Shakespeare and Company

Elizabeth Winkler’s inquiry into Emilia Bassano’s possible role in the creation of Shakespeare’s work has prompted interest, enthusiasm, and dissent. Five responses expand the discussion.

Chris J. Ratliffe / Getty

In the June issue, The Atlantic published an essay exploring the possibility that an Elizabethan writer named Emilia Bassano might have had a hand, or more, in the creation of William Shakespeare’s work. Elizabeth Winkler’s authorship quest was speculative in nature; her goal was to highlight rich new perspectives on the plays and the female voices within them.

The piece sparked great interest in Bassano’s life and curiosity about women’s literary contributions in Shakespeare’s era, the challenges facing Shakespeare biographers, and feminist themes in the work. It also generated dissent, most notably the argument that the piece did not pay sufficient attention to the scholarly consensus that any case for anyone other than Shakespeare is conjectural. Winkler’s response to the initial reception of the article can be found here.

In the interest of broadening this discussion, we’ve asked five distinguished commentators to address the article and related issues.

Our five commentators are:

  • David Scott Kastan, who teaches at Yale University and is the general editor of The Arden Shakespeare. He writes about Shakespeare and his collaborators.
  • Phyllis Rackin, a professor emerita at the University of Pennsylvania. She discusses her research on women’s involvement in Elizabethan theater.
  • James Shapiro, of Columbia University, who is the author of, among other books, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? He disputes Winkler’s piece and celebrates a new focus on Shakespeare’s female characters in recent theatrical productions of the plays.
  • Sir Mark Rylance, an actor of Shakespeare and a trustee of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. He writes about the importance to him as an actor of keeping alive the uncertainty about how the works of Shakespeare might have been created and who might have been involved.
  • David Ellis, a professor emeritus at the University of Kent and the author of, among other books, The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction and Modern Biographies. He writes about the difficulties facing Shakespeare biographers.