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Chapter Three: Rescuing Shakespeare(s)

To know the author were some ease of grief. (Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy)

Problems in attribution and theory, and the (in)certainty of (not) knowing

This chapter, which appropriates as its structural metaphor the language of violent conflict often present in attribution debates, turns to the question of how Shakespeare is found within texts according to contemporary attribution studies. I set up a series of important conflicts: between the competing claims of different authorship investigators; between sceptical literary critics and advocates of statistical research; between the Bardolatry of "integrationism" and defenders of tradition; and between postmodern theorists of collaboration and the notion of  the Author itself. Following important articles by John Jowett, Gordon McMullan and Tom Merriam, I ask whether these "conflicting" positions need be mutually exclusive.

I interrogate the limits of authorship studies as applied to a fundamentally collaborative early modern theatrical environment, suggesting that the push towards certainty over attribution risks losing sight of the performance and print contexts in which authors operated, and arguing that the project of canonical determination risks oversimplifying the complexities of dramatic writing and production. I ask, especially in the case of the more lurid claims for Shakespeare, what exactly it is that researchers are looking for, and attempt to unpick the rhetoric from the statistics.

Finally, I turn to the productive use of attribution research and its potential for interacting usefully with the work of literary critics, with attention to recent "successes" in the field. By putting attribution into the context of its use for ongoing study, rather than as an end in itself, I argue that collaboration and compromise allows authorship studies to be productively integrated, without needing the authorial assignation to be the sole determining factor.

Key texts

The plays I study in this chapter are Thomas More and Locrine (for the limits and uncertainties of attribution research as related to historical context), Edmond Ironside and Thomas of Woodstock (for integrationism and the rhetoric of Shakespearean claims) and Arden of Faversham and Edward III for the productive integration of attribution studies with literary research.

Several volumes are key to the debates grappled with here. Brian Vickers's Shakespeare, Co-Author (2002) remains the most important study favouring the discernment of specific authors, while Jeffrey Masten's Textual Intercourse (1997) is influential in its poststructural approach to collaboration as endemic and socialised. Articles by John Jowett and Gordon McMullan offer important middle-ground perspectives, while the work of the Shakespeare Clinic has resulted in a series of important papers arguing for the place of statistical study. MacDonald Jackson's recent Shakespeare Quarterly essay on Arden of Faversham (2007), meanwhile, offers a prime example of the productive use of attribution research and literary criticism.

Other key positions include Martin Wiggins's 2008 short essay on the authorship of Arden; Eric Sams' and Michael Egan's cases for Shakespeare's authorship of Ironside, Edward III and Woodstock; David Kathmann's recent work on the plot of 7 Deadly Sins and its implications for the repertory ownership of Thomas More; the 1923 Arthur Pollard collection on Thomas More; and Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship edited by Hugh Craig and Arthur F. Kinney. The attention throughout is on the points of contention, and the gaps into which the apocryphal plays inevitably fall.