The attribution of the First Folio can no longer be trustedby Barry R Clarke / May 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Earlier this month Jonathan Healey said there is no good reason Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays. Below Barry R Clarke offers a different view
In September 2009, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance presented an online petition known as The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt to William Leahy of Brunel University. Its aim was to urge academia to investigate the prevailing paradigm that William Shakspere of Stratford was the sole author of the works under his name. Those who advocate Shakspere’s exclusive claim to the work commonly rest their case on two main assertions:
(1) the First Folio (1623) collection of 36 plays, which only credits “Mr. William Shakespeare,” is a reliable document for attribution,
(2) there is no evidence that anyone else contributed to the plays
However, there are convincing facts that support the contrary position.
There were several plays published under Shakspere’s name in his lifetime, ones that were clearly not his. The 1608 quarto of A Yorkshire Tragedy declares it to have been “Written by William Shakspeare” but in the 1970s, on the basis of stylistic evidence, both David Lake and Macdonald P Jackson independently attributed it to Thomas Middleton. The 1619 quarto of The first part […] of the life of Sir John Oldcastle also has “Written by William Shakespeare” on the title page, but the diary kept by Philip Henslowe, the owner of the Fortune Theatre, clearly identifies “mr Monday mr Drayton & mr wilsson and haythway” as its writers. One cannot help but wonder then, what else didn’t Shakspere write?
Now one need not be a conspiracy theorist to show that points (1) and (2) cannot be upheld. In the first place, the First Folio publisher William Jaggard had a reputation for being a rather dubious operator. According to the English biographer Sidney Lee, his “fraudulent methods of work as an anthologist are capable of almost endless illustration.” In fact, there are several First Folio plays in which modern attribution specialists such as Gary Taylor, John Burrows, and Brian Vickers have identified other hands: for example, Thomas Nashe has been implicated in 1 Henry VI, Christopher Marlowe in 3 Henry VI, and Thomas Middleton in Macbeth. None of these writers are given due credit in the First Folio.
There is also evidence that appears to disassociate Shakspere from certain plays. A contemporary document, Gesta Grayorum [The…