All entries for Thursday 15 October 2009

October 15, 2009

Kyd comes out

Writing about web page

Brian Vickers has gone public with his claims about Edward III being co-authored by Shakespeare and Kyd. The story's been picked up by the usual agencies and is doing the rounds of the world media.

So, expect the following: the conspiracy nuts using it as a platform to point out that "Shakespeare" didn't actually write any of his plays; 'enthusiasts' getting all sweaty at the idea that Shakespeare ever collaborated; academics complaining about whether research of this kind actually means anything; and grand claims about a "400 year old mystery being solved". In fact, most of these can be found in the Times' own article and comments already.

Depressingly, note how no-one will actually talk about the play itself. And almost certainly, despite the fact that the announcement is actually about Kyd, I'll lay a wager that none of the follow-up coverage will talk any further about him.

From my research, it seems that these announcements about authorship, whether within the academy or in the wider public sphere, all end up being treated in the same way, with the same core positions essentially unchanged each time. It's hugely frustrating, and I'd really like to see the findings develop instead into a public discussion on the implications of the research, and maybe take advantage of the Shakespeare connection to bring the play itself to greater attention.

Finally, the announcements invite a rhetoric of certainty that bothers me. This isn't "proof". This kind of research never proves anything. It simply - and in my mind, this is quite sufficient - provides a "best fit" of author to play. We will never know if there were other playwrights whose work has not survived who might have provided an even better fit. All we've got are working assumptions about a field where our knowledge is, frankly, quite limited.

I'm quite prepared to accept Kyd and Shakespeare as probable co-authors of Edward III, but I'd like to keep a sceptical eye half-open at all times, same as I do with Hand D of Thomas More. Establishing a name for a section of writing isn't the 'solution' to this 400 year old problem; it's rather a starting-point from which to start asking the far more complex questions about the forms that early modern authorship took. Did Kyd and Shakespeare work together? Did one revise the other's work? Did either take responsibility for 'plotting'? How does the writing fit into the narrative of other history plays? And so on. These are the questions I want to explore, and I suppose I'm always left a bit frustrated after reading these articles, which remind me that the world-at-large is still going to be bound by reductive and largely unhelpful conceptions of authorship which drag back real progress in authorship studies. Vickers has done some sterling work, yet the interesting questions it presents just aren't what the media is interested in.


I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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