James Shapiro

He is the author of:

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599

Oberammergau: The Troubling Story of the World's Most Famous Passion Play

Shakespeare and the Jews

Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare


SHAKESPEARE IN AMERICA: A LITERARY ANTHOLOGY FROM THE REVOLUTION TO NOW, ed. by James Shapiro with a foreword by President Bill Clinton

The history of Shakespeare in America is also the history of America itself. From our beginnings as a nation, Shakespeare has been a central, inescapable part of our literary heritage, a figure so widely revered that, as Tocqueville noted in the 1830s, there was “hardly a pioneer’s hut” without a volume or two. Shakespeare in America reveals how, for over two centuries, the plays have been a prism through which crucial American issues—revolution, slavery, war, social justice—were refracted, debated, and understood. Shapiro traces the rich and suprising story of how Americans made Shakespeare their own through a wide range of genres—poetry, fiction, essays, plays, memoirs, songs, speeches, letters, movie reviews, and comedy routines—and a remarkable roster of American writers: from Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Mark Twain, and Henry James to James Agee, John Berryman, Pauline Kael, Isaac Asimov, Adrienne Rich, and Jane Smiley. American statesmen and presidents from John Adams to Bill Clinton (in a foreword written for this volume) offer their own testimonies to Shakespeare’s profound and enduring influence. The anthology also tracks the multitude of ways in which American theater and film have been indelibly marked by Shakespeare: actors from Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth to John Barrymore, Paul Robeson, and Marlon Brando reinterpret Shakespeare for each new era; the legendary productions of New York’s Yiddish theater are evoked in Cynthia Ozick’s story “Actors”; in the Depression years, Orson Welles revolutionizes Shakespearean performance with his landmark productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar; the creators of Kiss Me, Kate and West Side Story write Shakespeare into the history of the classic American musical theater; and Joseph Papp, renewing a once flourishing popular taste for the plays, establishes a New York tradition with Shakespeare in the Park.

“I think Americans will be fascinated to learn of our deep and early connection to the Bard, how he inspired presidents and incited mobs, and how vivid the legacy of one Englishman’s imagination still sits within the consciousness of our country. Like Shakespeare’s own plays, this anthology is full of enthralling stories and weird coincidences, and it’s a treasure.”

“P. T. Barnum loved Shakespeare so much he tried to buy the Bard’s house and bring it to America. James Shapiro has shown why he didn’t need to. Americans have always had their Shakespeare, and in this wonderful volume, they will have him still.”
—MICHAEL WITMORE, Director, Folger Shakespeare Library

“This brilliant anthology, hilarious, heartbreaking, and thrilling, shows that Shakespeare is more than our greatest writer; in America, he has also been a battleground. With Shakespeare we have fought about race, anti-Semitism, and gender equality; we have debated class struggle and national independence. With Shakespeare we have forged our national identity. He has made us who we are.”
— OSKAR EUSTIS, Artistic Director, The Public Theater


First aired in April 2012 as a BBC4 3-hour documentary: “The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History." Directed by Steven Clarke. Short-listed for the Grierson Award for the Best Historical Documentary, 2012. Now available as a DVD for North American viewers.

“Were I to offer an introductory course in the Bard, one could not ask to do much better than SHAKESPEARE: THE KING'S MAN. [Shapiro’s] smart, sharp and succinct analysis of sixteen plays or so a true joy to experience--he presents them all in a particularly inspired manner, oftentimes highlighted by fantastic live performance footage that manage to expertly capture much of the themes, feel and mood of many of these admittedly tough-to-grasp later plays composed by the King's Man. Indeed, Shapiro's insight into the history of the time and his vast knowledge of the supposed history of the man behind the play himself is thorough and thoughtful to a fault--consistently engaging and never veering too far from the various topics under discussion, with some illuminating location visits and conversations with other historians; the focus always remains firmly set on the second half of Shakespeare's career and the historical circumstances surrounding the creation of the plays themselves. And, who could honestly ask for a better overview?” (Pat Cerasaro, Broadwayworld.com)

"'Shakespeare: The King’s Man' was an absolute delight from start to finish. I’m a fan of Shakespeare, but admittedly don’t know a whole lot about the plays he wrote during his time as “the King’s Man,” when he and company became the “King’s Players,” officially working at the King’s pleasure. This fascinating documentary will appeal to both seasoned historians and general audiences. Scholar James Shapiro deftly guides the viewer through the turbulence of life in the Jacobean court. From the Gunpowder Plot to the writing of the King James Bible, Shaprio illustrates how Shakespeare was influenced by James and how James was influenced by Shakespeare…..This is a great addition to any DVD collection as it appeals to both general and specialized audiences." --Anglotopia.net

American edition: Simon and Schuster, 2010

A New York Times "Notable Book" for 2010


For two hundred years after Shakespeare's death, no one thought to argue that somebody else had written his plays. Since then dozens of rival candidates - including Sir Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford - have been proposed as their true author. "Contested Will" unravels the mystery of when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote the plays (among them such leading writers and artists as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Orson Welles, and Sir Derek Jacobi). If "Contested Will" does not end the authorship question once and for all, it will nonetheless irrevocably change the nature of the debate by confronting what's really contested: are the plays and poems of Shakespeare autobiographical, and if so, do they hold the key to the question of who wrote them?

UK edition: Faber & Faber

WINNER OF THE SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE (Best non-fiction book published in Britain) Also awarded: THE THEATRE BOOK PRIZE