Shakespeare and the Authorship Question: Part 2 continued…

This blog: back to research academic, literary scholar, Renaissance literature expert, and computational stylist Professor Craig’s  chapter “Authorship” in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare to see more of what the erudite Shakespearean has to say about authorship in relation to Shakespeare.

In section I. Kinds of Authorship, of his chapter, Hugh Craig points out that “‘Authorship’ in relation to Shakespeare can mean a number of things,” and he asks a number of questions, the first of which is “whether the William Shakespeare who was christened in Stratford in April 1564, and whose death was recorded there in April 1616, in fact wrote the plays we group together as ‘Shakespeare.’ ” (Craig 2012, p.15).                     

Craig notes that the idea that William Shakespeare of Stratford could not have written “Shakespeare” arose in the 1800s and was first advanced by Delia Bacon who favoured [Francis]  Bacon, Viscount St Albans (1561-1626) as the real author of “Shakespeare”, and published her book on the subject in 1857: “She scorned the notion that a lowly-born provincial man who had not been to university could have the knowledge of the law and of politics which is demonstrated in the plays. She found parallels in ‘Shakespeare’ to  Bacon’s other writings, and a match between the amplitude of the work and the achievements of Bacon’s life” (Craig 2012, p. 16).

Following Delia Bacon’s published efforts, other writers jumped on the band-wagon. CharlieIt has been suggested on many websites that over eighty names have been put forward as contenders for the title of the “real Shakespeare.” Of course, there may well be more than eighty names, or less… hat 1hat 2 hat 4  hat 3 hat 2 … I haven’t done the bean counting …

CharlieHugh Craig names Thomas J. Looney as another supporter of an alternative candidate in the Shakespeare authorship debate. In 1920 Looney put forward the name of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). Like Delia Bacon, Looney was convinced that “the true author of ‘Shakespeare'” could only have been “an grad caparistocrat with a classical education,” and he found “parallels  between Oxford’s life experience and the events depicted in the plays, and Oxford’s activities as a poet….[Looney] suggested that the ‘Shakespeare’ plays usually dated after Oxford’s death were in fact written before” (Craig 2012, p. 16).              grad cap

macbethHugh Craig then lists several other writers who have put forward alternative candidates in the authorship debate: Like Looney who found for Edward de Vere, some of these writers  found parallels between their candidates’ life experiences and “Shakespeare” and saw links that connected events in their cultured and educated candidates’ lives with an “with an uncanny exactness” to those  “written about in ‘Shakespeare’s’ plays.” Other of these writers found a too close match between “Shakespeare’s” writings and that of their proposed  contender–and so on… and on… and

For MarloweIn 1955 Calvin Hoffman put forward Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) as the real author of “Shakespeare”:  “Hoffman put up a large prize star still unclaimed, to be awarded to the researcher who can prove conclusively that Marlowe is ‘Shakespeare'”  (Craig 2012, p. 16).  Charlie

In 1943 Alden Brooks put forward  Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607) as the real author; Roger Manners (1576-1612) was put forward by some other writers who bought into the debate; in 2005 Brenda James and William Rubenstein nominated Sit Henry Neville (1564-1615) as the real author; John Hudson “has recently proposed  that Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) was in fact the author”; and in 2006 Robin P. Williams and  Fred Faulkes “put forward Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, née Mary Sidney (1561-1621) as the true author of ‘Shakespeare'” (Craig 2012, p.p. 16-17).

It would appear that it is the exceptional nature of the achievement that the poems and plays represent, rather than anything in the authorship facts themselves, which fuels the idea that someone other than the obvious and well-attested candidate wrote ‘Shakespeare’.  To some, it would seem, the towering edifice of the works requires a matching authorship romance. By necessity this narrative involves an extraordinary conspiracy, and requires its proponents to dismiss powerful external evidence and to contradict predecessors who were equally positive about some other candidate. It generally Charliedepends on a series of dubious coincidences and clues allegedly hidden within the poems and plays. The evidence produced is frequently of less interest than the motives of the advocates, such as the wish to deny the achievement represented by the Shakespeare canon to a commoner without a university education, and the assumptions underlying many of the arguments, like the conviction that literary work must always reflect the life of the writer.  (Craig 2012, p. 18)

Francis Bacon  Christopher Marlowe Sir edward Dyer

The contenders put forward by the proposers listed by Craig in his chapter: Above, left to right: Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans (1561-1626); Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604); Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593); Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607). Below, left to right: Roger Manners (1576-1612); Henry Neville (1564-1615); Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645); Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, née Mary Sidney (1561-1621)

Roger Manners Sir Henry Neville Aemilia Lanyer Maryy Herbert nee Sidney

The main bulwark against scepticism about the Stratford Shakespeare’s responsibility for the plays and poems we know as ‘Shakespeare’ is the 1623 Folio.  A Folio volume is an imposing physical object, and was associated with works of reference and authority. (Craig 2012, p.17)

The 1623 Folio presents a wealth of evidence that clearly indicates that the serious shakespeareShakespeare who wrote the plays and poems was indeed William Shakespeare, poet and playwright, from Stratford-upon-Avon (see Craig 2012, p. 17).

The title of the 1623 example is Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. The dedication, the preface, and five commendatory poems mention Shakespeare as author by name. It was a notable public assertion of Shakespeare’s authorship, which would seem to leave little reason to doubt that the thirty six plays included were the work of the same William Shakespeare who had been the editors’ fellow-shareholder in the King’s Men theatre company, and who had been the friend and rival of the poet and playwright Ben Jonson, who signed two of the commendatory poems. In addition, the name William Shakespeare is attached to many early printed versions of Shakespeare works. Venus and Adonis (1593) and the Rape of Lucrece (1594) were each published with a dedication signed ‘William Shakespeare’. Quarto editions of the plays from 1598 frequently have Shakespeare’s name on the title page. (Craig 2012, p. 17)


Professor Craig’s “second set of questions” are “focused more on ‘authorship’ than on Shakespeare”: “what does authorship mean in general, and what does it mean at any particular time and in any particular literary system?” (Craig 2012, p.15).

A range of views is current, from a traditional view that authorship is essentially the domain of an individual working independently to more recent conceptions that authorship is in its nature collaborative, driven more by social, technological , and institutional networks, and closely constrained by the mentalité of the era and by language itself. Then we need to consider local and historical factors. Plays, like film scripts, need a host of material resources and creative inputs before they can be realized in performance: in the theatre, the written text is just one input among many. (Craig 2012, p.15)

gavel 1 gavel 2  These days, we are in many respects a litigious world. Today, publishing houses and theatre companies  are subject to ethics and a strict legal code. If editors, publishers, or producers who are considering a writer’s work for publication or production wish anything to be added to or changed or deleted in that text, then they cannot change it themselves rather must ask of or suggest to the writer concerned that she or he should alter or consider changing the work in the interests of improving the work, or in order to get the work published. This seemed to be the case even back  in the early-mid 1900s, when the British writer Tony Parker was seeking to have his radio plays produced and aired by the BBC in England (see my earlier blog, “Tony Parker and his Plays,” posted 14 January, 2015).

In his chapter paper, Professor Craig advises that, “In Shakespeare’s time the playbook once bought by the theatre  company was theirs to use, change, or dispose of, as they saw fit,” and he asks if whether, “Given these conditions, should Shakespeare be regarded as an ‘author’ at all? Plays were, of course, printed and sold as books as well as performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime. How important was this alternative form of publication to Shakespeare? Should we think of him as writing plays for readers as well as playgoers?”  (Craig 2012, p.15).

Hugh Craig looks these issues in his chapter’s section three–III. What Kind of an Author was Shakespeare? :   “The idea of an author is necessarily many-layered. Thinking about the origins of literary works is fundamental to any theory of literature” (Craig 2012, p.18).

The classicizing Renaissance promoted the notion of the author as an exceptional individual, creating works as much for posterity as for an audience of their own time…. The Enlightenment sought to link a stable, well-defined author with a well-established and precisely defined oeuvre in print. The Romantic era added notions of aberrant, isolated, tortured, and gifted individuality.  The mass print culture of the nineteenth century bound the idea of an author to the ultimate sole copyright and responsibility for a commercial object, the printed book. In the post-structuralist era beginning in the 1960s this composite and perhaps internally fractured notion that literary production was entirely dominated by the individual creator was challenged. A literary system based on a separate, unique, perceiving, and creating subject was duly replaced with a doctrine according to which social, historical, and institutional forces were paramount. (Craig 2012, p.18)

The changed idea of an author had special force for scholars working in the early modern period, Shakespeare’s period, and in the drama, Shakespeare’s main medium.  Proponents argued that authorship in the modern sense did not come into being until literary work was established as personal property and incurred personal liability, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Thus for Shakespeare in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries a far less defined and much more collaborative idea of literary creation prevailed. In drama individual authorship was especially discounted. Putting on a play is inevitably a collective enterprise. In the London theatre of Shakespeare’s day, it was argued, the performance came first, and any printed publication a distant second…..  (Craig 2012, p.p. 18-19)

“This,” says Craig, “would make Shakespeare not an author in the usual modern sense but one of a collective, providing a written ‘playbook’, which was one input among many others and which might then itself be trimmed or altered into a prompt book, or abandoned altogether for comic improvisation, for instance” (Craig 2012, p.p. 18-19).

The ideas of collaborative production and the primacy of performance have consequences for the way Shakespeare’s text is regarded. (Craig 2012, p. 19)

Hugh Craig turns “from this picture of a …collaborative author, to what contemporaries said about Shakespeare, and the views about authorship we can glean from his own work” (Craig 2012, p.19).

There are some important surviving documents. In 1598, the clergyman Francis Meres published a collection of quotations and personal observations called Palladis Tamia. Shakespeare is mentioned many times in the section titled ‘A comparative discourse of our English poets, with the Greek, Latin, and Italian poets.In these pages Shakespeare is certainly an author in the full sense, one of the eight moderns mentioned as refining the English language as Homer and his successors enriched Greek, and Vergil and others Latin…. Plautus and Seneca excel in Latin for comedy and tragedy; in the same way Shakespeare is ‘the most excellent’ in the two genres in English, and Meres lists six Shakespeare comedies and six tragedies as evidence. There is no doubt that Meres … places Shakespeare as an individual writer as high as any of his contemporaries, and attributes Shakespeare’s prestige as much to his plays as to his poems. (Craig 2012, p.p.19-20)

The views Shakespeare held about his own work, says Professor Craig, are evidenced in his poems and plays:

In the Sonnets Shakespeare himself invokes the classical idea of an author whose works will live on beyond his own lifetime. For us the obvious vehicle for this persistence would be the printed book, but Shakespeare does not make this connection between immortality and publication in print.  Sonnet 17,  which anticipates a readership ‘in time to come’, talks of the physical form in which the lines will survive as ‘papers, yellowed with their age’. This sounds like a manuscript rather than a printed book. Sonnets 77 and 122 refer to ‘table-books’, that is, blank manuscript books. In the plays Shakespeare characters rarely refer to print, and when they do the references are generally disparaging, connecting print with cheap popular ballads (The Winter’s Tale 4.4.258-9) or mechanically reproduced love  letters (The Merry Wives of Windsor 2.1.71-6). In Shakespeare’s dialogue the book is mostly something to write in with a pen, or a metaphorical Book of Life. (Craig 2012, p.20)          

quill  Craig says that “The idea that Shakespeare took no interest in the printing of his plays” was held until recently, and he notes that Lukas Erne has successfully argued against this view:

[Erne] shows  that ten of what seems to be the first twelve plays Shakespeare wrote for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were in print by 1602, following what looks like a calculated publication strategy. This revision to the traditional account is now widely accepted. One must also reckon with the dearth of later Shakespeare plays that were published in his lifetime, however.  Of the sixteen Folio plays usually dated to 1600 or after, only three, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and King Lear, had been printed when Shakespeare died in 1616. Many of the plays that we think of as central to Shakespeare’s achievement, like Twelfth NightMacbeth, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, were available to Shakespeare’s contemporaries only in performance. There is no direct evidence to suggest that Shakespeare concerned himself, as Jonson and Middleton did, with the ways his plays appeared in print, or indeed whether they appeared in print at all. While, as Erne points out, most of the plays Shakespeare wrote in the 1590s were printed, this was sometimes in forms so haphazard and garbled that he cannot possibly have been involved in supervising their passage through the press. Eighteen plays appear in first in the 1623 Folio, and so would  very likely have been entirely unknown today but for Heminges and Condell’s editorial labours. The Sonnets themselves were printed in 1609, but the consensus view is that this publication was not authorized by Shakespeare. (Craig 2012, p.p. 20-21)

It is possible, says Hugh Craig, that in Shakespeare’s day, theatrical performance “may well have been such an intense and all-consuming mode of presentation, and so gratifying in terms of audience response and commercial reward, that it satisfied Shakespeare’s appetite for recognition, where others like Ben Jonson looked to readers of his printed works, in the present, and into a long and clearly imagined posterity” (Craig 2012. p. 21).

Shakespeare is thus clearly not an author in the modern sense of someone who vests their artistic identity in a set of printed works, and maintains strict artistic and commercial control over them in everything from proofreading to contract negotiations. On the other hand , the collaborative Shakespeare in vogue in the 1980s and 1990s does not fit the facts very well either. This model made ‘Shakespeare’ merely a cipher under which to collect a certain body of work, and regarded the man himself as insignificant as a creator of meaning.

What is meant by Shakespeare as an author has of course been revised and reformulated since the era when he was a contemporary writer of plays and poems with an evolving career. Whatever the state of affairs during his active participation with the London theatrical world, from the time Shakespeare retired to Stratford, around 1612-13, the survival of his dramatic work necessarily depended more and more on the written form. Actors’ memories and theatrical traditions no doubt provided some continuity beyond what was written down in playbooks and  printed plays, but these informal connections suffered a major disruption with the closure of the theatres in 1642 and the dispersal of theatre companies that followed. (Craig 2012, p. 21)

more shakespear funnies 2 Over time, much valuable evidence about Shakespeare as an author has been lost in successive editions and reprints of his works.

The outlines of ‘Shakespeare’ were reasonably clearly visible in the First Folio of 1623. Its editors were close friends and colleagues and are still our best witnesses to Shakespeare’s authorship, in the sense of what he was and was not responsible for in the drama of the time, and the literary system he himself knew and his role in it as seen by his contemporaries. Successive editions in many ways blurred these outlines, and editors and readers showed less interest in establishing the boundaries. (Craig 2012, p. 21) 

manuscript Craig gives further insight into ways in which evidence about Shakespeare as an author has been lost or confused:

Charles 1 read Shakespeare …but in the less careful Second Folio of 1632. London theatres reopened in 1660, and Shakespeare plays were a mainstay of productions, but the current  Shakespeare was the Third Folio, whose second impression (1664) added six plays, none of them as we now think by Shakespeare, and these remained in the Fourth Folio of 1685. The Sonnets were read in the Ben Jonson edition of 1640, which changed many of the pronouns of the 1609 edition to make the love object resolutely female. Adaptations of the plays, adding characters and songs, and even a happy ending to King Lear, were common…. Alexander Pope’s edition, published from 1725, marks the outer limits of fluidity and plasticity in Shakespeare’s texts. Understanding the texts he inherited to be thoroughly corrupt, and trusting in his intuitions about which sections were Shakespeare’s and which were not, he freely deleted and modified, and put sections he felt must be interpolations by others into footnotes.

Pope’s edition was controversial and a countervailing movement in favour of the ‘restoration’ of Shakespeare guided subsequent eighteenth-century editions, culminating in [Edmund] Malone’s of 1790.  [Margeta] de Grazia’s view [1991] that Malone ushered in a new era of Shakespeare authorship revolving around a fixed text and a single clearly defined originating consciousness, [ [1] ] …. highlights some of the paradoxes of Malone’s endeavour to create a definitive Shakespeare out of shifting inherently unstable texts and records.  It is also possible that Malone’s approach  restored some of the overall shape and textual stability which seemed desirable to the Folio editors. (Craig 2012, p. p. 21-22)

Below, from left to right: Charles 1 read the Second Folio edition (1632) that was less careful than the First Folio edition (1623) ; Ben Jonson meddled with Shakespeare’s pronouns to make the love object “resolutely female” ; Alexander Pope took his intuitive editing pen to Shakespeare;  Edmund Malone  “endeavoured to create a definitive Shakespeare out of shifting inherently unstable texts and records.”

Charles 1 Ben Jonson Alexander Pope Edmund Malone

Even with, or perhaps despite of, the loss or destruction or alterations of Shakespeare’s texts, there is still a substantial body of work that can help in evidencing Shakespeare’s authorship:

 ‘Shakespeare’ is a very large collection of plays by the standards of his contemporaries, as well as respectably large collection of non-dramatic verse. There is good reason to believe that Shakespeare was involved in the writing of forty-four plays. He may have been occasionally exceeded in sheer output by his peers … but Shakespeare’s is the largest surviving canon…. Shakespeare was indeed exceptionally productive; and an unusual proportion of his dramatic work survives, because his plays were frequently printed in quarto editions before 1600, and it happened that his later plays were collected and printed after his death in the First Folio. (Craig 2012, p. 23)

Hugh Craig also points out that:

Shakespeare as an author can also be defined purely by reference to his language. At the simplest level  this is a network of preferences in vocabulary and grammatical constructions. Then there are characteristic expressions, figures of speech, and images. Shakespeare shared a common language with his contemporaries … but within this, like any writer, indeed like any user of language, he made choices, s much unconsciously as consciously. We know from contemporary references that audiences recognized and discussed aspects of these individual styles. Examples are Marlowe’s ‘mighty line’,  cited in Jonson’s poem to Shakespeare in the Folio, Jonson’s own fidelity to real-life speech, alluded to scornfully in a satirical play of the period, and Shakespeare’s seductive eloquence, lauded in Mere’s Palladis Tamia….  (Craig 2012, p. 22)

quill penIn the first section of his work Craig identifies a third set of concerns, “a third area of authorship enquiry” that “relates to the Shakespeare canon,” and he asks: “Which of the works sometimes attributed to Shakespeare are apocryphal? Which plays are in fact collaborations? Which sections of plays outside the canon were in fact written by Shakespeare?  How many works can be attributed to Shakespeare as sole author?” (Craig 2012. p.p. 15-16).

“Work in this area,” writes Hugh Craig, “began in the eighteenth century and continues apace.”: “In many respects  attribution studies proceed independently of the debate about who wrote ‘Shakespeare'” (Craig 2012, p.p. 16-17).

The main tool for the attribution of a disputed passage to Shakespeare is comparison with well-accepted Shakespeare works, and the same procedures would operate whoever is assumed to be actually holding the pen. But in one case there is a convergence. A manuscript ‘playbook’ of the play Sir Thomas Moore survives. A series of essays in a landmark volume from the 1920s edited by Alfred W. Pollard distinguished various hands at work in the manuscript. One of them, known as ‘Hand D’, resembles Shakespeare’s signature, which is the only known handwriting of his that survives. On a stylistic side, strong evidence from spelling and shared words and phrases links the linguistic content of this part of the play to Shakespeare. If these two bodies of evidence can be sustained, then the Hand D passages provide for once a link between ‘Shakespeare’ texts and William Shakespeare of Stratford. (Craig 2012. p. 17) 

There is, then, a consistent and solidly substantiated network of evidence that connects ‘Shakespeare ‘ to the actor, theatre shareholder and property-owner William Shakespeare. (Craig 2012, p.p. 17-18)

This discussion  to be continued next blog …

[1] At an earlier place in his chapter, Hugh Craig discusses Edmund Malone’s  involvement:

Magreta de Grazia has argued persuasively that it was Edmund Malone’s Shakespeare edition of 1790 that was decisive in founding nineteenth- and twentieth-century Shakespeare studies, with its quests for authentic works and texts  and for a biography based on reliable documents. Malone’s edition also constructed for the first time a stable textual Shakespeare, which could be understood by way of a thinking, feeling author revealing himself to readers in the Sonnets. While earlier commentators celebrated Malone’s endeavour to produce a definitive text on consistent principles, de Grazia argues that Malone’s enterprise was inevitably compromised by the fact that Shakespeare’s texts were in the origins ‘unfixed and unstable’ in everything from spelling to the text of documents introduced in the course of the action. To resolve the illogicality Malone had to construct an imagined exactly finished Shakespearean original manuscript, and an ‘autonomous and entitled’ creator. This he did through his apparatus, with a chronology allowing the works to be seen in terms of development, through interconnecting the feelings and observations expressed by the speaker of the Sonnets with the dramatic works, and through the ‘authentic’ biographical materials offered. De Grazia says that the edition’s apparatus hid from subsequent generations the reality of the ‘erratic fecundity’ and ‘intractable deviations’ in the Shakespeare text. (Craig 2012, p. 19)   

Works cited

Craig, Hugh. “Authorship.” In The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. p.p. 15-30. Print.



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