(For starters, see Holger Syme's heroic series of blog posts at dispositio, along with Jim Shapiro's recent op-ed in the NY Times. Shapiro's brief letter here is based on his book Contested Will, a brilliant genealogy--and deconstruction--of the various conspiracy theories proposed since the nineteenth century.) The adherents of the various authorship conspiracy theories have much in common with the other skeptical conspiracies that seem to pervade our culture at this moment -- it is less a matter of skepticism than of belief or faith, which can be maintained in the absence of (or indeed, because of) a complete lack of evidence that could confirm such a belief.
My purpose here (and in the projected series of "Faking Shakespeare" blog posts I'll be writing) is to show that the history of Shakespearean authorship -- that is, the history of the construction of a concept, and indeed, various conceptions, of Shakespeare as an author -- is inextricably tied to the history of what I'll call "faking" Shakespeare. This is not a novel idea; in fact, Shapiro devotes much of the first section of his book to the Ireland forgeries, which gave late-eighteenth-century devotees of Shakespeare exactly what they desired. Edmund Malone spent nearly as much time debunking forgeries as he did conducting the research that virtually created the recognizably modern (or [gasp!] "genius") figure of Shakespeare. Much of the scholarly work in Shakespeare studies conducted in the late-twentieth-century was aimed at deconstructing this mythical, solitary Shakespeare -- or, at least contextualizing and historicizing Shakespeare and his contemporaries, along with the decidedly romantic myth of the genius Shakespeare, a myth that was already and influentially institutionalized in the eighteenth century. This version of Shakespeare was collaborative -- the solitary author was displaced by a collaborative Shakespeare, meaning both that Shakespeare was a collaborator (particularly within the business of the theatre) and that the idea of "Shakespeare" was always a collaborative one (perhaps most easily seen in the book trade, where a plethora of agents participated in making and marketing Shakespeare's works). Some recent work has pushed back against this collaborative conception, arguing for a more assertive, authorial Shakespeare -- a version of Shakespeare that in many ways looks back to that romantic myth, and which is all the more attractive now with the spate of biographies that have been published in the last decade. I don't tend to agree with a lot of this work, but I do recognize, and in some cases even admire, the detailed research required to make some of these claims. And it is of course ironic that just as (some) academics have turned their attention to evidence-based arguments about Shakespeare's awareness of his status as an author, the spurious arguments aimed against that authorship have been articulated with renewed vehemence.
My own scholarly work focuses on the early modern book trade, in particular on the ways in which Shakespeare's reputation was made and re-made by publishers, booksellers, and readers. So my work does occasionally engage with some of the biographical myths about Shakespeare. The "Shakespeare" I'm concerned with is the persona created within the world of print -- this "Shakespeare" is not William Shakespeare of Stratford, not because someone with a different name wrote the works attributed to him, but because this "Shakespeare" is a corporate entity, a commercial property, even a recognizable brand -- that is, an author, which is something rather different from what we might distinguish as the writer. The latter puts quill to paper; the former is a theoretical concept, a collaborative construction, and a profitable piece of merchandise. It is the conflation of these two entities that largely drives both bardolaters and conspiracy theorists.
There have always been attempts to appropriate, or simply capitalize and cash in on, the fame and reputation of Shakespeare. One of my favorites is The Passionate Pilgrime, a slim collection of poems published in 1599 as "By W. Shakespeare." I regularly teach my students about this little pamphlet, because it so clearly establishes a Shakespeare that is unfamiliar to us now, and it also shows that his works circulated in a variety of ways (and in a number of different versions).
The title of this collection seems to be an allusion to one of Shakespeare's most popular (and recently published) plays, Romeo and Juliet (recall the shared sonnet that the eponymous characters speak at their first meeting, rife with playfully clever images of blushing pilgrims). The collection includes two "genuine" Shakespeare sonnets -- variant versions of what would be published as #138 and #144 in the more familiar sequence of sonnets published in 1609:
The Passionate Pilgrime also includes three sonnets copied from Shakespeare's play Loves Labors Lost (published just the year before in 1598, as "Newly corrected and augmented By W. Shakspere," the first playbook title-page to feature his name). The rest of the collection, though, consists of poems that we now know Shakespeare did not in fact write -- some are now attributed to other writers, such as Marlowe and Richard Barnfield, while others remain anonymous. Several of the poems are on the theme of Venus and Adonis -- the eponymous subjects of Shakespeare's first published work, the wildly popular and influential Venus and Adonis. The poems do, admittedly, vary in quality, but they are perfectly coherent as a poetic miscellany of erotic love poetry. This little volume is crucial to understanding Shakespeare's early reputation as a poet -- he was primarily known as the author of Venus and Adonis and its companion piece, Lucrece, not to mention the pleasant comedies of Romeo and Juliet and Loves Labors Lost, and so for a customer browsing the stalls in 1599, this volume would make perfect sense -- and it would be an attractive purchase, as well (attractive enough that the first extant edition of 1599 was preceded by an earlier edition, which now exists only in a fragment which lacks the title-page, and thus the date in the imprint).
Why did the publisher William Jaggard choose to produce and market the little book in this way? That question puzzled scholars for a long while, since Jaggard would eventually become one of the publishers of the Shakespeare First Folio. How could someone so responsible for establishing Shakespeare's canon and legacy stoop to such a level? Well, first of all, Shakespeare was not then the Bardic "Shakespeare" we know now. And secondly, at the time a volume such as this made perfect sense -- it may even have been based on a manuscript miscellany, of the kind that was pervasive at the time. It was a reasonable and profitable business decision -- not only for Jaggard, but for the bookseller William Leake, who not coincidentally happened to own the rights to Venus and Adonis in 1599. Get your erotic, Ovidian Shakespeare poems, all in one place!
The Passionate Pilgrime was successful enough that a decade later Jaggard published an expanded third edition:
There were two different versions of the title-page -- one with Shakespeare's name, and one without Shakespeare's name. The usual interpretation of these variant issues is that Jaggard was forced to remove the name at the objection of Thomas Heywood, the author of the "two Loue-Epistles" that were "newly added" to this edition. Jaggard had published these two Heywood poems a few years earlier, in Heywood's Troia Britanica (1609); since Jaggard, as the publisher, owned the rights to the work (remember, at this time there was no authorial "copyright" in the modern sense) he was perhaps within his rights to reprint the poems as he saw fit. Ethically, though, the action was suspect, and in an epistle appended to his Apologie for Actors (also published in 1612), Heywood voiced his displeasure:
Here's a transcription of the key passage:
Here likewise, I must necessarily insert a manifest iniury done me in that worke [i.e., Troia Britanica], by taking the two Epistles of Paris to Helen, and Helen to Paris, and printing them in a lesse volume [i.e., The Passionate Pilgrime], vnder the name of another [i.e., Shakespeare], which may put the world in opinion I might steale them from him; and hee to doe himselfe right, hath since published them in his owne name [i.e., presumably the 1609 Shake-speares Sonnets]Heywood goes on to say that "the Author" -- that is, Shakespeare -- was "I know much offended with M. Iaggard (that altogether vnknowne to him) presumed to make so bold with his name." Heywood seems to imply that Shakespeare was "much offended" by the publication of the little volume of poems that bore his name, and so it is usually thought that Jaggard removed Shakespeare's name to appease either (or both) Heywood and Shakespeare. It is a convenient narrative -- although that is not the only interpretation. Colin Burrow, in his monumental edition of Shakespeare's poems, analyzed the two title-pages (the very title-pages that are reproduced above -- these are the EEBO images of Malone's copy, at the Bodleian) and concluded that is was just as, if not more, likely that Shakespeare's name had been added, not removed (so, perhaps Jaggard or the printer forgot to include that marketable brand name?). Heywood's letter is of course not a neutral report, and he could be recruiting Shakespeare -- ironically, without his permission -- as a witness in his public case against Jaggard. The story seems to give us a Shakespeare keenly invested in the publication of his own work -- but it also shows how little control any author, including Shakespeare, had over the publication of that work.
Which, finally, brings me to the early modern book history puzzle I recently came across. Here is the final pastedown of a book from the Iowa Special Collections library, a collection of Shakespeare's poems:
The librarians tell me that around one hundred books from the collection of John Martin are housed in Special Collections -- but over three thousand of his books form the core of the collection of the fantastic John Martin Rare Book Room in the Hardin Health Sciences Library here at Iowa (it's a fantastic resource of the history of medicine, with a sterling early modern collection -- click here for a brief bio of Dr. Martin). There is no evidence of where or when Dr. Martin bought this book, which is really too bad, because it's a gem. The call number intrigued me before I even saw the book -- it's catalogued as a book from 1700 (here's the InfoHawk record) -- but there was no edition of Shakespeare's poetry published in 1700. Starting with the First Folio in 1623, the poems and sonnets were excluded from collected editions of Shakespeare's works, until Malone finally reintegrated the corpus late in the eighteenth century. There were editions of the poems published, though, often as "unofficial" extra volumes to multi-volume editions of the plays -- but again, the first multi-volume edition wasn't published until 1709.
A look at the title-page immediately shows that the date "1700" in the catalogue was simply a guess:
Here we have Sonnets To Sundry Notes of Musicke, attributed to "Mr. William Shakespeare," with the imprint claiming it was "Printed in the Year 1599" in London. You may even be able to tell -- quite quickly -- from this image that this book was certainly not printed in 1599. (In person, it was clear to me right away that this was a false imprint, due to the type and, to a lesser extent, the paper quality). The title is a familiar one, because it derives from The Passionate Pilgrime -- both the 1599 and the 1612 editions include an interlinear title-page with the same title (even though, in both cases, the title-page and the section that follows are both integral to the volume):
So the title is a familiar one, but our little book does not simply consist of the few poems from The Passionate Pilgrime that originally appeared after this title-page. It includes the entire 1609 sequence of sonnets (including A Lover's Complaint), along with a charming section at the end called "Sonnets, &c." which consists of the Passionate Pilgrime poems:
A typescript note in the back of the book explains the mystery:
According to the note, this volume is an "unrecorded" eighteenth-century forgery. The note says that the volume consists of quires from some eighteenth-century edition of the poems; the Sundry Notes page has been moved to the front in "a clever attempt to create an edition of the Sonnets predating the rare 1609 edition." The note cites a couple of (very brief) mentions of this volume (the Lowndes is here, while the listing in Halliwell's Shakespeariana is here), but otherwise leaves it at that, saying only that "No copy has ever appeared at auction" and concluding with the simple statement that it is "An attractive copy."
Attractive and clever, indeed! Whoever was responsible for altering (and creating) this book knew what they were doing -- the title-page is a nod to the (once popular) Passionate Pilgrime, and the inclusion of the sonnets reveals a desire to have an authorized (or at least earlier) version of the Sonnets. With a bit of help from ECCO, I was able to track down the specific eighteenth-century edition that was altered to make this volume: A Collection of Poems published by Bernard Lintott in 1709, a collection that included Shakespeare's two narrative poems along with the sonnets and the Passionate Pilgrime. Here's the title-page of the collection from ECCO (which seems to include some inked ruling not present in the Iowa copy):
Near the end of the collection appears the page that serves as the title-page of our copy:
As you can see here (just barely), this section heading page has a page signature at the bottom -- a page signature that was discreetly, yet visibly, removed from our copy:
It would be beyond obvious if the "title-page" of this "rare" collection of Shakespeare poems had a page signature -- and a signature "L" at that -- so it was simply rubbed out. As the note in the volume says, the collation is a dead giveaway, and one that's easy to identify (the note even gives advice on how it could have been made into a more effective forgery). Without any provenance information (beyond Dr. Martin, a twentieth-century collector) it is impossible to know who was responsible for altering this book, or whether it was (or even was intended to be) a successful forgery. To a book historian's eyes, this is an easy catch, but perhaps an avid collector would overlook the alterations in the rush to acquire such a rare and valuable book as this purports to be.
The altered volume, whether a true forgery or an elaborate joke, shows the investment in and desire for some tangible evidence of authorized Shakespearean texts. Scholars still disagree over the 1609 Sonnets: were they authorized and designed by Shakespeare? Or, like The Passionate Pilgrime, was this an attempt to capitalize on Shakespeare's poetic fame? A 1599 edition wouldn't solve that problem, but it would provide a rare early edition of the sonnets -- one published in the decade in which the sonnet vogue was at its height, rather than the more problematic date of 1609, when, supposedly, sonnets were out of fashion. Just as interesting, though, is the fact that a century later Lintott published all of Shakespeare's poetry together in a single volume -- not simply the two narrative poems that first made his fame, or the "genuine" sequence of sonnets, but The Passionate Pilgrime as well. It's a more capacious view of the Shakespeare canon, one that demonstrates the crucial place of that slim little ("non-Shakespearean") pamphlet in Shakespeare's canon and career. It's a conception of the canon that would be lost for centuries -- only in the last decade has The Passionate Pilgrime regained a place in the canon, and garnered the serious attention of scholars.
The final point I'll make here is that this episode shows how messy the idea of authorship can be -- living in our fallen, post-Romantic world, we are stuck with an idea of the author as the sole creator and owner of a literary work. Yes, post-structuralist theory killed off the author, and historicist scholarship has for quite some time been focused on the collaborative and institutional frameworks within which early modern literary work was created, and which helped construct the idea of "literary authorship" itself. And yet--Shakespeare is "the bard," the focus of myth-making for so many centuries, and the subject of countless current biographies (not to mention conspiratorial speculations). This cultural status and popularity often overshadows other, more unfamiliar versions of Shakespeare -- the versions, it must be said, that most scholars prefer. Shakespeare's status is certainly a boon to our profession, as a kind of guarantor of the relevance (or at least validity, in some sense) of our work -- but it can also be deeply frustrating. Which is why I am so attracted to this little volume of poetry that Shakespeare didn't even write.