Returning to the repertory
This blog has been relatively quiet recently, and bizarrely that's actually because I've been working harder on my PhD than usual. It's far easier to post tangential pieces when I'm procrastinating than try and sum up the work which is going directly into a chapter.
My current work is focussing on the five apocryphal plays that are (relatively) indisputably attached to the Chamberlain's/King's Men during the period that Shakespeare was an active member of that company: Thomas Lord Cromwell, Mucedorus, The London Prodigal, The Merry Devil of Edmonton and A Yorkshire Tragedy. Taking each of these plays in turn, I'm looking at its place in the company's repertory and the ways in which it might be usefully considered "Shakespearean" - not in the literal sense of penmanship, but in the sense of a discursive influence and authorship that shapes and is re-shaped by these plays.
Each play provides a different way into the question. Mucedorus, for example, is most interesting to me for the textual differences in its early editions, and how those changes reflect what was happening in the company during the early years of James' reign; while A Yorkshire Tragedy raises issues of censorship. However, the aspect which keeps cropping up is how the plays intersect with experiments in genre. It's increasingly my belief that all of the above plays fit into a narrative of generic development within the company, at the heart of which sits the company's resident dramatist.
The First Folio conditions us to think of Shakespeare's writing in terms of comedies, histories and tragedies, a set of definitions which can be reductive and unhelpful. Scholarship in recent years, in getting away from a Shakespeare-centric model, has been extremely productive in looking at the wider narratives of genre within the early modern theatrical companies, with key events such as Beaumont and Fletcher's move to the King's Men instigating that company's development of the tragicomic form. My contribution to this line of thought is to resituate the "apocryphal" plays within the company's repertory and show how they are involved in pushing the boundaries of genre within the company, in turn provoking responses among the better-known plays. They also raise interesting possibilities for what "Shakespeare" may imply; was the name associated with - or used to authorise - generic experimentation?
It's an interesting piece to work on, anyway. Once this model is set up, I'll then cast my eye over the other key apocryphal plays which aren't necessarily associated with the Shakespeare company, and see if they too have anything to say in this regard.