"All held Apocrypha, not worth survey" John Marston, Antonio's Revenge, IV.i.22.
The project: Collaborative Plays by Shakespeare and Others
My PhD is attached to the AHRC-funded Collaborative Plays by Shakespeare and Others project. The ultimate objective of this project is to produce a new edition of the plays that exist at the fringes of the Shakespeare canon, the 'Apocrypha'. These are primarily plays either attributed to Shakespeare within or shortly after his lifetime and subsequently discredited; or plays published anonymously or under another name in which later scholarship has found the possibility of Shakespeare's hand. The edition will act as a companion to the RSC Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by the same team of scholars.
The last collected edition of the Apocrypha was in 1908, edited by C.F. Tucker Brooke. While an important work, the scholarship is badly dated, with authorship attributions relying heavily on subjective criteria and bias. The new edition, therefore, will be supported by a full scholarly re-investigation of the apocryphal plays over the last 400 years, evaluating the evidence and claims made both for and against Shakespeare's involvement. The team will also engage with current thinking in authorship studies, utilising the latest methodologies to investigate the plays' authorship and provide solid scientific and literary evidence to either support or discredit the plays' claims.
Thesis abstract: The Shakespeare Apocrypha
At the start of the 21st century, the Shakespeare canon is in a state of transition. Historical understanding of Early Modern performance practice has moved scholarship towards a greater acceptance of collaboration and practical contingency in theatre writing, prioritising intertextuality, genre and company dynamics over individual authorship. At the same time, attribution studies are increasingly dominated by disintegration, and increasingly sophisticated stylistic/statistical tests are utilised to distinguish and separate the individual contributions to a given work.
The plays historically known as “The Shakespeare Apocrypha” are suspended between these two critical fields. The last collected edition of the plays is now over a century old, and many of them remain unedited and unperformed. The plays – including Thomas More, Edward III, Arden of Faversham, Mucedorus, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Thomas Lord Cromwell, The London Prodigal, A Yorkshire Tragedy and Locrine – are still defined primarily by their apocryphal status, by being emphatically not-Shakespeare. This status continues to stigmatise the plays, their worth evaluated (inevitably negatively) by comparison to the established canon.
The thesis reasserts the importance of the disputed plays in a Shakespearean context, both in performance and print. Following the leads of scholars such as Andrew Gurr, Roslyn Knutson and Martin Wiggins, the plays are resituated in their original repertories and their intertextual connections with the Shakespearean canon drawn out, creating an authorial paradigm that renders canon and apocrypha mutually interdependent in terms of company style and strategy. This is then translated to the circulation of “Shakespeare” in early print culture. Through the methodologies of what Leah Marcus usefully terms the “new Philology”, and scholars such as Stephen Orgel, Douglas A. Brooks and Sonia Massai, the thesis examines the ways in which the “Shakespeare” attribution was marketed and appropriated, suggesting the meanings carried out by the author-function beyond the identification of an individual.
In conjunction with this, the thesis uses the history of criticism of the apocryphal plays as a lens through which to interrogate critical attitudes to the questions of Shakespearean authorship and canonicity. The history of authorship studies is tied in with value judgements, cultural appropriations and changing conceptions of what an author is and means in both editorial practice and popular culture. Drawing on work by Michael Dobson, Graham Holderness, Jonathan Bate and Gary Taylor, this thesis argues that the apocryphal plays act as an anachronistic threat to the orthodox canon, and thus to the received conception of the “Bard” that shapes study.
Approaching the apocryphal plays from performance, textual, cultural and historical perspectives, the thesis suggests ways in which attribution studies may be usefully brought into conversation with studies based on repertory practice and collaboration. A model of early modern authorship that incorporates textual and performance practice is constructed that allows for individual authorship while rooting that authorship necessarily within collaborative environments. This is brought into conflict with current conceptions of canonicity, specifically the notion of a “complete” works, and the thesis argues for a newly flexible understanding of the Shakespeare canon freed from narrowly-defined authorial restrictions.