I love Shakespeare and am writing a play about his life, but I have trouble finding conclusive information on any co-authors that Shakespeare may have had.
I know that some of Shakespeare's plays were collaborations with other authors, but I find conflicting information on which plays were collaborations, and which authors Shakespeare wrote these plays with. For example, I have heard that Shakespeare wrote Sir Thomas More with Anthony Munday, and then I heard that it was with Henry Chettle. Which is it?
Could you please help me to identify which plays were collaborations of Shakespeare, and who he collaborated with on these plays?
It’s actually quite understandable that you’re finding conflicting information on Shakespeare’s collaborations and collaborators: with the exception of one or two, we actually don’t know for certain much of anything about his collaborative compositions. But I will try to give you a list of what is generally accepted nowadays. Basically, his collaborations occurred in his relatively minor plays at the very beginning of his career and at the very end, even after he had retired from his acting company.
In the case of the play called Sir Thomas More
, although we can’t be absolutely certain that Shakespeare had any hand in it, it’s generally accepted nowadays that Anthony Munday wrote the original play, which was then revised in some places by Henry Chettle. Some time later, the play was thoroughly revised by a team of playwrights who we think were Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, William Shakespeare, and some as-yet-unidentified person. The cool thing, though, is that there is a manuscript copy of the fragment that is attributed to Shakespeare in the British Library in London, so it actually *may* be the only substantial piece of writing (other than signatures) that exists in Shakespeare’s own hand. It is a lovely piece of handwriting, though, written in the so-called “Secretary Hand,” which was very old-fashioned by the time it was written (the Secretary Hand having been replaced by the “Italic” handwriting, which is what we call “cursive” today).
Of his other collaborations, The Two Noble Kinsmen
is most certain, since at its publication in 1634 the title page states that it was composed by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare (though this was after Shakespeare’s death in 1616). Modern scholars attribute about half of the play to each playwright. Other works that are generally accepted to have been collaborations between Shakespeare and John Fletcher: Henry VIII
(a lost play).
George Wilkins probably wrote one act or more of Pericles
(some scholars say as much as half, though to me it feels very obvious where Shakespeare took up the pen in Act 1).
The play Edward III
was published anonymously in 1596. By 1656, a bookseller was attributing it to Shakespeare, but this was never proved. Today, scholars agree that several passages seem to be highly Shakespearean, while others do not. Yale University Press published an edition of the play in 1996 “by William Shakespeare,” but other presses have been less bold. At least two editions of the collected works of Shakespeare now include this play as having been written by Shakespeare “and others.”
There are several more conjectures about various authors’ (Thomas Middleton, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, among others) contributing to Shakespeare’s plays, as well as vice versa, but these are much more in the realm of hypothesis. The ones I’ve listed above have been proved either by publication record or by modern (usually computerized) comparisons of vocabulary and style.
You may also need to be aware that there is a whole host of plays that, over the years, have been examined at one time or another to have been “possibly” Shakespeare’s and then rejected-- you can find these in books or collections usually called “Shakespeare’s Apocrypha,” if you’re interested, but it need not have any impact on your biographical research, in my opinion.
I hope this helps.
Good luck with your play!