Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Apr. 25th
Opinions expressed in Game of Buzz are those of the author alone.
The authorship of Shakespeare’s plays has been a matter of controversy for years. There are some who can’t handle the idea that a working class guy like Shakespeare could be the touchstone of English culture. These cats like to lay the authorship at the feet of aristocrats like Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, which is who last year’s film Anonymous tried to pin the plays on.
Now, according to the BBC, a team of Oxford scholars believe they have identified Shakespeare’s co-author on All’s Well That Ends Well as Thomas Middleton. At the time Middleton was an up and coming writer and Shakespeare was established at the time the play was written.
The Oxford team is part of a wing of scholarship that doesn’t buy into the “it had to be a learned noble” theory. In fact, their underlying assumption should look familiar to anyone who hits up the multiplex.
Professor Laurie Maguire says the latest literary research shows groups of writers working together on plays.
“The picture that’s emerging is of much more collaboration,” said Prof Maguire.
“We need to think of it more as a film studio with teams of writers.”
That’s right. Plays were the blockbusters of their day and it took a village of writers to feed the hungry beast.
Frankly I’ve always been comforted by this theory. While I find the idea the idea that the plays “had” to be authored by someone like the Earl of Oxford abhorrent– as if intelligence was something that could only be found amongst people with money– I’ve also found the idea that one man could have the vocabulary and stylistic range of “Shakespeare” somewhere between preposterous and completely demotivating as a writer.
It may be hard to conclusively prove that Shakespeare didn’t work alone, but as a model for making culture it’s the best frame we’ve got.