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Shakespeare, Co-Author: A Historical Study of Five Collaborative Plays (2002)

by Brian Vickers

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16None997,137 (5)1
No issue in Shakespeare studies is more important than determining what he wrote. For over two centuries scholars have discussed the evidence that Shakespeare worked with co-authors on several plays, and have used a variety of methods to differentiate their shares from his. In thiswide-ranging study, Brian Vickers takes up and extends these discussions, presenting compelling evidence that Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus together with George Peele, Timon of Athens with Thomas Middleton, Pericles with George Wilkins, and Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen with JohnFletcher.In Part One Vickers reviews the standard processes of co-authorship as they can be reconstructed from documents connected with the Elizabethan stage, and shows that every major, and most minor dramatists in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline theatres collaborated in getting plays written andstaged. This is combined with a survey of the types of methodology used since the early nineteenth century to identify co-authorship, and a critical evaluation of some 'stylometric' techniques.Part Two is devoted to detailed analyses of the five collaborative plays, discussing every significant case made for and against Shakespeare's co-authorship. Synthesising two centuries of discussion, Vickers reveals a solidly based scholarly tradition, building on and extending previous work,identifying the co-authors' contributions in increasing detail. The range and quantity of close verbal analysis brought together in Shakespeare, Co-Author present a compelling case to counter those 'conservators' of Shakespeare who maintain that he is the sole author of his plays.… (more)

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Great Source for “Shakespeare” Collaboration Scholars
Brian Vickers. Shakespeare, Co-Author: A Historical Study of Five Collaborative Plays. 558pp, hardback. $78. ISBN: 978-0-199269167. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; 2002.
*****
I read the first chapter of this book closely before stopping the “Shakespeare” project to write these reviews. It was dense with useful information. Since my study is about ghostwriting and collaboration, this is obviously one of the best sources for me to learn regarding previous studies on this subject. Sadly, one of the main reasons I have used Vickers a good deal already in my own study is that he repeats mistakes that have been echoing across “Shakespeare” attribution studies for centuries, preventing progress in this field. For example, he cites the number of plays written across this period, but the source he cites does not match the exact number he offers, and the lack of precision is not specified. I learned a lot as I investigated the source of this glitch about how critics echo such information. It was also curious to read how Vickers summarized a critic from this period as “derivative” as this pushed me to test details in the criticism referred to, thus discovering a pattern of attribution that was not apparent before Vickers’ glitches alerted me to something being odd about Meres unusually satirical derivations. Vickers explanation of the types of theater versus authorial plots from this period also helped me understand the writing process these ghostwriters went through, thus allowing me to explain my own re-attributions in these specialized terms. As I searched for Vickers’ name just now in my study, I came across another book of Vickers that I also analyzed, Shakespeare, “A Lover’s Complaint” and John Davies of Hereford; I explain how a similarity of these texts does not mean Shakespeare wrote both of them, but rather the proper authorial signature holder my study uncovers by comparing 134 texts against each other linguistically. In contrast, Vickers just looks at these two texts and assumes that one of them, “Lover’s” was actually written by Shakespeare; I contention is that as some critics have suggested before, Shakespeare was a manager and not an author, so finding similarity between a “Shakespeare” attributed work and any other text identifies the ghostwriter responsible for both rather than proves “Shakespeare” was capable of writing and wrote both of these works. One of the first rejections I received regarding my “Shakespeare” re-attribution project was from an editor who insisted that I needed more citations of past scholarship in my essay. I tried to explain that the first essay in the set that I submitted to her periodical was on my unique methodology, which was based on reviewing thousands of previous failed attempts rather than any one of them closely as no past scholar has identified the responsible authors as I am doing. I further tried to explain that I would have to write a negative review on each of the sources I cite and explore to prove why my findings contradict pretty much all previous findings. She did not respond to these objections, but as I was fuming about this, I did insert a few of these explanations for what led to past mistakes in the first essay, and I am reading these studies extremely closely now to really understand the sources for these mistakes. Clearly this is necessary because proving one’s case in attribution is not only a matter of showing the mathematic answer, but rather also explaining philosophically why everybody else is wrong. While it has been very frustrating to nitpick with all these great scholarly projects, it has also been a lot of fun to find mistakes in them.
Here is the summary from Oxford: “No issue in Shakespeare studies is more important than determining what he wrote.” I would argue it is still more important to question if he wrote… “For over two centuries scholars have discussed the evidence that Shakespeare worked with co-authors on several plays, and have used a variety of methods to differentiate their contributions from his.” The assumption that “Shakespeare”-signed texts and those attributed to him in the 1623 Folio are actually by a single author called “Shakespeare” have led to most of this confusion, so viewing some of these as co-written is a great step towards solving this mystery.
“In this wide-ranging study the author takes up and extends these discussions, presenting compelling evidence that Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus together with George Peele, Timon of Athens with Thomas Middleton, Pericles with George Wilkins, and Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen with John Fletcher.” All of this is wrong, but in a revealing manner. The latter two texts are co-written by Fletcher, but he wrote them together with Munday rather than with Shakespeare; the presence of collaborative signatures in this study confirms my own findings that these two plays are particularly collaborative. Meanwhile, Titus was written primarily only be Munday; Peele used at least two ghostwriters, also including Sidney, to compose his published works; hiring ghostwriters was and continues to be a great path towards social mobility or government-office acquisition. Timon (Middleton used primarily Drayton for his ghostwriting, but did use Munday as well at least once, so if the Munday text had been compared in this study, this would explain this mis-attribution) and Pericles (the one Wilkins play I tested, Enforced Marriage, was ghostwritten by Drayton, but given the rest of this pattern, he must have used Munday as well) are also Munday’s.
But to return to the summary: “Part one of the book reviews the standard processes of co-authorship as they can be reconstructed from documents connected with the Elizabethan stage, and shows that all major, and most minor, dramatists in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline theatres, collaborated in getting plays written and staged.” The citations across this study of these central documents are very helpful for my own research, as I knowing what these are allows me to dig them up for closer analysis. “This is combined with a survey of the types of methodology used since the early nineteenth century to identify co-authorship, and a critical evaluation of some ‘stylometric’ techniques.” The problem I found is that the strategies from the nineteenth century continue to dominate the field: back in those days it was extremely difficult to compare massive volumes of text mathematically, so scholars only tested the text in question against samples from alternative authors, leading them to draw mis-attributions even if there was some truth to the patterns they were spotting. On the other hand, modern computational linguists or “stylometric” technicians are failing to disclose their raw data as they design convoluted and inaccurate (by their own admission) tests to confirm current attributions rather than to reveal the truth in the numbers; in response to my request to check my findings one of these computer scientists sent back clearly biased and manipulated findings that showed no similarity between Haywood’s or Richardson’s novels as well as between most of the texts currently attributed to “Defoe”; his refusal to show the raw data that led to these strange findings explained the corruptions in this field that have stalled attribution science despite the availability of free tools that make it efficient and precise.
“Part two gives detailed analyses of the five collaborative plays, discussing every significant case made for and against Shakespeare’s co-authorship.” Reading this closely will be extremely helpful in helping to understand the causes of the misattributions beyond what the numbers in my own study explain. “Synthesizing two centuries of discussion, the author reveals a scholarly tradition, builds on and extends previous work, and identifies the co-authors’ contributions in increasing detail. The range and quantity of close verbal analysis brought together in this book present a case to counter those ‘conservators’ of Shakespeare who maintain that he is the sole author of his plays.” This is a required step in the direction of going still further and admitting that he was not an author among those playwriters who wrote these plays.
Finding fault with studies such as Novak’s biography of “Defoe” is extremely painful as Novak introduces events or attributions he is imagining without any support. On the other hand, spotting glitches in Vickers’ conclusions is very useful because he almost always explains how he arrived at the mis-direction: and this journey tends to be rich in fruit to prove the accurate re-attribution the numbers and the original raw primary sources support. Those who enjoy reading literary mysteries, should purchase this book to explore its insightful explanations. All studies of “Shakespeare” attributions should be more available in libraries than they are now, as I had barely come across any questions regarding “Shakespeare’s” or “Defoe’s” authorship before I started digging into these problems.
 
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No issue in Shakespeare studies is more important than determining what he wrote. For over two centuries scholars have discussed the evidence that Shakespeare worked with co-authors on several plays, and have used a variety of methods to differentiate their shares from his. In thiswide-ranging study, Brian Vickers takes up and extends these discussions, presenting compelling evidence that Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus together with George Peele, Timon of Athens with Thomas Middleton, Pericles with George Wilkins, and Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen with JohnFletcher.In Part One Vickers reviews the standard processes of co-authorship as they can be reconstructed from documents connected with the Elizabethan stage, and shows that every major, and most minor dramatists in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline theatres collaborated in getting plays written andstaged. This is combined with a survey of the types of methodology used since the early nineteenth century to identify co-authorship, and a critical evaluation of some 'stylometric' techniques.Part Two is devoted to detailed analyses of the five collaborative plays, discussing every significant case made for and against Shakespeare's co-authorship. Synthesising two centuries of discussion, Vickers reveals a solidly based scholarly tradition, building on and extending previous work,identifying the co-authors' contributions in increasing detail. The range and quantity of close verbal analysis brought together in Shakespeare, Co-Author present a compelling case to counter those 'conservators' of Shakespeare who maintain that he is the sole author of his plays.

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