matter how specious it is. Packaged as a challenge to the “orthodox view” of Shakespeare, this story is just too sexy for some in the media to dismiss, and unfortunately, Shapiro notes, we live in a world all too comfortable with “conspiracy theory, spurious history, and construing fiction as autobiographical fact.” It scarily calls to mind what Antonio says to Isabella in Measure for Measure: “Say what you can, my false oerweighs your true [sic].”
Shapiro ends the book with a detailed section explaining how we know what we know about Shakespeare as the author of the plays. It’s utterly convincing and, happily for readers, rational. It’s simply not true that there’s no trace of Shakespeare as a playwright: he was being observed, praised and envied “from his early years in the theater to his death in 1616” and soon after. Perhaps most striking is Shapiro’s estimate that thousands of copies of his plays were in print in his lifetime in a city of only two hundred thousand inhabitants. What does that mean?
“As an actor, playwright, and shareholder in the most popular playing company in the land—which performed before as many as three thousand spectators at a time in the large outdoor theaters—he was also one of the most familiar faces in town and at court. If, over the course of the quarter-century in which Shakespeare was acting and writing in London, people began to suspect that the man they knew as Shakespeare was not the actor-dramatist whose plays they witnessed and purchased, we would have known about it.” Of course the Deniers, who live in their own parallel universe, would counter that argument by saying, “It was an open secret, so nobody spoke of it.”
After finishing Shapiro’s eye-opening and thoughtful book, I had the good fortune of continuing the discussion with the author via email:
Lev Raphael: Did you actually write this book? [sorry, I couldn’t resist]
James Shapiro: To be frank, how could anyone who wasn’t born or raised in England, isn’t Christian, and never took a college Shakespeare course have written either 1599 or Contested Will? His biography suggests that James Shapiro seems to lack all the necessary background and experience. Isn’t it far more likely that “James Shapiro” is a front, the name a pseudonym? The true author probably prefers to write in peace and is uncomfortable with the public face of publishing.
LR: Among Shakespeare scholars who have no doubt that he wrote the plays, writing about the meaning of Shakespeare Denial, as I’m calling it, has been taboo. What are your colleagues in Shakespeare Studies saying to you about the book?
JS: Reviews in newspapers and magazines come quickly; scholarly responses take a long time. I’ve not heard much yet. What’s more important to me is whether other scholars take a greater interest in this field—and whether future biographies of Shakespeare shy away from reading the life out of the works, as I have urged.
LR: Conspiracy theories are circular and insular, and trying to disprove them is seen as proof of their authenticity. But have you ever had a discussion with a Shakespeare Denier where you felt yourself making some headway?
JS: No. And their responses to my book on their blogs consistently ignore the tough questions I raise. I’m still waiting for an Oxfordian to confront the sad truth that their movement is grounded in a reactionary and anti-democratic set of beliefs, expounded in their Bible, J. T. Looney’s ‘Shakespeare’ Revealed. My favorite response this week comes from another Oxfordian blogger [supporter of the Earl of Oxford], “politicworm,” who actually brags about not having read my book. That about sums things up, and defines the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly approaches to the authorship question. You assume in your question that there is enough common ground in terms of notions of evidence, or even self-awareness of underlying assumptions about literary culture. There isn’t.
LR: It’s clear from Contested Will that the root of looking for the man in the plays—and not finding Shakespeare—was in the very early attempts to arrange them chronologically, to find a through-line, to see a path of artistic development, as opposed to the traditional classification of the plays as Tragedies, Histories, Comedies. What’s the difference between these two ways of approaching the canon?
JS: There are many ways to read or grapple with the plays—ordering by chronology (sometimes difficult) and by genre (no less difficult) the most popular. Each brings with it a set of sometimes troubling assumptions. We gain and lose by every approach. There’s no easy answer nor will there ever be, and we don’t even have—as we do, for example, for Ben Jonson—the author’s works published in a collected and authorized volume.
LR: One of your most fascinating conclusions is that when people started analyzing the Sonnets as a record of Shakespeare’s feelings, forgetting the difference between author and narrative voice, they helped open up the Pandora’s Box of speculation that Shakespeare wasn’t the author of the canon. Can you envision any unintended results developing out of how we read Shakespeare today?
JS: We live in an age of memoir, confessional stories that often turn on sexual, religious, or family crises. Why should it surprise anyone that the Shakespeare biographies of the past decade or so—as well as readings of the Sonnets—should mirror our cultural preoccupations? The result—unintended or not—is to read Shakespeare anachronistically. Now, some degree of filtering his life through our own experience is inevitable—but we might as well be aware of what we are doing.
LR: Your title has layers of meaning, one of which refers to the misunderstanding of Shakespeare’s last will and testament. Deniers claim that because it doesn’t mention any books, Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays because how could a man who didn’t own books be a writer? But items like books left as a legacy would have been listed in a separate inventory, so the deniers show a basic ignorance of Elizabethan/Jacobean society. Is that willful or accidental?
JS: Before I researched this book I didn’t know about the lost inventory to the will, first reported in the nineteenth century by Halliwell-Phillipps, a great researcher. It just never made it into the standard modern biographies that followed. I don’t think one in a hundred Shakespeare scholars knows about it. So I can’t blame skeptics for not knowing. What I can fault them for is, now that they know, failing to revise what they say or write, acknowledging that their argument is wrong, or at least not as strong as they would hope. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that concession. It won’t come.
LR: Henry James was an inveterate diner-out in his early years in London and in his notebooks reports story after story he heard at dinner with England’s elite—like the family squabble that gave him the idea for The Spoils of Poynton. He feasted on other people’s narratives and experiences, yet he couldn’t imagine Shakespeare doing the same thing. How do you account for his blind spot about Shakespeare?
JS: It’s hard to understand why smart people say and think dumb things. Henry James is as smart as they come and yet he couldn’t bring himself to think someone as vulgar as he thought Shakespeare of Stratford was could have written the plays. It says nothing about Shakespeare, but worlds about James and his snobbish ideas about literary genius and the “baggage” as he put it, that a great writer brings to his or her task.
LR: You’re so reasonable and careful in what you write about the looniest of notions—like Mark Twain’s belief that Queen Elizabeth was really a man. Or the Bacon “drum.” While working on this book, did you ever just find yourself laughing too hard to write?
JS: Yes. Often. And it kept me sane. Researching and writing about Shakespeare makes you a bit smarter. Writing about the wacky things people have said about Shakespeare has the opposite effect. I’m glad the book is done so I can go back to Shakespeare’s words and ideas, not theirs.
LR: I’m an author and when people at a reading ask me how much of my work is autobiographical, I explain that it’s not a question of one-to-one correspondences—that an author’s biography is everything that author has ever read, heard, overheard, studied, seen, had told to him, and so on. Deniers don’t seem to get that—why do you think they have such a limited view of the creative process?
JS: More than a few Shakespeare scholars hoped that my book would offer a psychological explanation, or at least a profile, of the ‘deniers.’ I firmly avoided that because I don’t think that there is such a profile: each denier is different and brings a different background and set of reasons for rejecting Shakespeare’s authorship. So I can’t generalize—all I can do is offer a series of case studies—James, Freud, Helen Keller, Twain—and show how each in turn had a cramped notion of history and the creative imagination.
LR: One of the newest candidates among dozens for authorship of the plays is the poet Amelia Bassano Lanier, who was the mistress of Queen Elizabeth’s Lord Chamberlain. How do you respond to these new claims?
JS: There was an article this summer in Reform Judaism Magazine about Lanier’s candidacy, promoting the true author of Shakespeare’s plays as a feminist and a Jew. What’s especially funny—or sad, depending on your perspective—is that the most recent scholarship confirms that she is not of Jewish descent on either family line. Ah well. Not that it will make a dent in those who want to argue that a Jewish woman had to have written the plays. These are matters of faith, not scholarship.
LR: Have you spoken to psychologists about this phenomenon of denial? And do you have any ideas yourself why these people have such an intense need to prove to the world that they’re right and that the established thinking about Shakespeare is wrong?
JS: I’m a cultural historian, more interested in the implications of what people believe than in the complex and historically shifting reasons for why they believe it. And, in truth, I don’t really believe that psychologists can even adequately explain why many people believe that the destruction of the Twin Towers was the work of the U.S. government or the Israeli Mossad.
LR: Harold Bloom’s magisterial (and sometimes cranky) book about Shakespeare posits the playwright as the first western writer to limn modern consciousness, self-reflection, inwardness. But Bloom doesn’t think Shakespeare can be well-staged. Do you? How often do you attend performances? What’s been one of your favorite productions?
JS: Harold Bloom is a brilliant man but a partial reader of Shakespeare, who wants to think of him as more of a poet and a philosopher than a practicing playwright. But of course he was both, and you lose an awful lot by ignoring or downplaying the extent to which the plays were written by someone who acted in many of them and wrote them for a particular group of actors. I see as many productions as I can, from fourth grade ones of Romeo and Juliet, to the best on both sides of the Atlantic. I learn from them all and get different sorts of pleasure from different productions. I feel bad for Harold Bloom that he hates seeing the plays staged.
LR: Blurbing a Shakespeare Denier’s book, a Women's Studies professor at Ohlone College in California claims that “The first question I am immediately asked by curious freshmen in my Shakespeare course is always, ‘Who wrote these plays anyway?’ ” I find that hard to believe, but be that as it may, you’ve been teaching at Columbia University for over two decades. How open are your students to conspiratorial thinking about Shakespeare? And how literate do they tend to be in terms of Shakespeare’s period and the plays themselves?
JS: I suspect that my Columbia students (who all study a core curriculum) are too well trained, have too clear a sense of history, to think conspiratorially. In all my years of teaching I’ve never heard a student say that we never landed on the moon, or Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, or the like. Perhaps some harbor doubts but feel it safer not to express them. But I doubt it, since they will say pretty outrageous things about the plays freely and comfortably. Shakespeare is hard, the language often knotty and forbidding, and in truth, we focus on unpacking that, not on fantasy stuff.
LR: In effect, you’ve written a Shakespeare trilogy in Shakespeare and the Jews, 1599: a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and now Contested Will. Are there other books about Shakespeare you’d like to write, or have you said what you need to, and plan to move on?
JS: I’m working on what will almost surely be my last book on Shakespeare, 1606: The Year of Lear. I’m interested in doing for the Jacobean Shakespeare what I tried to do for the Elizabethan one in 1599. My publishers are expecting it by 2016, which is not much time (1599 took me well over a decade to research and write), so I have my work cut out for me.
Lev Raphael grew up in New York but got over it and has lived half his life in Michigan where he found his partner of twenty-four years, and a certain small fame. He escaped academia in 1988 to write full-time and has never looked back. The author of nineteen books in many genres, and hundreds of reviews, stories and articles, he’s seen his work discussed in journals, books, conference papers, and assigned in college and university classrooms. Which means he’s become homework. Who knew? Lev’s books have been translated into close to a dozen languages, some of which he can’t identify, and he’s done hundreds of readings and talks across the U.S. and Canada, and in France, England, Scotland, Austria, Germany and Israel. His memoir My Germany was published in April 2009 by the University of Wisconsin Press. You can learn more about Lev and his work on his website. Lev has reviewed for the Washington Post, Boston Review, NPR, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Jerusalem Report and the Detroit Free Press where he had a mystery column for almost a decade. He also hosted his own public radio book show where he interviewed Salman Rushdie, Erica Jong, and Julian Barnes among many other authors. Whatever the genre, he's always looked for books with a memorable voice and a compelling story to tell. Contact Lev.