December 02, 2008

The Co–Authors of Edward III

And so to London, for the latest meeting of the London Forum for Authorship Studies.

For this session, Professor Sir Brian Vickers presented his latest research on "The Co-Authors of Edward III". Beginning with an overview of the attribution history of the play, he proceeded to his core argument - that Shakespeare's collaborator (and the author of the larger part of the play) was..... Thomas Kyd.

The evidence is fairly compelling. Vickers based his findings on searches for like collocations of phrases between the play and the corpus of early-modern drama pre-1596, and the correlations with the Kyd canon are extensive, often running to five or six consecutive words repeated between the texts. The sheer volume of evidence is, to be frank, quite intimidating.

If there is a problem with the findings, it is this: they are heavily dependent on Vickers' previous research on the Kyd canon. Vickers is a Kyd specialist as well as an authorship expert, and much of his work over the last few years has been to establish Kyd's presence in a wide range of plays, including 1 Henry VI, Fair Em, Arden of Faversham and others. Many of the correlations between Edward III and the Kyd canon were to plays that Vickers has pioneered the case for.

This doesn't mean the argument is circular; however, it does lead me to approach the results with a (hopefully healthy) cautiousness. The results for Edward III are dependent on Vickers' successful attribution to Kyd of several largely-disputed plays, and I'm not familiar enough with the earlier research to know how confident those results are. Vickers, of course, is confident, but I would certainly want to be sure that those earlier attributions are sound before I then use them to attribute a further play. The definitive, undisputed Kyd canon, in my understanding, consists only of The Spanish Tragedy and a translation, Cornelia, though there are other, slightly less confident attributions such as Soliman and Perseda. To have extrapolated a fairly substantial canon from these relatively few base texts is quite an achievement, and if anyone can do so confidently and scientifically, it's Vickers. It's also worth noting that most of the links did seem to be with Spanish Tragedy, which at least is safe ground (or as safe as ground can be in this field).

I'm certainly looking forward to delving further into this; the idea of Kyd and Shakespeare collaborating on the play certainly doesn't seem too much of a stretch. Richard Proudfoot, who was also in attendance and is editing the play for the Arden Shakespeare, put forward a theory that would create a rather pleasing symmetry; that if Kyd and Shakespeare were collaborators on both Edward III and 1 Henry VI, that would see them effectively bookending the hundred years' war, possibly deliberately so. It's a stretch, but a nice one.

As a last footnote to this discussion, I also spoke briefly to Tom Merriam while there, whose articles on Edward III I've been surveying. His claims have been for Marlowe as Shakespeare's collaborator, which also provides a rather neat story: with Marlowe writing Edward II and Shaksepeare writing Richard II, the two of them collaborating on Edward III would effectively bridge the gap between their two careers with the play that historically links the two. Merriam additionally finds Kyd and Marlowe difficult to distinguish (Vickers finds them distinctive) - and we know, of course, that Marlowe and Kyd were roommates. Finally, it was admitted at the seminar that the single play with most links to Edward III is Marlowe's Tamburlaine, which is a substantial part of Merriam's arguments. However, the Kyd team note that Tamburlaine was the most influential text of the period and that its presence can be found pretty much everywhere owing to imitation; which therefore devalues the evidence it provides.

This brief overview hopefully gives a sense of the debates and issues at stake in this kind of search for internal evidence. I'm far too early in the game to be coming up with my own opinions, and thankfully my role in the project is currently more historically focussed - what people HAVE thought as opposed to what they DO think. It's always fascinating, though, to hear what's going on at the cutting edge.

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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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