The Complete Works of William Shakespeare et al.

I don’t think many of us here hold to the strictly orthodox view that Shakespeare worked alone. I have no problem believing that the plays were a collaborative effort in many cases.  Looks like somebody’s about to make this official, by crediting Christoper Marlowe as co-author of the Henry VI plays:

The Elizabethan tragedian’s name will appear next to the Bard’s on the title pages of Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three when they’re published under the New Oxford Shakespeare by Oxford University Press this month.

Is it me or is this a reallllly slippery slope?  Wasn’t collaboration the name of the game back then?  Wouldn’t we logically reduce to the conclusion that all of the plays (and not just Shakespeare’s) have multiple authors?  Isn’t equally likely that Marlowe himself had co-authors on his own work?  Or do we think that this is just an attack on Shakespeare personally?

Also, why is it always Gary Taylor’s name that’s associated with this stuff?  Some of you may remember that he’s also the primary driving force in deciding that Double Falsehood is really Shakespeare’s long lost play Cardenio.

Those seem like opposite ends of the spectrum.  Do we want to go out of our way to find works to which we can attach Shakespeare’s name, or to add other people’s names next to Shakespeare’s?

One thought on “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare et al.

  1. I have actually been studying the double authorship theories. I think Gary Taylor gives too much credit to some unsophisticated statistical analyses and not enough credit to some of the problems with textual transmission in Shakespeare's day (from author to scribe to compositor). There is just not enough information, in my opinion, to be able to characterize any particular playwright's word usage (the kind that the statistician's have used), and too many variables in writing the combination of poetry and prose (like we see in the plays of Shakespeare's day) as opposed to prose (which has been more accurately analyzed by statisticians). An excellent statistical study of the Federalist Papers has been quoted to show that word use can distinguish one author from another. But the authors of that study specified criteria that cannot be met in distinguishing Shakespeare's work from those of his contemporaries (for many reasons, including those I mentioned above).
    Other editors have pointed out many inconsistencies with double-authorship attributions (lack of correlation between supposed incontrovertible tests and stylistic characteristics typical for one or another author).
    This is not to say that it is not possible that Shakespeare collaborated with other authors, nor that all of the plays in the First Folio were written only by him, but I think there is very little more than speculation to offer, against which we have the statement of the Folio and, in some cases, many previous quartos, that Shakespeare was the sole author. Although it may not be difficult to come up with arguments to explain why Shakespeare might have had one or more "silent" co-authors, such arguments still remain no more than speculation.
    I think these statements of dual authorship are the modern equivalent of the 19th century approach to editing of Shakespeare's texts, when passages that were deemed "aesthetically inferior" were changed according to the editor's taste, on the assumption that they were "corrupt." The dual authorship theories, however, are fueled by a failure to appreciate the weakness of the statistical arguments on which they are based.

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