The controversy surrounding Shakespeare’s authorship is accentuated by his erratic career in print during his lifetime. During this period, the dictates of the monarch as well as the profitability of the theatre company took precedence over accuracy of authorship. It is partly for this reason that Pavier attributes Sir John Oldcastle to Shakespeare in 1619. This was a time when “an authorized version of Shakespeare’s plays was still a twinkling [pounds] sign in the eye of John Heminge and Henry Condell – merely symptomized an emergent authorship that was still in utero.” (Brooks) It was not until the beginning of the Restoration that Shakespeare’s authorship of many plays was concretized.
Though there have been persistent questions about Shakespeare’s authorship for the last four centuries, modern research methods have helped set aside decisive facts. It is accepted now that Titus Andronicus has contributions by Peele. Likewise, Timon of Athens has contributions by by Middleton. Fletcher is credited with co-authoring Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Later chapters confirm that Shakespeare wrote nothing in Edmond Ironside, but that
“he is indeed Hand D in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More, and that he wrote that addition early in the seventeenth century; the same methods credit Shakespeare for the “Countess” scenes of Edward III, but assign to an unidentified collaborator the battle scenes from III.i to IV.iii; they give “strong support to the idea that” the Folio text of King Lear “is an authorial revision”.” (Kinney, 201)
Modern research has also bolstered the claim that Shakespeare wrote only the middle of Arden of Faversham (78-99). This is not one of the popular plays, having been excluded from the 1986 and 2005 Complete Works editions issued by Oxford University Press. Likewise, there is evidence of collaboration between three authors in the creation of Henry VI. Shakespeare is credited with only a handful of scenes. Shakespeare’s unique style of writing is hard to detect outside of Act 3 in the play, which leaves Marlowe to be a major co-author. Although these inferences are fairly logical and well-evidenced, they are not yet subject to rigorous testing. Upon standing up to scrutiny of these tests, Marlowe will be added to the list of Shakespeare collaborators in some of the plays, alongside Fletcher, Middleton, and Peele. (Taylor)
Given the scarce evidences for the sceptics to work with, it is the sensible position to “recognize Shakespeare’s agency within the conditions of possibility for writers in his time.” (Taylor) The challenge with this position is that it leaves us an ambiguous legacy of Shakespeare. On the one hand is the supreme artist whose plays have won him an iconic cultural stature. Mitigating this claim is the era in which he lived, where plays were “written, performed, and published in artistic, legal, and institutional circumstances that do not quite allow the idea of authorship in any robust, historically specific sense to be applied–not least because Shakespeare (unlike, say, Jonson) seems to have had no interest in it.” (Kastan) In other words, during Shakepeare’s lifetime printed publications held much less importance than the actual performance of the plays. It is the success of the latter that accounted for the reputation and sustained livelihood of a playwright. This is how Shakespeare must have seen his own accreditation to his works. But it is upon the printed record that much scholarly analysis and inferences rest. Hence, a distinction will have to be acknowledged between Shakespeare who wrote for the stage and the one “whose two long poems appeared published by Richard Field, carefully printed and with dedications by Shakespeare.” (Kastan) Shakespeare the poet wrote for readers and seemed (except perhaps in the case of his sonnets) eager for print. On the other hand, Shakespeare the playwright