by Linda Theil
William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays byJonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Palgrave Macmillan (Nov. 2013) is the latest implement in the recently popular Shakespeare-as-collaborator toolbox. “New” plays by Shakespeare and buddies have been popping up all over the canon, and I detect the stink of desperation in the Stratfordian rush to gain knowledgable assistants for the Stratford man's rapidly disintegrating authorial skills. Here is what J.Kelly Nestruck says on the topic in yesterday’sToronto Globe and Mail:
If the larger-than-life myth of William Shakepeare – the genius son of a glover, the greatest writer of all time – has often strained belief, it’s only because of misunderstandings about the intensely collaborative culture he worked in (a culture that makes theories that Shakespeare was a secret pseudonym seem more absurd than ever).
Although a very good Oxfordian friend says I am dead wrong, I insist that the Shakespeare “collaboration” hullaballoo is the best thing to happen to the authorship question since Charlton Ogborn drew his breath in pain on Frontline!
And here is why Shakespeare “collaboration theory” is a good thing for anti-Strats:
It is very difficult to step outside our steeped-in-Shakespeare point-of-view to understand that most Shakespeare lovers are not aware that not a single scrap of writing by the putative author exists. Yet all the fuss about Hand D in the “collaboration” model, makes this sad fact apparent to all readers and highlights the lack of hard evidence for the Stratford candidate.
The other vital aspect of Shakespeare studies that few Shakespeare devotees grasp is the extent to which the original works appeared anonymously, and the number of works that were originally attributed to Shakespeare’s pseudonym but that did not appear in The First Folio, and were not considered to be the work of William Shakespeare, despite the title pages. Yet this aspect of Shakespeare studies is also a major component of the widely publicized “collaboration” model.
(For more information on this topic Read Starner and Traister’s Anonymity in Early ModernEngland (Ashgate, Feb. 2011), just out this year in Kindle format; Sabrina Feldman’s The Apocrayphal William Shakespeare (Dog Ear, Nov. 2011) http://www.amazon.com/The-Apocryphal-William-Shakespeare-Authorship, also available in Kindle format, and Marcy North's The Anonymous Renaissance (University of Chicago Press, 2003.)
So when you have a number of academics who, like James Shapiro, naively insist that the name on the title page is proof of authorship by a man named Shaksper from Stratford, but only in some cases, the "title page" argument is weakened.
In the process, Stratfordians are so blindly devoted to smashing the Oxfordian candidate into oblivion by whatever means available, they cannot see that they undermining their own Stratfordian position.
So, besides making two anti-Strat arguments widely available to the public – i.e. no manuscript, nor even scrap of writing by the Stratford candidate exists, AND the title pages are meaningless in terms of identifying the pseudononymous author – the collaboration-theorists are widely addressing the despised topic of Shakespeare authorship AND weakening the hold of their candidate at the same time.
Yes, I agree with my Oxfordian pals who say that identifying "Hand D" as Shaksper’s by using his six miserable signatures is ridiculous.
Yes, talking about Early Modern England as if it were twenty-first century Hollywood is pathetically anachronistic – especially from people who are so insistant about their esoteric knowledge of the early theater.
But these silly Stratfordian arguments don’t matter, because the Shakespeare collaboration-theory wrenches are unscrewing Shaksper from the works of William Shakespeare. The fashionable collaborative Bard theory loosens the nut of Stratford from the bolt of The Works that screws Shakespeare into pubic awareness.