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Rival Playwrights
So Shakespeares gone to London, hes become an actor and hes also tried his hand at wri ng. Hes got his
fellowactorstoproducehisworkonstageandhesgotaristocra cpatronageforhispoetry.
ThisisreallythepointwhereShakespearescareertakeso.Wehavesomedicultyinreconstruc ngexactly
howhewentthroughthattransi onfromactortoplaywright,butweknowthatsomeoftheotherwritersof
the me objected to an actor becoming a playwright. The theatre was dominated by Oxford and Cambridge
educated young writers of great talent. They regarded the actors as merely their servants ge ng their work
ontostage.
SotheideaofShakespearebecomingnotonlyanactor,butalsoawriterwasveryunusual.Asweveseen,what
thatmeantwasthathewrotehispartsforspecificactors.Hewascloselyinvolvedeverystepofthewayinthe
produc onprocess.
In understanding the development of Shakespeares work, and the range of his wri ng, its important to
rememberthatheisonlyoneofalargenumberofdrama stswri ngforthestage.Thisisthe mewhenthe
theatrereallytakesoasaprofession.Theentertainmentindustry,aswenowcallit,hasitsoriginshereand
whattheactorsneedisalargebodyofrepertoire.
So it is that a large number of drama sts made their mark. We think of Shakespeare as some kind of genius
standing alone, but thats simply not the case. Indeed, for much of his career, Shakespeare wrote plays
collabora vely. He began by patching up old plays and working very closely with other writers. In the middle
periodofhiscareer,hewrotemostofhisplayssinglehandedly.
Towardstheend,hereturnedtoapa ernofcollabora on.Attheveryendofhiscareer,hewrotethreeplays,
Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsman, and a lost play called Cardenio. He wrote those three plays
collabora velywithayoungerdrama st,JohnFletcher.Healsocollaboratedwitharathergooddrama stcalled
ThomasMiddleton.SoitsveryimportanttoseeShakespeareinthebroadercontextofthedramaofhis me.
So who were these other drama sts? Well, when Shakespeare began, the towering figure was Christopher
Marlowe,famousforhistragedies;forhispoetry;DoctorFaustuswiththefamouslineaboutHelenofTroy,the
womanofextraordinarybeauty,wasthisthefacethatlaunched1,000shipsandburntthetoplesstowersof
Illium?
Marlowewashugelyadmired,buthediedyounginmysteriouscircumstancesinabrawlinatavern.Wasita
brawlsimplyoverwhowasgoingtopaythebill?Orwasheactuallyassassinatedbecausehewasengagedin
spyingwork?Nobodyquiteknowsforsure.Yet,itwascertainlythecasethatwithMarlowegone,Shakespeare
hadtheopportunitytoemergeastheleadingfigureinthetheatreworld.
Soon, rivals were coming along. In the late 1590s, a man called Ben Jonson began to write plays of great
innova oninthestyleofcomedy.Jonsoninventedanewsortofcomedy,knownasthecomedyofhumours.In
away,JonsonscomedieshadmoreinfluenceonthelaterdevelopmentofEnglishcomedythanShakespeares
did.
Shakespeare and Jonson knew each other very well. Indeed, one of the fascina ng documents we have of
ShakespeareslifeinthetheatreisthelistsofwhotheactorswereinBenJonsonsplays.Hereinfrontofmewe
haveatextfromBenJonsonscollectedplays,whichheputtogetherhimselfin1616.

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The first of his plays, the one that he really made his name with, thisnew kind ofcomedy of manners, was
called Everyman in his Humour. We read there, this comedy was first acted in the year 1598 by the Lord
Chamberlains, his servants thats Shakespeares ac ng company. The principal comedians were... and
thentheresalistthekindofthingwedseeinamoderntheatreprogramme.AtthetopofthelistisWill
Shakespeare.HesfollowedbyAugus nePhilips,HenryCondel,WillSly,WillKempeandinthesecondcolumn,
Richard Burbage, John Hemings, Thomas Pope, Christopher Beeston and John Duke. These then are the 10
leadingactorsoftheChamberlainsMen.Shakespearesnameisatthetopofthem.
Sohesgottwo,maybethree,rolesintheac ngcompany:hesaplayerlikealltheothers;hesalsothein
housedrama stwri ngtwoorthreecomediesortragedieseachyear;buthisthirdrolemaybetooverseeand
signotheworkofotherwriterscommissionedbythecompanytoputonplays.
Thissenseofcollabora veworkissomethingthatrecentscholarshiphasenabledustofindoutmuchmore
about.Themostfamousexampleofcollabora onintheElizabethanandJacobeantheatrewasthepartnership
ofFrancisBeaumontandJohnFletcher.
BehindmeisaportraitofBeaumont.Beaumontwasunusuallywellbornforadrama statthe me.Hewas
the son of a knight rather than merely somebody from a middling background, like Shakespeare. He le
university without a degree, went to London, ini ally trained for the law. Theres lots of links between the
worldofthelawandtheworldofthetheatreatthe me.
Then,undertheinfluenceofShakespeare,hebecameapoetandaplaywright.Hisfirstplayfailed.Therewas
anotheryoungrisingwritercalledJohnFletcherandhisfirstplayalsofailed.
BeaumontandFletchergottogetherandwroteaplaycollabora velyforShakespearesac ngcompany.Itwas
calledPhilaster,orLoveLiesaBleedinganditintroducedanewkindofroman ctragicomedy.Itwashugely
successfulforShakespearesac ngcompany.Indeed,itinspiredShakespearetoshi hisstyletowardsamore
tragicomicroman cfeelinhislastplays.
Beaumontdiedveryyoung.HediedjustafewweeksbeforeShakespearein1616andhewasonly32.Hereally
wasaprodigy.
Fletcherwentontocollaborateagainwithotherdrama sts,par cularlyamancalledPhilipMassinger.Indue
course,theplaysofBeaumontandFletcherwerepublishedinfolioformat,acollectededi onoftheirplays.A
kind of edi on like that of Ben Jonson of his plays, 1616, and like the collec on that Shakespeares fellow
actorsHemingsandCondelputtogetherofhisplaysin1623.
Now as it happens, a lot of plays in the Beaumont and Fletcher collec on are actually by Fletcher and
Massinger.VeryfewofthemarebyBeaumontbecausehediedsoyoung.
Ithinkwhatsfascina ng,ifwelookatthesethreebodiesofworkfromtheperiod,isthatJonsonontheone
hand,BeaumontandFletcherontheother,providerivalmodelsofauthorshipandcollabora on.Thatstosay,
BenJonsonwrotealargenumberofcollabora veplays,buthele themalloutwhenhepreparedthefolioof
hisworksforthepress.
Indeed, in the case of his tragedy Sejanus, he said that hed had some scenes, probably of a more comic
nature,wri enbyanotherwriterwhowasalmostcertainlyShakespeare,butthathewouldleavethosescenes
outoftheprintedtext.Jonsonsprintededi onhewantedtobetheworkofhimselfasapoet,asakindof
classicalauthor.WhereastheBeaumontandFletcherfoliogivestheideaofdrama stsworkingcollabora vely.
Shakespeare, just as his folio was published some me a er Ben Jonsons, but before Beaumont and
Fletchers,wasinthemiddle.Sohewasinthemiddle,inakindofinbetweenland,betweenthetwomodels
ofsoloauthorshipandcollabora vework.Hedidwritecollabora veplays,buthealsowroteabodyofsolo
authoredplays.
ThehistoryofShakespearesreputa onhastendedtoemphasisehissoloauthorship.Yetrecentscholarship,
whereitsbeenpossibleusingcomputerprogrammestoanalysethelinguis cfingerprintofeachdrama stin
greatdetail,hasshownusthatShakespearescollabora veworkwasmorefarreaching,morethoroughgoing
thanhaso enbeenassumed.
So it is that certain scenes in the survivingtext of Macbeth areby Thomas Middleton,and so it isthat the
collabora onwithBeaumontspartnerFletcherisapparentinShakespeareslateplays.Youcanactuallywork
outwhichsceneswerewri enbyShakespeare,whichbyFletcher.
Theatre then, was a collabora ve art collabora on between the writer and the actor, but also between
writers.Weneedtogetawayfromthatroman cimageofShakespearealoneinhisgarretwithhisgenius.We
needtothinkmoreoftheElizabethanandJacobeantheatreasbeingsomethinglikeaHollywoodscriptfactory
wheremanywritersworktogetheronateaminordertoproducethebestpossibleproduct.

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