The Shakespeare Apocrypha is the name given to a group of plays that have sometimes been attributed to William Shakespeare, but whose attribution is questionable for various reasons. This is separate from the debate on Shakespearean authorship, which addresses the authorship of the works traditionally attributed to Shakespeare.
In his own lifetime, Shakespeare saw only about half of his plays enter print. Some individual plays were published in quarto
, a small, cheap format (the prefacatory matter in the First Folio itself warns against the earlier texts, which are termed "stol'n and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by frauds and stealths of injurious impostors"). In 1623
, seven years after Shakespeare's death, his fellow actors John Heminges
and Henry Condell
put together a collection of his complete plays. Heminges and Condell were in a position to compile Shakespeare's complete plays, because they, like Shakespeare, worked for the King's Men
, the London theatre company that produced all of Shakespeare's plays (in Elizabethan England
, plays belonged to the company that performed them, not the dramatist who had written them).
It ought to be simple, therefore, to say what Shakespeare wrote, and what he did not: the plays that were included in the First Folio must be by Shakespeare, and those that were excluded must be by someone else. After all, Heminges and Condell were in a better position to know what Shakespeare wrote than subsequent scholars or secondhand sources.
However, there are a number of complications that have created the concept of the Shakespeare Apocrypha. The Apocrypha can be categorized under the following headings.
Plays attributed to Shakespeare during the 17th century, but not included in the First Folio
There were several plays published in quarto during the seventeenth century which bear Shakespeare's name on the title page (or the intitials 'W.S.'), but did not appear in the First Folio. Some of these plays (such as Pericles) are believed by most lovers of Shakespeare to have been written by him (at least in part). Others, such as Thomas Lord Cromwell are so atypically written that it is difficult to believe they really are by Shakespeare. (Tucker-Brooke, pp. ix-xi, lists forty-two plays conceivably attributed to Shakespeare, many in his own lifetime, but dismisses the majority on their face, leaving only most of those listed below, with some additions.)
There are various conceivable explanations as to why these plays were excluded from the First Folio by Heminges and Condell.
- The title page attributions are simply lies made by fraudulent printers trading on Shakespeare's reputation.
- These plays are collaborative, not by Shakespeare alone (yet it must be remembered that Henry VIII, Henry VI, part 1 and Timon of Athens were not excluded, even though modern stylistic analysis suggests that they are collaborations).
- Shakespeare may have had an editorial role in the plays' creation, rather than actually writing them; alternatively they may simply be based on a plot outline by Shakespeare
- They were written for different companies than the King's Men, perhaps from early in Shakespeare's career, and thus were inaccessible to Heminges and Condell when they compiled the First Folio.
No one of these explanations is the right one for the entire group; each play needs to be looked at on an individual basis.
- The Birth of Merlin was published in 1662 as the work of Shakespeare and William Rowley. This attribution is demonstrably fraudulent, or mistaken, as there is unambiguous evidence that the play was written in 1622, six years after Shakespeare's death. It is unlikely that Shakespeare and Rowley would have written together, as they were both chief dramatist for rival playing companies. The play has been called "funny, colorful, and fast-paced but critical consensus follows Henry Tyrrel's conclusion that the play "does not contain it even one single trace of the genius of the bard of Avon, supplemented by C. F. Tucker-Brooke's suggestion that Rowley was consciously imitating Shakespeare's style.
- Locrine was published in 1595 as "Newly set forth, overseen and corrected by W.S." The play's stiff, formal verse is hardly Shakespearian, but it is conceivable that Shakespeare might have been in charge of tidying up an old play. It is also possible that the man behind the W.S. was Wentworth Smith, an obscure dramatist with the same initials.
- The London Prodigal was printed in 1605 under Shakespeare's name. As it is a King's Men play, Shakespeare may have had a minor role in its creation, but according to Tucker Brooke, "Shakespeare's catholicity and psychological insight are conspicuously absent. Fleay hypothesized that Shakespeare wrote a rough outline or plot and left another playwright to the actual writing.
- Pericles, Prince of Tyre was published under Shakespeare's name. Its uneven writing suggests that the first two acts are by another playwright. In 1868, Nicolaus Delius proposed George Wilkins as this unknown collaborator; a century later, F. D. Hoeneger proposed John Day. In general, critics have accepted that the last three-fifths are mostly Shakespeare's, following Gary Taylor's claim that by the middle of the Jacobean decade, "Shakespeare's poetic style had become so remarkably idiosyncratic that it stands out--even in a corrupt text--from that of his contemporaries.
- The Puritan was published in 1607 and attributed to 'W.S.' This play is now generally believed to be by Thomas Middleton. As with Locrine, Wentworth Smith is also a possibility.
- The Second Maiden's Tragedy survives only in manuscript. Three crossed-out attributions in seventeenth century hands attribute it to Thomas Goffe, Shakespeare, and George Chapman. However, stylistic analysis indicates very strongly that the true author was Thomas Middleton. Professional handwriting expert Charles Hamilton has claimed that this play is in fact Shakespeare's manuscript of the lost Cardenio, but his argument has a number of logical flaws.
- Sir John Oldcastle was originally published in 1600, attributed on the title page to "William Shakespeare" (STC 18796). In 1619, a second edition also attributed it to Shakespeare. In fact, the diary of Philip Henslowe records that it was written by Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathaway and Robert Wilson.
- Thomas Lord Cromwell was published in 1602 and attributed to 'W.S.' Except for a few scholars, such as Ludwig Tieck and August Wilhelm Schlegel, "hardly anyone has thought that Shakespeare was even in the slightest way involved in the production of these plays. Another possible candidate for its authorship is Wentworth Smith.
- The Two Noble Kinsmen was published as a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the young playwright who took over Shakespeare's job as chief playwright of the King's Men. Mainstream scholarship agrees with this attribution, and the play is increasingly being accepted as a worthy member of the Shakespeare canon, despite its collaborative origins. It is included in its entirety in the Second Edition of the Oxford Shakespeare (2005).
- A Yorkshire Tragedy was published in 1608 as the work of Shakespeare. Although a minority of readers support this claim, the weight of stylistic evidence supports Thomas Middleton.
- Edward III was published anonymously in 1596. It was first attributed to Shakespeare in a bookseller's catalogue published in 1656. Various scholars have suggested Shakespeare's possible authorship, since a number of passages appear to bear his stamp, among other sections that are remarkably uninspired. In 1996, Yale University Press became the first major publisher to produce an edition of the play under Shakespeare's name, and shortly afterward, the Royal Shakespeare Company performed the play (to mixed reviews). In 2001, the American professional premiere was staged by the Carmel Shakespeare Festival, which received positive reviews for the endeavor. A consensus is emerging that the play was written by a team of dramatists including Shakespeare early in his career — but exactly who wrote what is still open to debate. The play is included in the Second Edition of the Complete Oxford Shakespeare (2005), where it is attributed to "William Shakespeare and Others".
The 'Charles II Library' plays: in Charles II's library, an unknown seventeenth century person has bound together three quartos of anonymous plays and labelled them 'Shakespeare, vol. 1'. As a seventeenth century attribution, this decision warrants some consideration. The three plays are:
Plays attributed to Shakespeare after the 17th century
A number of anonymous plays have been attributed to Shakespeare by more recent readers and scholars. All of these claims need to be looked at sceptically: it is every Shakespeare lover's dream to discover a lost masterpiece, and many of the claims are supported only by debatable ideas about what constitutes 'Shakespeare's style'. Nonetheless, some of the claims are compelling and have been cautiously accepted by mainstream scholarship.
- Arden of Faversham is an anonymous play printed in 1592 that has occasionally been claimed for Shakespeare. Its style and subject matter are very different from Shakespeare's other plays. Full attribution is not supported by mainstream scholarship, though stylistic analysis has revealed that Shakespeare likely had a hand in at least scene VIII (the play is not divided into acts). Thomas Kyd is often considered to be the author of much of Faversham, but still other writers have been proposed.
- Edmund Ironside is an anonymous manuscript play. Eric Sams has argued that it was written by Shakespeare, but has convinced few, if any, Shakespearean scholars.
- Sir Thomas More survives only in manuscript. It is a play that was written in the 1590s and then revised, possibly as many as ten years later. The play is included in the Second Edition of the Complete Oxford Shakespeare (2005), which attributes the original play to Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle, with later revisions and additions by Thomas Dekker, Shakespeare and Thomas Heywood. A few pages are written by an author ('Hand D') whom many believe to be Shakespeare, as the handwriting and spellings, as well as the style, seem a good match. The attribution is not accepted by everyone, however, especially since six signatures on legal documents are the only verified authentic examples of Shakespeare's handwriting.
- Thomas of Woodstock, sometimes also called Richard II, Part I, is an anonymous late-sixteenth century play which depicts the events leading up to the murder of Thomas of Woodstock, and which occur immediately prior to opening scenes of Shakespeare's history play Richard II. Thomas of Woodstock survives only as an anonymous and untitled manuscript, lacking its final page (or pages), and is now stored in the Egerton Manuscript Collection, in the British Library. Some scholars, noting how closely the play describes the events immediately prior to those set forth in Richard II, and how it offers explanations for the behavior of many of his characters such as John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, have attributed authorship of the play to Shakespeare. The work has frequently been conceded to at least have been an influence upon Shakespeare's own play. Historically, though, few of Thomas of Woodstock's editors supported the position of Shakespeare as its author. The Malone Society editor makes no reference to the Shakespeare theory. A.P. Rossiter states "There is not the smallest chance that he was Shakespeare", citing the drabness of the verse, while acknowledging that the play's aspirations indicate that "There is something of a simplified Shakespeare" in the author. MacDonald P. Jackson argued that Samuel Rowley was the play's author. However, more recently some critics have reconsidered that position, and have conceded Shakespeare may have had a hand in its creation. Corbin and Sedge concede that the style and talent of the play is consistent with Shakespeare's skill as reflected in the early works Henry VI Part I, Henry VI Part II, and Henry VI Part III, though they stop short of attributing him as author. Louis Ule and John Baker have performed stylometric studies to analyze the entire play, and claim it bears a close relationship to the works of Marlowe and Shakespeare as opposed to the only known work of Rowley. Most recently, yet another editor of the manuscript Thomas of Woodstock, Michael Egan, has made a case for authorship of the work by Shakespeare, and against Rowley. Ian Robinson also supports the attribution to Shakespeare.
- Love's Labour's Won. A late sixteenth-century writer, Francis Meres, and a scrap of paper (apparently from a bookseller), both list this title among Shakespeare's then-recent works, but no play of this title has survived. It may have become lost, or it may represent an alternative title of an existing play, such as Much Ado About Nothing, All's Well That Ends Well, or The Taming of the Shrew.
- Cardenio. This late play by Shakespeare and Fletcher, referred to in several documents, has not survived. It was an adaptation of a tale in Cervantes' Don Quixote. In 1727, Lewis Theobald produced a play he called Double Falshood [sic], which he claimed to have adapted from three manuscripts of a lost play by Shakespeare that he did not name. Counter to that, a professional handwriting expert, Charles Hamilton, has claimed in a recent book that The Second Maiden's Tragedy play is actually Shakespeare's manuscript of the lost play Cardenio. On the rare occasions when The Second Maiden's Tragedy has been revived on the stage, it is sometimes performed under the title Cardenio, as in the 2002 production directed by James Kerwin at the 2100 Square Feet Theater in Los Angeles, as well as a production at the Burton Taylor Theatre in 2004.
- The lost play called the Ur-Hamlet is believed by a few scholars to be an early work by Shakespeare himself. The theory was first postulated by the academic Peter Alexander and is supported by Harold Bloom and Peter Ackroyd, although mainstream Shakespearean scholarship believes it to have been by Thomas Kyd. Bloom's hypothesis is that this early version of Hamlet was one of Shakespeare's first plays, that the theme of the Prince of Denmark was one to which he returned constantly throughout his career and that he continued to revise it even after the canonical Hamlet of 1601.
The dream of discovering a new Shakespeare play has also resulted in the creation of at least one hoax.
- Vortigern and Rowena is a famous theatrical hoax perpetrated by William Henry Ireland, a notorious forger of Shakespearean manuscripts. Ireland claimed to have found a lost play of Shakespeare entitled Vortigern and Rowena, which was initially accepted by the literary community — albeit not on sight — as genuine. The play was eventually presented at Drury Lane on 2 April 1796, to immediate ridicule.
An apocryphal poem: A Funeral Elegy
Using stylometric computer analysis
, scholar and forensic linguist Donald Foster
attributed A Funeral Elegy for Master William Peter
, previously ascribed only to "W.S.", to William Shakespeare, based on an analysis of its grammatical patterns and idiosyncratic word usage. The attribution received tremendous press attention from the New York Times
and other newspapers.
However, a later analysis by scholar Gilles Monsarrat showed Foster's attribution to be premature, and that the true author may well have been John Ford. Foster conceded to Monsarrat in an e-mail message to the SHAKSPER e-mail list in 2002
- C.F. Tucker-Brooke, ed. The Shakespeare Apocrypha. Oxford University Press, 1908.
- Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery. William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion. Oxford University Press, 1986.