Books by James Shapiro

Released: March 10, 2020

"A thought-provoking, captivating lesson in how literature and history intermingle."
How the Bard has played in America over the centuries. Read full book review >
THE YEAR OF LEAR by James Shapiro
Released: Oct. 6, 2015

"Shapiro's discoveries of long-lost sources and missed connections make this a fascinating tale. His well-written, scholarly exploration will stand as an influential work that is a joy to read."
Shakespearean scholar Shapiro (English/Columbia Univ.; Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, 2010, etc.) links the tumultuous events of 1605 and 1606 to three of the Bard's greatest works.Read full book review >
Released: April 6, 2010

"A thorough, engaging work whose arguments would prove more persuasive were we not living in an era of such fierce anti-intellectualism and pervasive conspiracy theory."
The author of A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (2005) chronicles the emergence of doubts about the playwright's identity and speculates about the assumptions and motives of the principal doubters. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2005

"Sure to be hated by Harold Bloom and others who view any attempt to locate the Bard in history as blasphemy against the religion of Pure Art, but open-minded readers will be stimulated and enriched by Shapiro's contextual approach."
An intriguing addition to Shakespeare studies, stressing his immersion in the issues of his time. Read full book review >
Released: June 2, 2000

"But beware: the book may leave you longing to see the play for yourself—and the 2000 production has been sold out for months."
A worthy successor to Shapiro's stunning 1996 volume Shakespeare and the Jews. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 11, 1996

A groundbreaking study of Elizabethan anti-Semitism that offers a shockingly long pedigree for Shakespeare's Shylock. Shapiro (English and Comparative Literature/Columbia Univ.) takes on the accepted opinion that there were no English Jews and few resources in Shakespeare's era from which to draw the leading Jewish villain in The Merchant of Venice, arguing that even after their expulsion from England in 1290, Jews remained in sufficient numbers to ``represent the threat of both cultural and personal miscegenation.'' Testimony from the Spanish Inquisition offers references to postexpulsion Jews in British records, if only when they converted to Christianity or broke the law. Shapiro cites diaries, sermons, and political tracts documenting the British obsession with secret Jews, marranos from Iberia and ``false Christians,'' who somehow threatened a coalescing sense of Britishness. In the prevailing paranoia, Queen Elizabeth Tudor herself was accused of being a secret Jew. While no actual legislation has survived to confirm official government policy toward Jews, archival evidence proves that Tudor kings allowed small groups of Jews, who served as merchants, Hebrew teachers, and physicians, to remain in the country. Shapiro's case is solidified with an array of 16th- and 17th-century allusions to Jews (none positive or neutral) in Tudor and Stuart drama, backed up with gleanings from diaries, travel literature, and political, religious, and commercial tracts. All the vicious accusations, from desecration of the host to well poisonings and ritual murder, ``serve[d] both as threat and a confirmation of Christianity.'' Shapiro explores the pathology of these charges, but outside of his view of the ``pound of flesh'' as a reference to forced circumcision (or emasculation), there is little meat here for the Shakespeare scholar. Although not the Shakespearean study it professes to be, Shapiro's exhaustively researched work adds much to the history of anti-Semitism and to our understanding of xenophobia's role in the creation of the British psyche. (18 illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >