Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thomas Middleton Co-Wrote "All's Well That Ends Well"

Posted by on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Or that's what some scholars at Oxford University say. They analyzed the play's vocabulary, rhymes, and rhythms and found Middletonian traces:

Writers have their own distinctive literary "fingerprints" - a kind of stylistic DNA - and a highly-detailed analysis of the language in the play shows "markers" strongly linked to Middleton.

The rhyming and rhythms of sections of the play, the phrasing, spelling and even individual words suggest the involvement of Thomas Middleton.

As an example, the word "ruttish" appears in the play, meaning lustful - and its only other usage at that time is in a work by Middleton.

Maybe Middleton helped write the play(s) and maybe he didn't—whoever wrote all those characters had a huge stylistic bandwidth and must've been a hell of a mimic. Either way, I don't have a dog in the hunt over who wrote Hamlet and Lear and the rest. We have the plays, the plays are a cornerstone of human culture (a festival in England is now performing all 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 different languages, including Maori, Shona, and Urdu), and the debate over authorship is a parlor game.

More to the point, the scholars point out that playmaking during Shakespeare's time was far more collaborative and ensemble-driven than we usually think. The romantic, iconic image of one genius madly scribbling alone in his garret might not be quite right.

Instead, it may have looked more like the mess of collaboration—which might account for that huge stylistic bandwidth. As one of the scholars put it: "We need to think of it more as a film studio with teams of writers."

*Speaking of Middleton, anyone remember that production of The Changeling adapted by Bret Fetzer and performed at the Rendezvous a few years ago? Good stuff—and an early design by Matthew Smucker, who has become one of the great go-to designers in town, get called out in the review.


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MacCrocodile 1
Given how the plays were reconstructed after his death for publication, and given the variation in phrasing and spelling between typesetters, I'm not willing to worry too much about whether the words in my Folger's Library edition are the exact, literal words of William Shakespeare (or however that's spelled), because they're probably not. But that doesn't mean I'm going to grant co-author credit to Marlowe or Middleton or whoever, because that is tedious hair-splitting.

As an academic exercise, this is interesting at best, but what is with everyone scrambling to discredit Shakespeare?
Posted by MacCrocodile on April 25, 2012 at 2:31 PM · Report this
Pithy Name 2
I despise "Shakespeare didn't write it" conspiracy theories. They always seem to be rooted in the idea that some random commoner can't be a literary genius.

Usually they attribute some ghostwriting nobleman. At least Middleton is a peer of Shakespeare. Makes this easier to swallow (and more believable).
Posted by Pithy Name on April 25, 2012 at 2:32 PM · Report this
McJulie 3
The only Shakespeare secret identity that would interest me is if he turned out to secretly be female.
Posted by McJulie on April 25, 2012 at 2:41 PM · Report this
balderdash 4
Yeah, I guess collaborations are possible. Okay. But, like every single writer in history who has ever read someone else's work and liked it, Shakespeare was also probably heavily influenced by what he read, and especially whatever he'd read most recently. Certainly more parsimonious that way.
Posted by balderdash on April 25, 2012 at 2:51 PM · Report this
The only Shakespeare play that was almost certainly begun by Shakespeare and finished by someone else (at least as far as I'm concerned) is "Troilus and Cressida." Why? Because there's a huge, jarring gearshift somewhere in the middle. I don't remember whether the break is after Act 2 or 3, but basically all the plot developments up to that point are scrapped and a whole different plot is set in motion. And no, it isn't one of those "OMG PLOT TWIST" kind of shifts - more like (1) Shakespeare put away the play, came back to it months later, and couldn't remember where he was planning to go with the plot, or (2) Someone else picked it up and finished it without consulting with W.S. I tend to go with theory 2, because the second half of the play really sucks compared to the first.
Posted by Pope Buck I on April 25, 2012 at 4:01 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 6
"All's Well" is one of WS's lesser plays. So claims of co-authorship on this one (besides the fact the plot was taken from Boccacio) brings up questions as to the motive of the theorist.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on April 25, 2012 at 5:09 PM · Report this
Almost nothing really good is ever produced by one person alone.
Posted by I have always been... east coaster on April 26, 2012 at 3:32 PM · Report this

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