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Chapter One: Canonising the Apocrypha

Those wretched plays cannot be admitted as his. (Alexander Pope)

Print, canon, and the boundaries of "Shakespeare"
This chapter charts the development of the notion of a "Shakespeare Apocrypha" in print, culminating in C.F. Tucker-Brooke's 1908 edition of disputed plays that remains the standard volume.

This is both a publication and a cultural history, demonstrating the ways in which the apocryphal plays were subordinated, segmented and excluded as the necessary by-product of the processes that led to the consolidation of Shakespeare as a national poet and icon. These processes, I argue, are concerned with the limitation and definition of the canon for the purposes of appropriation.

The "apocrypha" becomes, therefore, a canonical "buffer zone", a space of contestation into which debates over authorship and authenticity can be diverted, protecting the larger cultural project of "Shakespeare".

Key texts

C.F. Tucker Brooke's The Shakespeare Apocrypha (1908) provides a start and end point for this chapter, as both the culmination of the two hundred year endeavour to find a canonical categorisation for the plays, and the place in which the language and hierarchy of the plays we still default to today was most explicitly consolidated.

In the seventeenth century, I am interested in the aborted Thomas Pavier collection of "Shakespeare" quartos, and in the second imprint of the third Shakespeare Folio, to which Philip Chetwind added seven "new" plays.

The collected Shakespeare volumes of the eighteenth century are of especial interest; especially those of Alexander Pope, Lewis Theobald, Robert Walker, Edward Capell and Edmond Malone. The question of Double Falshood is also important in this narrative.

Finally, in the nineteenth century the Romantic tradition has a major influence on the treatment of the apocrypha, especially in Germany. The attribution of Ludwig Tieck and August Schlegel receive attention; while, in Britain, both Samuel Coleridge and Charles Knight demonstrate a shift of emphasis. A series of editions of "Doubtful Plays" coincides with the late-century craze for disintegration; and finally, I return the context of Brooke's edition.