All entries for July 2010

July 30, 2010

The early modern Shakespeare fan

As an experiment, imagine that Shakespeare had at least one really committed literary fan in his lifetime. This fan (similar to the modern record collector) wants to gather together everything that's been published in his idol's name, to put together his own "complete works" on the available evidence. What does it look like? Here's the library he would end up with:

  • Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598)
  • Richard II (1598)
  • Richard III (1598)
  • 1 Henry IV (1599)
  • The Passionate Pilgrim (1599)
  • 2 Henry IV (1600)
  • The Merchant of Venice (1600)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600)
  • Much Ado about Nothing (1600)
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602)
  • Hamlet (1603)
  • The London Prodigal (1605)
  • King Lear (1608)
  • A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608)
  • Pericles (1609)
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609)
  • Troilus and Cressida (1609)

If he was particularly geeky, he would also have picked up:

  • Locrine (1595, attributed to W.S.)
  • Thomas Lord Cromwell (1602, attributed to W.S.)
  • The Puritan (1607, attributed to W.S.)
  • The Troublesome Reign of King John (1611, attributed to W.Sh.)

He would almost certainly also own Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, confirming the popular rumours about their authorship when he found Shakespeare's name attached to their dedicatory addresses. Doubtless, he would also have picked up later quartos of some of the plays.

This is obviously a very different Complete Works, and while it's most unlikely that any reader would have pursued Shakespeare's name in print with this kind of fervour, it's worth taking a moment to appreciate how varied Shakespeare's literary presence was in his own lifetime. I'm always surprised, reading back down that list, to be reminded that even Henry V wasn't attributed to Shakespeare on bookshelves, nor the ever-popuar Romeo and Juliet. Yet, of course, everyone knew that these were Shakespeare's. Francis Meres's list alone shows that several plays not even printed, let alone attributed to Shakespeare in print, were known to be his, including Titus, Comedy of Errors and Two Gentlemen.

This is illustrative of a wider question: how much importance should we place on title pages and printed attributions? In a heavily social culture, where did people get their information from? This is a significant question. It's a standard academic argument that playgoers would have not known - or perhaps even cared - who the dramatist of the play they were attending was, an argument based on e.g. the lack of authors on title pages in the 1580s and 90s, and the possibility that these title pages reflect advertising material for the plays. I can't help but wonder, though, based on the allusions in Meres, the Parnassus plays and so on - is part of the reason for the lack of printed attributions that everyone knew who wrote them anyway? That it was too obvious and mundane a piece of information to include? Or, more to the point, would the writer's name be advertised differently, or a topic of casual conversation? Obviously, as the professional theatre developed and more writers emerge, there's a growing kudos attached to authorial attributions, and dramatists become literary authors. But this doesn't mean that the authors were unknown and unnoticed earlier in the period; the various testimonies we have are evidence of that.

This is why, in the section of my chapter from which this list is drawn, I'm careful to articulate that this is Shakespeare's literary presence, his presence on bookshelves. That is distinct, in my mind, from his public presence, from what people knew he had written. One can't quantify what that public presence may have been, but I'm inclined to believe that it was much more significant than narratives focussing on merely his printed appearances, or biographical narratives suggesting he was a recluse, imply.


July 28, 2010

Is there really a case against collaboration?

Brian Vickers, in the opening of his article "Incomplete Shakespeare; or, Denying Co-Authorship in 1 Henry VI" (Shakespeare Quarterly 58:3 (2007), 311-52) outlines a subtitle for the Shakespeare canon based on the last twenty years of attribution studies. “Assisted by Thomas Nashe, George Peele, Thomas Middleton, George Wilkins, John Fletcher, John Davies of Hereford, and Others.” (311) As in Shakespeare, Co-Author (Oxford, 2002), he directs his argument forcefully at those who deny the presence of these authors within the Shakespeare canon.

He then makes this attack explicit:

Some readers will have read my opening paragraph with approval, others with dismay or indignation. The latter group, those who categorically deny the presence of any other hand than Shakespeare’s in the canon of 38 plays, are in fact setting him on an illusory pedestal, as a genius who never needed assistance. (312)

Vickers doesn't, however, provide any references or examples of those who will view this with dismay.

My genuine question, then, is this: who are these people who deny co-authorship? I have a suspicion that Vickers is now offering something of a "straw man" argument, assuming a position of ignorance that he sets up in order to destroy. Of course there are local grievances, most recently that between Vickers and Gary Taylor over the attribution of sections of Macbeth to Middleton. Yet is there anybody out there in the academic community who honestly believes that Shakespeare wrote the whole of The Two Noble Kinsmen? Who denies Middleton's role in Timon of Athens? Who thinks Fletcher played no role in Henry VIII, or that Pericles is sole-authored? Not to mention, of course, that everybody accepts Shakespeare contributed to the collaborative Thomas More, and almost everybody recognises he collaborated on Edward III.

I'm not criticising Vickers's work here, because he's done more than anyone else to champion the cause of co-authorship. Yet this article, only a couple of years old, still sets Vickers up as the sole champion of Shakespeare as a collaborator, twenty years after the Oxford Shakespeare canonised the hands of Fletcher, Wilkins and Middleton in the plays. Despite what the 2007 article appears to suggest, Vickers is no longer fighting a one-man fight against the notion of collaboration, which an overwhelming majority of scholars accept unquestioningly; the debate now is about the specifics of collaboration. It is testament to the massive shift in opinions that, in the most recent dispute, Vickers is the one championing sole authorship of Macbeth against others who have found collaboration.

I don't dispute the correctness of Vickers's claims here, merely point out that there is no longer an ideological dispute over whether Shakespeare deigned to work with others, except in the loony fringes of authorship scholarship (eg the work of Eric Sams). When it comes to individual and highly-contested cases such as 1 Henry VI or even Titus, let's not confuse genuine innocence of authorship scholarship with wilful Bardolatry - it helps no-one. I spoke to people at a recent conference who were unaware of the work making the case for Peele's hand in Titus; these people are not attempting to actively preserve a sole-authored canon, they simply didn't know the specifics of recent arguments. The "others" of Vickers's remark who wilfully deny collaboration per se are, for the most part, no longer there to be shouted down.


July 15, 2010

Chapter One Rewrite

This summer, as well as creating a first draft of my fourth (and final) chapter on the place of the apocrypha in the 21st century Shakespeare canon, I'm taking a month at a time to go over my first three chapters and restructure/rewrite/re-research them in the light of where my thesis has taken me.

This means that I'm spending July revisiting Chapter One, which I completed a year ago. This began life as a chronological survey of the textual history of the apocrypha from the 1664 2nd Folio to Tucker Brooke's 1908 "Shakespeare Apocrypha", the volume which I'm arguing shaped - and continues to shape - conceptions of works attributed to Shakespeare as a dichotomy of authentic/not.

Now, covering 250 years of editorial history, even of the apocryphal plays, is a lot to do in a single chapter, and the more I read the more I'm conscious that this ground has been covered a lot. John Jowett most recently did it for the apocrypha in "Shakespeare Supplemented" (2007), while individual moments have been given a much greater level of detail than I have space for in dedicated articles, such as Edmund King's forthcoming piece on the Pope/Theobald dispute over Double Falsehood. Additionally, of course, there are plenty of general textual histories on Shakespeare under whose umbrella the apocrypha fall.

So, I've spent part of this week refining what I think this chapter is doing uniquely, and I've just decided that I need to restructure it. As a chronologically-ordered survey of apocryphal "moments", it's inadequate. However, there are pieces in the chapter which have not (to my knowledge) been discussed before in detail, such as Robert Walker's collected works of Shakespeare (which Jowett mentions briefly) and a contribution to The Adventurer in 1753. More important, however, are the narratives that recur throughout my chronological survey: a growing concern for Shakespeare's "reputation", the introduction of biography and chronology alongside the advent of Bardolatry, and the beginnings of attempts to group and categorise the apocrypha ahead of Brooke's edition.

What I'm now thinking, then, is that a thematic rather than chronological survey is the way forward. The different strands of burgeoning critical thought criss-cross throughout the plays' history, and I think it's more important to bring those out at the expense of a linear timeline.

Now, the chapter will begin and close with discussion of C.F. Tucker Brooke's Apocrypha- first establishing its importance, then examining the 250 years of mechanisms and decisions that inevitably led to its creation, before returning to a close reading of Brooke's material itself to understand its purposes and agenda.

The four strands that lead up to it are:

1) The 43 play canon that existed for sixty years between 1664-1724, thus embedding the notion of an extended and unstable canon in editorial thought.

2) The question of reputation that persists through Pope, The Adventurer, Capell, Steevens and Knight, and the role of editors and critics in "helping" Shakespeare maintain his reputation.

3) The advent of biography and chronology as key to an understanding of Shakespeare. Early references by Dryden, Rowe and Capell are developed more fully by Malone and the German romantics. This section, of course, ties in to the rise of Bardolatry.

4) The canonising and organisation of the apocrypha, begun by Malone's "Supplement" in 1790 and continued through editions of "Doubtful Plays" edited by Hazlitt, Tyrrell, Moltke etc.

By reading the paratexts and apparatus of the key texts in these four strands, the chapter argues that certain ideologies are at stake in the policing of canonic boundaries, and that the creation of an "apocryphal" category creates the necessary buffer zone for disputed plays that allows them to be housed and removed from canonic consideration, as evidenced by the lack of any apocrypha editions since Brooke.

I'm a lot happier with this shape for the chapter, so I'll be spending the rest of July knocking it into shape.



July 09, 2010

New Arden Covers

With apologies to Jonathan, the Arden Shakespeare still do the best looking covers of any individual Shakespeare series. Here's the next batch of goodies (not including this month's Winter's Tale).

CoriolanusThomas More

Coriolanus edited by Peter Holland                              Thomas More edited by John Jowett

The Merchant of VeniceRomeo and Juliet

The Merchant of Venice edited by John Drakakis        Romeo and Juliet edited by Rene Weis


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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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