Troilus and Cressida 6 of 9
If Shakspere had written the play, why did not his company prevent its publication against their wishes? Even if they had no prior knowledge of the publication, they could have asked the Stationers’ Company to cancel the registration which had been made in favour of Bonian and Walley, and pull in any copies still unsold. And as the King’s own acting company, their request would have carried some clout.
The Stratfordians are at a loss to answer this point, except by suggesting that perhaps the King’s Men did not bother to stop the play’s publication because it was no longer in their current repertoire. But this is equally true for other Shake-Speare plays which they seem nevertheless to have hoarded. A simple explanation would be that they did not own this play because Will Shakspere had not written it; they merely possessed a copy, having been engaged to perform it at an Inn of Court before the 1603 S.R. entry and perhaps again nearer to 1609. If they had owned it, would the author of the Epistle have taunted them so cheekily, knowing that might provoke them into action? If they had performed the play on the public stage, the true author (even if an amateur like Bacon) might have parted with his ownership to them. But if they had merely performed the play at an Inn for a fee, he would have been likely to retain the ownership.
The Epistle lavishes praise on the play’s author, but castigates “the grand possessors”, Shakspere’s company, for holding on to the play. Yet Shakspere himself was one of “the grand possessors”, being a shareholder in the company. And if he wrote the play, he would surely have had a predominant say as to whether the play should be released for publication. It is hard to think that his fellow shareholders would have overruled him. Ben Jonson seemed able to get his plays published, if he wanted to, even though they formed part of the repertoire of the Lord Admiral’s Men for whom he worked.
Thus the Epistle’s attack on “the grand possessors” seems hard to reconcile with its eulogy of the play’s author, if he was one of them. It surely treats the author as someone independent of the company. This important point seems to have escaped notice.