Sigh of relief
I've just about finished a redraft of my first chapter, which is actually Chapter Two of the thesis. Essentially it's a critical account of the reception of the apocryhal plays over the period 1660-1800, which begins with the seven additions to the Third Folio in 1664 and traces the treatment and gradual marginalisation of the plays by subsequent editors over the 18th century. I've also uncovered a couple of interesting references in other media (pamphlets, newspapers etc) to the apocryphal plays, which provide a nice supporting narrative for the change in public perceptions of the disputed plays.
The fascinating thing about this period (well, one of the many fascinating things) is the speed with which the purpose of Shakespeare in British culture evolves, and the ramifications this has for concepts of canon and authorship. Over 11,000 words, I haven't actually considered the authenticity or authorship of the disputed plays; rather, I've been interrogating the criteria on which authenticity is actually established. Whether or not a play like, say, The London Prodigal is by Shakespeare or not, the debates and motivations that govern its treatment are critical.
The downside is that an account of this kind necessarily lends itself to being discussed chronologically, which feels rather dull. The stories are fascinating, but I'm hoping that there will be time to refashion the chapter and be a bit more creative with the structure of my narrative. Nonetheless, I'm reasonably happy with how it's starting to shape up.
The next chapter (Chapter One) will send me back in time, where I'll be playing with the original performance conditions of the apocrypha, their role in the repertories of the various theatres and questions about early modern conceptions of 'authorship' and 'ownership' when applied to the theatre of the time. It should be a relatively easy chapter, as this is where I discuss the early external evidence for authorship. I'm also hoping that I'll be able to start thinking more about the actual plays - so far, although I've been reading them, I've only been focussing on their role as commercially-circulating items, effectively simply as titles. In looking at their role in repertory, though, there should be space to consider how they sit with the playing practices and concerns of individual companies.
For now, though, a few footnotes to finish off.....