Shakespeare’s Collaborative writing
The predominant view among scholars is that Shakespeare “worked alongside fellow professionals” in a collaborative writing environment. Or as one person put it “The best analogy is of a team of script writers working on a film or TV series. Shakespeare, Marlowe and an actor (for example, Will Kemp) would get together down the tavern and thrash out a scene, testing lines of verse, entrances and exits, working out blocking with coins on the tavern table”. Another writer sums it as “… all the historical, literary (and these days computational) evidence points to the fact that Shakespeare’s plays were written in collaboration by a group of writers and actors working together to develop pieces of commercial drama”.
Yet, even if the evidence of collaboration were fully accepted, the assertion of “working alongside” is a supposition relying on an accepted premise that best fits the Stratfordian model. What it may as likely indicate is a weakness in hypothesis generation, for can there not be other ways of collaboration than by face-to-face gatherings?
I’m currently reading Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship by Patrick Cheney and have found it to be one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read, showing how he and some other noted scholars are just now piecing together some highly nuanced hidden allusions with the Shakespeare works. He shows how Shakespeare went to great pains to write anonymously, even (“in a collaborative production”). On page 40 he says “We discover a rare instance in which this author resists the material conditions of the collaborative theatre so prominently emphasized in recent Shakespearean criticism”.
If so, then how could so many researchers have assumed otherwise? Perhaps it is because they think of Shakespeare as a typical playwright as far as his life and motives are concerned, though they endow with an exceptional imagination and with knack for turning a phrase. But consider that Shakespeare, the author, wasn’t typical or average, but a master craftsman of all aspects of writing wherein only another master craftsman could perceive his many Tiffany touches. This is the picture coming from Cheney’s book. If so, another hypothesis explaining some of the seeming hands of other (co-author) playwrights in Shakespeare plays is that he could have imitated the styles of others when it suited his purpose. We know that he imitated other writers and used their plots, songs, phrases, etc. Then it’s only another step to conceive that he also imitated their styles, and that, unlike lesser writers, he didn’t have one style of writing that can always be distinguished from another.
For support, there is the recognition by experts that “Shakespeare rather than Spenser…[possessed] the final consummation of all the potentialities of English” [p. 285 in Shakespeare and Spenser, Watkins, 1950. Also in this book “… each poet alters diction and syntax according to the effect he desires [ 267]”; and “Like Shakespeare, he has range and variety; he is master of more than one style”; and so we can see that like Spenser he would be able produce “… a pattern of intricate verbal sounds so skillful that only careful analysis would reveal it”. So if his purpose required it he could alter his style “... depending on the effect which he seeks [p. 288]”. This is why “His whole method in Coriolanus differs from that in Antony and Cleopatra [p. 288].” Now, Watkins wasn’t speaking precisely about all the varieties of styles examined in stylometric analysis, but the basic argument needs to be considered. This is especially the case knowing as we do that Shakespeare was a master craftsman of grammar, logic, and rhetoric who “… has mastery and easy control over his medium quite beyond the ordinary.” (Shakespeare’s Use of The Arts of Language, Sister Miriam Joseph, 1947.
Consider then that if Shakespeare liked the particular effect that another playwright achieved in some other work, that he could have imitated it for a particular scene or Act or passage. And in cases where the collaboration still seems more likely, that this co-authoring didn’t necessarily happen face-to-face.
Though this touches on the argument of stylometrics I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read about this topic in the two Shakespeare Beyond Doubt books. I may have more to say on it after I have.