Monday, October 24, 2016

Shakespeare Writes a New Play!

Or not.

The Guardian has an article this morning that talks about the new edition of The New Oxford Shakespeare (ed. Gary Taylor), which credits Marlowe with collaborating on the Henry VI plays and names Shakespeare as the author of Arden of Faversham.

I'm not much into authorship issues.  I think it's pretty clear to me that theater is wildly collaborative, but I wouldn't have thought Marlowe would write with Shakespeare at that point in their careers, when Marlowe was already popular, and Shakespeare was a beginner. 

As to Arden, which is a blast of a play to teach, I'm reminded of Don Foster's work claiming that "Elegy" as Shakespeare's based on computer analysis, and then deciding later that it wasn't.  Of course, everyone would love to find another work by Shakespeare. 

I don't think it's the first time Shakespeare's been suggested as the author of Arden.  The question is, how does it change things?

For folks who use The New Oxford to teach (and I don't think Shakespeare anthologies sell much outside of teaching requirements), then it will make it easy to include Arden in a Shakespeare course.  I don't know if that will happen much, though.  I think it's easy to choose, say, Titus as one of the tragedies to teach in a survey, especially if you're going to teach Hamlet later, or Othello, because it brings forward revenge tragedy as a genre and race, both of which make for fruitful discussion.  And there's lots to talk about re gender, violence, masculinities, social order, etc.  But I don't think I'd choose Arden to do the same work in a class.  I'm sure some folks will choose it, and make it work well for them.

If Oxford puts out a new edition of Arden as Shakespeare, that's interesting.  (It's already available for a reasonable price in their World's Classics series, along with A Woman Killed with Kindness and Other Domestic Plays.  And there's the Methuen edition, which is reasonably priced and useful.)

Other than that, how do these findings change what we write or teach about Shakespeare?  How do they change what we see on stage?

Maybe Arden will get some more stage time, which is good, because I think it would work really well on stage (I've never seen it).

I doubt it changes much for the Henry VI plays; they'll still get taught in Shakespeare courses, and in drama courses, and maybe they'll get added to the occasional Marlowe course.


  1. There are Marlowe courses? haha! Not at my school!

    I, too, think (and know from experience!) that theatre is very collaborative. But I also don't care to get entrenched in the authorship debate. If the play is in the First Folio, I call it "Shakespeare's" -- whatever that may mean -- and I don't go down the rabbit hole.

    Now, what might be worth considering is this: Who exactly benefits from these authorship queries? It isn't Shakespeare or Marlowe or anyone else who might have collaborated, because they're all dead. It's the living scholars who benefit, because it means they can rile people up, sell more books, sell more articles, and make a name for themselves in a wide and vast field. I really find that sort of "scholarship" to not be interesting or impressive. But someone who can give me a persuasive reading of an actual play? That impresses me, especially given the huge amount of research already out in the world.

    I guess my point is that I'm less interested in who wrote what and more interested in what the plays say. So this new "news" is getting a yawn and pass from me -- at least after this comment is posted. ;)

    1. I taught a Marlowe course, and it was loads of fun, and jam-packed with good stuff to read! (A senior seminar, as I recall). I don't think I could have easily fit any of the Henry VI plays in, and I don't think I'd miss them. (Faustus, Temburlaines, Ed II, Jew of Malta, there's lots, and "Hero and Leander" bonus!)

    2. We just don't have enough people in our regular classes to offer something like a Marlowe class. When I saw Dr. Faustus this summer, though, I wished that I could teach it! I actually do really love Marlowe. If my EM non-Shakespeare drama class makes in the spring, I'll probably teach two Marlowe plays. My guess is I'd tackle Tamburlaine, part 1, and Jew of Malta, even though I love Edward II so much. We'll see.

  2. PS - As for the plays that are in the third and fourth folios, but not the first or second, I don't really know what to think about those. Pericles is the only one that seems to be regularly anthologized as "Shakespeare."

  3. I share your (and Fie's) sentiments. I don't care about either preserving or destablizing our sense of "Shakespeare," because I don't have much to say about him apart from his plays. Milton, on the other hand, is a tremendously autobiographical writer and it's hard to read his early works, especially, without some understanding of his life. If someone could make a plausible claim for joint or alternate authorship of a work like Comus, that actually would change some readings of it. The same just isn't true for Shakespeare's plays.