Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

The Shakespeare Apocrypha and Canonical Expansion in the Marketplace

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

The Shakespeare Apocrypha and Canonical Expansion in the Marketplace

Article excerpt

1

IN MARCH 2010, Brean Hammond's new edition of Lewis Theobald's Double Falsehood was added to the ongoing third series of the Arden Shakespeare, prompting a barrage of criticism in the academic press and the popular media. (1) Responses to the play, which may or may not contain the "ghost" (2) of Shakespeare and Fletcher's Cardenio, have dealt with two issues: the question of whether Double Falsehood is or is not a forgery; (3) and if the latter, the question of how much of it is by Shakespeare. This second question as a criterion for canonical inclusion is my starting point for this paper, as scholars and critics have struggled to define clearly the boundaries of, and qualifications for, canonicity. James Naughtie, in a BBC radio interview with Hammond to mark the edition's launch, suggested that a new attribution would only be of interest if he had "a big hand, not just was one of the people helping to throw something together for a Friday night." (4) Naughtie's comment points us toward an important, unqualified aspect of the canonical problem--how big does a contribution by Shakespeare need to be to qualify as "Shakespeare"?

The act of inclusion in an edited Complete Works popularly enacts the "canonization" of a work, fixing an attribution in print and commodifying it within a saleable context. To a very real extent, "Shakespeare" is defined as what can be sold as Shakespearean. Yet while canonization operates at its most fundamental as a selection/exclusion binary, collaboration complicates the issue. Timon of Athens, for example, is now sold as a Shakespeare/ Middleton collaboration in the collected works of both Shakespeare and Middleton; and, more controversially, the Oxford Middleton has also canonized Macbeth and Measure for Measure as collaborative plays within a second author's canon. (5) There is still an implicit concern for collaboration sullying the product, whose value is derived from its fixity, its "Complete"-ness. Responding to the Arden decision, commentator Ron Rosenbaum fumed that "a respected edition of Shakespeare self-destructively tries to extend the brand,'" and that Double Falsehood's publication represented a "triumph of marketing over art." (6) In Rosenbaum's piece, the question of authenticity is subordinate to the question of canonical integrity as informed by quality. A smaller, more prestige product is preferable to apparently boundless and unregulated extension. This has a parallel in Stanley Wells's justification for the exclusion of Edward III from the first edition of the Oxford Shakespeare (1986): "From the publisher's point of view, any edition of The Complete Works has to compete financially with the many other available editions of The Complete Works; adding yet another early history play [Edward III] to the several early history plays which usually go unread in existing editions will add to the bulk and cost of the edition without necessarily adding to its attractiveness." (7) In Wells's justification, the marketplace tends towards homogeneity, prioritizing a single paradigm of authorship (the identification of the authorial hand) (8) that supports the volume's authorizing agency, William Shakespeare. The title of a Complete Works is another publishing requirement, and one that only developed alongside the growing widespread dissemination of Shakespeare in the nineteenth century. (9) Completeness demands finality, closure, the imposition of absolute distinctions between "Shakespeare" and "not-Shakespeare," canon versus the plays traditionally known as the "Shakespeare Apocrypha." (10)

That Edward III was included in the second edition of the Oxford Shakespeare in 2005, and Double Falsehood in the third series of the Arden in 2010, is symptomatic of a shift, however. The preference for exclusion that informed Oxford's original decision has been overtaken by a consumer-based demand for value for money, and market attractiveness is determined by quantity of constitution. …

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