Plural Authorship, Attribution, and the Children of the King's Revels



  1. This essay attempts to argue a simple thesis, and it proposes a narrow field in which the thesis may usefully be explored. I want to argue that, in seeking to say truthful things about the nature of multi-authored playwriting, we run the risk of compromising our search by undervaluing attribution studies. The playtexts of works once staged at Whitefriars by the Children of the King's Revels constitute a range of documents with the potential to be as significant for understanding how the collaborative writing of early modern plays took place as Henslowe's records are for developing our ideas of repertory systems and theatre management.

  2. Schoenbaum (1966) has comprehensively laid bare the frailty of many efforts to determine the authorship of Elizabethan plays in a narrative which speaks of the colonising motives of many past attributive scholars as tellingly as it reveals a history of methodological chaos. Since then an enhanced awareness that drama is an essentially collaborative art-form, and peculiarly so in the conditions in which Renaissance playing companies operated, diminishes the desire to know who composed what playtext, or which part of it. And the very purpose of such an aspiration is doubly challenged. It is argued, firstly, that the act of writing is no more than a second-hand collage of consciously and unconsciously remembered scraps and, secondly, that texts are constitutive of their society and encode its assumptions, values, tensions, and struggles. Autonomy and intentionality alike are compromised, and attribution studies may correspondingly appear fatuous or meaningless.

  3. The cultural bias which questions the purpose of assigning playtexts or parts of texts to specific authors tends also to celebrate the collaborative nature of much early modern playwriting. One great gain must be a sense of proportion: both Jeffrey Masten (1997b, 357) and Gordon McMullan (1998, 131) cite Bentley's long-standing and moderate conjecture that 'as many as half of the plays by professional dramatists in the period incorporated the writing at some date of more than one man' (1971, 199). Our thoughts about early modern drama have been too little sensitive to the reality of multiple authorship. A closer attention to the working conditions in which plays were commissioned, composed, and staged has helped to stimulate current interest in collaborative writing and in revision. A thorough distrust of the traditional emphasis upon the author has certainly created the conditions for us at last to acknowledge plural composition more fully and to explore its nature with greater care.

  4. If the displacement of the author frees us to value collaborative playwriting more highly, how secure is this new status in the circumstances which led to the author's downfall? Multiple authorship is not necessarily a comfortable phenomenon to work with: it discards, effectively, the sovereign sole author, but substitutes for the single playwright two or more composers for whom, separately considered, the same problems of autonomy and intention operate. Perhaps the matter can be put in this way: if the very nature of writing renders the concept of effective authorial agency meaningless, what does it matter whether one or more individuals form the nominal channel through which a playscript emerges? And if a text is culturally determined, and not the site of a writer's (or of writers') intention, what significance does a shared composition possess? Multiple authorship matters only insofar as authorship itself matters. If acts of composition possess any degree of autonomy, or if they are at all the product of intention, then, though clearly complicating the matters of autonomy and intention, multiple authorship operates in a world in which authorship is significant.

  5. McMullan's discussion of The Two Noble Kinsmen may illuminate the point: the play's intimations that collaboration and reciprocal sexuality are somehow alike are not consciously thematic because that would be to 'presume the kind of clear, univocal intentionality that collaborative authorship precludes, or at least heavily compromises' (1998, 144). Affirming collaboration draws us away from any straightforward notions of intentionality, yet the very affirmation of collaborative authorship, by acknowledging distinct (though not necessarily distinctive) authorial contributions, acknowledges too the potential for intentionality, however compromised, and however multi-vocal. The theoretical thrust which encourages us to explore multiple authorship is challenged by the exploration's implicit acceptance that the concept of authorship itself is meaningful.

  6. McMullan believes that 'in the study of collaborative texts, the collaborating playwrights both demand and defy individuation, seeming at times tangibly different, at others inseparably merged' (1998, 145). In part, I take it, this statement accepts both that an individual collaborator may, to some extent and in some places, be detected, and also that such detection can, in places, be wholly elusive. For Masten it cannot properly be achieved. Masten explicitly challenges the undertaking of scholars who attempt to make attributions of authorship on the basis of linguistic or other features of a text. Masten notes that, in analysing the plays of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon, Hoy himself concedes that the scantiness of Beaumont's single-authored work poses problems for any attempt to identify his hand in collaborative works (1997a, 16), and moreover disregards the evidence furnished by The Faithful Shepherdess in establishing Fletcher's linguistic preferences (1997a, 17). The second of these problems of methodology, an 'astonishing moment of deliberate omission', may, Masten suggests, 'alert us to the theoretical issues inherent in using evidence of "linguistic preferences" and "language practices" in the pursuit of essential and stable identities' (1997a, 17).

  7. To take Masten's broader point: attributative scholars, when working with a careful objectivity, operate within the field of epistemology, not of metaphysics. Where the linguistic profile of a dramatist's known work in a given respect shows a consistent pattern, or even a tendency, we may say that the linguistic profile in the same respect of another piece of writing does, or does not, match it. Further comparisons may be made between the corpus and the sample in other respects. These may reveal a range of likenesses, or they may not. Such analysis may furnish the evidence for an assessment of whether the piece under consideration significantly resembles that of the dramatist. To be sure, questions of methodology arise (how securely attributed is the 'known work', for instance?), as do questions of context and interpretation (might the findings be affected by questions of genre, form, date, or textual provenance? and what external evidence exists for the attribution of the piece under review?) If these and other matters are sensibly addressed, a view may be taken as to whether the writing shows a likeness with the demonstrable usage of the dramatist which is both consistent and distinctive, and whether the proposition that the dramatist composed it forms a reasonable hypothesis.

  8. Hypothesis, of course, it is. Such consistency does not constitute proof. Neither, we may add, does such powerful evidence as title-page attribution: witness the discredited, partial, or misleading claims made for such plays as A Yorkshire Tragedy, 1 The Honest Whore, and The Malcontent. Rather, a scholarly consensus may develop as to what evidence is so strong as to eliminate reasonable doubt.

  9. Linguistic evidence, even at its most persuasive, must be open to some doubt. Another writer may have repeatedly used the same preference as x on this occasion, if on no others. Hence the formula sometimes adopted: that a play (or a part of a play) was either written by a given dramatist, or composed in a way which (coincidentally or not) replicated the manner of that dramatist. The reader may, or may not, feel that this possibility of doubt is reasonable. A reader who disputes the attribution may do so because he or she challenges the methodology used, or disagrees with the interpretation of evidence offered, or because of a reluctance to accept that writers do tend to display idiosyncratic traits in such a way that their work may be thereby identified (see Lancashire, 1997, 171-3). Those who wish to account persuasively for such a reluctance must address the evidence that just such traits are displayed, for instance, by Middleton, and amply documented by Lake (1975) and by Jackson, who even speculates (with respect to The Revenger's Tragedy) that critics who deny Middleton's authorship of that play simply fail to understand the nature and significance of the evidence for it (1979, 161).

  10. Masten's unwillingness to accept the principle—that writers tend to display identifiable traits—is rendered less convincing by the nature of the evidence he offers. The base of data for Beaumont is clearly unsatisfactory: Hoy's need to deem Beaumont's that which is unFletcherian is problematic. But Masten is taking a forced constraint in order to question the rationale for the whole undertaking. In his other example Masten demands a rigid purism: the exclusion of The Faithful Shepherdess from Hoy's basis for comparison is founded upon a sensitivity to the possibility of flexible styles of composition which he supports. Masten, it may be felt, in supposing an approach based on flimsy principles and engaging in the wilfully selective admission of data, comes close to caricaturing the theory and practice of attributive scholarship.

  11. The attribution of collaborative texts poses particular problems, for there is a special complexity involved in assessing the inception of multi-authored texts. The very presence of more than one composer means that the evidence of one collaborative partner may have been overwritten by another. This is an extension of the ever-present possibility that an author's work may have been retouched by a reviser, a playhouse manager, or during the publishing process. It also offers a further possibility (and it is this possibility to which Masten's strictures most pertinently apply): that the process of collaboration may encourage writers to adapt not only their own subject-matter and choice of expression, but the very use of colloquialism, contractions, and functional vocabulary that supposedly gives a distinctive imprint to their writing.

  12. To explore this we may turn to Eastward Ho, jointly written by Chapman, Jonson, and Marston. Contributors with Shakespeare to the Love's Martyr volume of 1601, each of the trio had secured public literary recognition. The contemporary work of each is plentiful and well-attested, and evinces a reasonably consistent linguistic profile with sharp points of divergence from that of their collaborators. If there was a clear division of text between the three composers, we would have good grounds for hoping to establish what it was. In Lake's view it can be so established, for the bulk of the play, at least (1981). Moreover, the findings tally with what previous scholars had found, working on the basis of searching for parallel expressions or merely for signs of an undefined but recognisable style. There remains, however, the fact that, though the incidence of the contracted form of them is to be found within the postulated shares at roughly the frequencies we would expect, the spelling of 'em is consistently the Jonsonian form: 'hem. This is explained as a non-authorial interpolation. Those who value attribution studies will take the view that spellings are open to compositoral amendment to a degree that contractions are not, and consider that this surprising pattern does not invalidate the play's division. Those who do not will see a self-serving willingness to discard counter-indications.

  13. This essay takes the first approach. It also feels that the confidence with which we may apportion the collaborative load of Eastward Ho throws sharply into relief the weakness of our ability to account for the ways in which the shared nature of the undertaking bore fruit in the way the play was composed. Many helpful things have been said about Eastward Ho's effectiveness, its political daring, its social perceptiveness, and its troubled history. As a collaborative work, however, it is little explored; and efforts to illuminate its multi-authored status have been either tentative or imprecise. Take the suggestion that the disciplines of collaborative working somehow countered the demerits of each writer. Both Petter (1973, xxvii) and Van Fossen (1979, 3) cite the appraisal of Schelling: 'there is a geniality of spirit in Eastward Ho foreign to Marston, a definition of character and a restraint of incident above Chapman, and a fluidity of movement and a naturalness of manner not always to a similar degree Jonson's'. How significant is a critical judgement so general? And could the names of the three dramatists be inserted in any other order with a consequent loss of aptness? Now the play's modern editors cited Schelling partly to illustrate how longstanding is the view that this particular collaboration evinces a 'cohesiveness' (Petter, 1973, xxvii) or a 'seamlessness' (Van Fossen, 1979, 3). Yet the willingness to advance so dated a formulation illustrates something else: the lack of a critical terminology or a mode of exposition by which we can meaningfully speak of a play's collaborative composition. In a way we have no more than Victorian generalities through which to delineate the means by which a collaborative work is realised. Cyrus Hoy felt this lack over twenty years ago (1976, 4), and since then, for all the rich analysis of what an early modern collaborative playwriting culture may have involved, a sense of 'the problems of authority' raised by plural authorship (McMullan, 1998, 130-1 [130]) has inhibited critical attempts to gauge how an individual authorial contribution may have impacted upon a collaborative whole.

  14. David Farley-Hills (1998) has recently explored one aspect of Chapman's contribution to Eastward Ho in the course of a persuasive account of the play's allusions to Hamlet. Longing references to the sexual stimulus of coach journeys by the collaborative play's Gertrude may better be understood as part of Eastward Ho's satire upon Hamlet, and Shakespeare's odd use of wheel is in turn illuminated by the later work. Though his remarks are sensitive to Eastward Ho's collaborative status, Farley-Hills firmly (and if Lake is right, justly) attributes this intertextual play to Chapman. Perhaps, though, the collaborative context can further enrich an understanding of Chapman's contribution. Many instances of Marston's willingness to glance at Hamlet derive from Shakespeare's Gertude: a readiness to move on to a new lover or husband following the actual, supposed, or putative, death of a spouse occurs in almost every play with which Marston is associated: in one example What You Will's shipwrecked Albano returns to Venice 'T'observe his wife's most infamous lewd haste' in remarrying (1980, line 391). And the key point of reference for erotic coach rides is The Scourge of Villainy, III, 122-3, where Marston writes of Lucea's 'pleasure being hurried/In joulting Coach, with glassie instrument'. We know that these lines impacted upon literary consciousness for, as Marston's editor notes (1961, 296), they were echoed by Weever: 'Trusse up your trinckets, Leuca's instruments,/ None use in joulting coaches hurried' (1948, 67).

  15. Chapman's illuminating glance at Hamlet is a Marstonian sort of play, and made by Marstonian means. One way of reading this would be to use it to destabilise conventional divisions of labour; another is to allow a deepened understanding of how Chapman's collaborative contribution may have functioned. His working context not only involved the physical space of the theatre, the tastes of the audience, the solidifying generic marks of urban comedy, and the moment's politics: it encompassed Chapman's working conditions as fellow-author with Marston. Without positing (or necessarily positing) any direction from Marston, we may surmise that the experience of joint working made an adoption of tropes used by Marston to be more likely.

  16. In seeking a critical terminology for multi-authored works we may usefully consider the function of revision: indeed, there is no sharp dividing-line between revised playtexts and collaborative works. Assessing the impact of revision is hardly simple, as testified by the complex problems of analysis presented by plays, such as King Lear, which we possess in more than one version, and for which a single author is presumed. Nevertheless, the operation of revision is comprehensible: one version of a play is transmuted into something else. The revising authorial role is itself compromised and conditioned by the factors pertaining to its own circumstances: we might offer as an obvious example the alteration of a text to assist its readmittance into a repertory at a moment when its material was of particular topical interest. There the existing play operates for the reviser as a pre-dramatised source. The work of the reviser can then be represented as analogous to that of an 'original' playwright, and described in a way sympathetic to a modern understanding of the redactive role of author, who performs a limited task, operating within close formal constraints, and subject to various social, artistic, and commercial pressures.

  17. In the same way a collaborative partner must bend his work to a vision that may not be wholly his own (but so may any playwright), aware that his own work is subject to development by others (as must any dramatist) and working with pre-given material (as with an 'independent' writer for the stage). In a way I'm inverting the truism that all playwriting is collaborative in nature: all collaborative playwriting is like any playwriting.

  18. A mixture of collaboration and revision is to be seen in the plays of the Children of the King's Revels. This company, which played at Whitefriars in 1607 and 1608, was not the 'wildcat business' documented by Hillebrand, 'promoted by greed and managed by chicane', 'a parasitic growth on the Jacobean theatre' (1922, 318-19). Revisionist accounts by William Ingram (1985) and Debra-Brown Young (1987) have seen a planned commercial enterprise reflected in the law-suits and the surviving documents which relate to the company, and Mary Bly has newly identified a specific 'capitalistic endeavour': the attempt to attract an audience 'cognizant of homoerotic desire' through punning plays which repeatedly suggest male/male arousal and the practice of sodomy, and whose cross-dressing characters intimate an instability of gender and of sexual orientation (1998a, 169).

  19. As this essay attempts to relate discussions of the multi-authored inception of drama to the plays of this company, readers of Masten's work will immediately see one potential connection: that of collaborative authorship and homoerotic discourse. It is a connection which (independently of Masten's work) is precisely drawn by Bly and, I take it, obliquely alluded to in her title: 'License Taken'. She seeks partly to contextualise and partly to account for her thesis of a 'commodification of bawdy humour' (1998a, 150) by the claim that the company's 'singularly interactive' plays 'show evidence at the least of [cross-] influence and very possibly of collaboration' (1998a, 151).

  20. King's Revels plays may indeed reveal further evidence of a homoerotic discourse matched by the homosocial marks of a collaborative composition. The Insatiate Countess, shown by Melchiori to possess numerous connections with the playtexts and personnel of this company, appears to have been adapted from Marston's incomplete draft by Lewis Machin and William Barksted (1984, 9-16). Machin's only known and independent work is the collection of three poems appended to Barksted's Mirrha (1607), to which Machin also contributes a commendatory verse 'To his esteemed friend. W.B.'. These poems have their own title-page: 'THREE/Eglogs,/The first is of Menalcas/and Daphnis:/The other two is of Apollo/and Hyacinth./By Lewes Machin'; and they are also briefly advertised on the title page to the quarto: 'Whereunto are added certaine Eglogs./By L.M.' Two of Machin's 'eglogs', Melchiori notes (1984, 13), 'have a marked homosexual character', and the same-sex attraction they celebrate has recently drawn the attention of Mario DiGangi (1997, 10-11). The collaborative theatrical revision of these poet/playwrights may be read as a part of the commodification of homoerotic bawdy detected by Bly in the repertory of the King's Revels: the determination of Claridiana and Rogero to cuckold one another, and their wish to endure capital punishment rather than acknowledge their own cuckolding, suggests a sexuality fired by identification with and emulation of the other. If the overlap between the perspectives of Bly and of Masten required any further demonstration, The Insatiate Countess would furnish it.

  21. Bly's claims for a collaborative playwriting culture at Whitefriars are, however, astonishing in their own right. The plays are 'singularly interactive' 'even within the plagiaristic world of Jacobean drama' (151), and Bly summons evidence from epistles, title-pages, and the work of modern scholars to back her claim. Which plays belong to this company? Seven printed plays claim to have been performed by the troupe: Cupid's Whirligig (published in 1607), The Family of Love, Humour Out of Breath, and The Dumb Knight (1608), The Two Maids of Moreclack (1609), The Turk (1610), and Ram Alley (1611). The Insatiate Countess, whose 1613 title-page claims performance at Whitefriars, has very strong links with the King's Revels (Melchiori, 1984, 9-16). Law-Tricks, whose 1608 title-page mentions the 'Children of the Revels', suggesting either the Queen's or King's Revels, is likely to be another (Melchiori, 1984, 12-13, 45n33). So, it has been claimed (Adams, 1912-13), may Every Woman in Her Humour (1609). The then unpublished Lust's Dominion; or, The Lascivious Queen may have passed through the company's hands, for The Turk was based upon it (Wadsworth, 1953). It is possible that other extant plays of the period have an unannounced connection with the King's Revels (Bly, 1998b).

  22. What evidence is there for a 'singularly interactive' mode of composition? Bly combines an identification of numerous connections between plays written by the company's acknowledged authors with several independent observations to arrive at this claim (1998a, 150-1). The Dumb Knight advertises its double authorship explicitly. Humour Out of Breath's epistle alludes to a second hand, possibly that of Sharpham. Ram Alley, Cupid's Whirligig, The Dumb Knight, and The Turk (the subplot of which, Bly explicitly argues [1998a, 162], may have been the work of an unacknowledged collaborator/reviser) display a strong pattern of verbal correspondence both amongst themselves and with earlier plays, including those of Day and Sharpham. And Bly notes the arguments for the existence of in-company revision to The Family of Love.

  23. To all this Bly could have added The Family's own range of correspondences with its fellow-plays (Melchiori, 1984, 29-30); and that Law-Tricks also reveals the same pattern of connections, for evidence of which it is simplest to cite the bawdy allusions to a 'backe way' (C4v) and to 'backe commings in/And private goings out' (D4), and the unusual 'Protheus like' (G2v), with which we may compare The Turk's 'Proteus-like' (902) and the 'Protean-like' of The Insatiate Countess (IV.ii.242). The Two Maids of Moreclacke also, its editor argues, shows signs of subsequent revision (Liddie, 1979, 13-24). Moreover, the very basis (that of extensive shared passages with The Dumb Knight) on which Every Woman has been ascribed to the company is that of interactive material. And Melchiori's commentary upon The Insatiate Countess, voluminously noting connections with the plays of the King's Revels (1984, 12-13), emerges as the most detailed documentation of the phenomenon offered so far.

  24. We may note that an attention to attribution studies has at every point facilitated the growth in understanding of the collaborative/interactive nature of the company's working. Adams directed his work to the role of Machin as author of Every Woman; Lake linked Lording Barry (named as author on the 1611 title-page of Ram Alley) with The Family in the course of his own labours on Middleton's canon; Melchiori's notes are the fruits of his attempts to unravel the mysteries of The Insatiate Countess's inception. Bly's lucid and ground-beaking identification of the 'singularly interactive' nature of these plays leans heavily and properly upon such investigations.

  25. The studies of Adams, of Lake, and of Melchiori, for all their compelling demand to see the plays they review from a new perspective of connectedness, may nevertheless be misleading. The ascription by Adams of Every Woman to Machin on the basis of the shared passages between that play and The Dumb Knight is highly conjectural, a point fully demonstrated by Tyson (1980, 28-31). Yet the links Adams identified allow us to make a narrower but more strongly-based assertion about the company. Every Woman, whether or not it was ever staged at the Whitefriars, was clearly known to the company prior to its publication in 1609. The two connections of greatest weight between Every Woman and the Whitefriars company are that of verbal correspondence with The Dumb Knight noted by Adams and the confusion of character-names between Every Woman and The Insatiate Countess identified by Melchiori (1984, 14-15). They are independent of one another. The agency of Lewis Machin is a common denominator. We may say, cautiously, that it is highly probable that Machin was crucially involved in the accretions to the King's Revels repertory of material quarried from Every Woman in Her Humour.

  26. A principal linguistic mark, indeed, the single most distinctive mark, of the Barry revisions to The Family of Love detected by Lake (1975, 100), is the use of 'a for he. Lake's extensive and impressive documentation of such frequencies in over one hundred and thirty plays reveals that only thirteen plays reveal more than five such usages, and a mere five plays show more than thirty such usages. These five plays, exhibiting respectively forty-one, eighty, sixty-one, forty-seven, and sixty-seven instances, are The Family of Love, Ram Alley, Cupid's Whirligig, Law Tricks and The Fleire (Lake, 1975, Table I.1). These comprise at least three—and probably four—plays of the King's Revels and the only non-King's Revels play by one of the company's authors: a comedy to which, moreover, as Bly points out (1998a, 151, 159, 175n47), both The Turk and Ram Alley are indebted. This may be coincidence. The plays of Day, with regard to Lake's linguistic evidence, differ from those of Sharpham, and the work of each differs from Ram Alley and The Family: a point stressed by Taylor, Mulholland and Jackson (1999, 229) as they draw attention to the frequency of 'a in the five plays mentioned above while arguing for Barry's sole authorship of The Family of Love.

  27. Yet the marked presence of this distinctive and colloquial form of he, in a context of company interactivity, and appearing within a group of texts with quite separate connections, must make us examine the place of the Ram Alley/The Family link within the operations of the King's Revels. Perhaps Barry worked upon other texts in addition to The Family and Ram Alley; or perhaps some other figure treated a number of texts, including Ram Alley. Now the overlap between The Family and Ram Alley differs in its range and, perhaps, its extent, to those between either play and the other texts which favour 'a, and the presence amongst this set of The Fleire, not played at Whitefriars, despite its being written by Sharpham, clearly weakens the point. Nevertheless the evidence suggests that Lake may have identified one part of a wider network of in-house doctoring; and the playscript most likely to reveal more of this network is Law-Tricks, which, like The Family, uses 'a selectively as well as profusely, and deploys it in the way identified by Lake as 'a Barry mannerism' (1975, 100), whose title mirrors that of Ram Alley's subtitle (and running title), Merry-Tricks, and which shares (H2v) with The Family the unusual expression tut, man, cited by Lake as a Middletonism (1975, 97).

  28. Melchiori accepts the long-standing supposition that the first stage in the composition of The Insatiate Countess was a draft by Marston which was left unfinished at the time of his imprisonment on 8 June 1608. This incomplete version was subsequently worked up by Barksted and Machin. Yet if, as Ingram explains, 'at some point during the spring or summer of 1608, the syndicate must have given over the operation' of the King's Revels at Whitefriars (1985, 213), then such a history becomes difficult to maintain. Marston's abandonment of his script may have been made earlier that year, at the point at which the offence of the 'Mines and other lewd words' took place, but it seems likely, as Ingram notes, that the suppression of playing consequent on this offence, and that of the Byron plays, is itself linked with the collapse of the King's Revels enterprise (1985, 213). Melchiori, following Hillebrand, took the company to have been operating at Whitefriars 'from 1607-1609' (1984, 13). As this operation ceased in the first half of 1608, however, the activity of Barksted and Machin, whose intimate connection with works staged by the King's Revels Melchiori documents so carefully, cannot have been undertaken both on behalf of that enterprise and upon a script abandoned as Marston left writing for the theatre in 1608. And in the light of our awareness of the company's interactive playwriting culture, it is not reasonable to think that such activity, so characteristic of the King's Revels, and carried out by two writers whose connection with that company is independently attested, should have been undertaken for the following Whitefriars tenants, the Children of the Queen's Revels.

  29. The assumption that the text of The Insatiate Countess derives from a draft composed late in Marston's career has been independently questioned. Scott (1977) conjectures a date for this work at the time of Marston's involvement with Paul's, on the basis of associations between The Insatiate Countess and Marston's early, rather than later, plays, of the absence of that indebtedness to Florio's 1603 translation of Montaigne which permeates each of Marston's later plays, and of the presence of echoes of Romeo and Juliet. These arguments, to me, seem just and pertinent, despite Melchiori's doubts (1984, 46). The final point is stronger yet than Scott maintains: it is not merely that allusions to Romeo were specially profuse at the turn-of-the-century, but that several Paul's plays of 1599-1602, amongst them those of Marston, pointedly invoke Shakespeare's tragedy: Antonio and Mellida, Jack Drum's Entertainment, and Blurt, Master Constable. The citing of Romeo in The Insatiate Countess, in which the factional enmity between Rogero and Claridiana is 'Like to the Capulets and Montagues' (I.i.191), is precise. To this we may add a doubt as to whether Marston in fact continued his playwriting career beyond the time of his last known plays for Blackfriars (Dutton, 1991, 188).

  30. What may be learnt about the processing of The Family's text, of the connection between Machin and Every Woman, and of the early inception of The Insatiate Countess, is principally advanced to illustrate the scope of authorship studies. The new perspectives I outline are very easily reached. They require no more than reviewing Lake's data from a company angle, reading Melchiori and Wadsworth in tandem, and linking the debate over the The Insatiate Countess's first draft with the company history offered by Ingram. More extensive and more precise discoveries are unlikely to be so readily available. The authors known to have worked on King's Revels plays have no great corpus of attested writings of single authorship: in the case of Machin, no more than the three modest eglogs already mentioned. Scholars who wish to analyse the composition of Whitefriars playscripts may at some points seek to isolate distinctive yet anonymous authorial contributions.

  31. The identification of separate authorial layers may offer critical insights related not to the composer alone but to date and company affiliation. Let us take The Family of Love once more: Lake suggests the double revision (in 1605 and 1607) of a play originally composed in 1602-3. He is unhappy about the complexity of his hypothesis (1975, 107), but considers it to fit (1) the internal and external evidence for the dates of the play, and (2) the internal and external evidence for its authorship. The first stage has been questioned for differing reasons: by Marotti (1971, 81) and Shepherd (1979, iv), on the grounds that the supposedly Middletonian marks of the play best fit the 1604-5 period, by Marsh (1994, 206), because the satire on the familists is most appropriately dated at the time of the sect's high public profile around 1604, and by Taylor, Mulholland, and Jackson, who believe that there is 'no chronological evidence that points to more than one period of composition or to subsequent adaptation' (1999, 224).

  32. Let us put aside the question of which writer or writers may have been responsible for the different strata of scriptwriting proposed by Lake. The first suggested draft, dated to 1602-3, largely on the basis of allusions to the the siege of Geneva and to performances of a play about Samson, is conjecturally attributed to the Children of Paul's (1975, 94). Independently of these allusions, however, and independently of Middleton's known links to that company in his early career, there is a neatness to an ascription to Paul's in the period before 1604 which derives from The Family's marks of the first years of the re-opened childrens troupe. The play's stylised imitiation of Romeo and Juliet's balcony scenes noted by Olive (1950) match those other imitations written for Paul's (of which The Insatiate Countess may furnish one); Gerardine's emergence from his trunk parallels the company's resurrection motif identified by Gair (1982, 123-6); as Marotti points out (1971, 81), the deflating trial scene reworks a trope of the 'poets' war'; and it may be that 'the lovers' poetry, far from being inept, is careful parody, rather in the manner of Marston's Antonio plays' (Shepherd 1979, 3). Lake's second stage, linked especially to an allusion to the newly-formed Company of the Porters, is dated to 1605. Eberle believed that 'allusions to the religious sect', the Family of Love, were added at this time (1948, 726). It has alternatively been thought that this material, too integrated to be an addition, indicates that the play was newly composed at that time (Marsh, 1994, 206). The satire is structural: the lovers' access to one another in Maria's chamber, to which she has been confined, has a parallel in the meetings of the members of the sect. Unless readers posit a revision so substantial as to amount to a reworking of the whole play, an extensive treatment of the Family of Love must have been a part of the original script; and, in the light of the religious group's prominence immediately before and after the Hampton Court conference, it would seem reasonable to presume that the play was first written then. But the choice is not merely between familist additions and a new and topical familist play: the special circumstances of 1604-5 would have invited the re-admission of the play into the repertory. At that time The Dutch Courtesan, the only other surviving play to feature members of the sect in any sustained form, was playing at Blackfriars: The Family of Love (which displays many points of correlation with The Dutch Courtesan in its handling of the group) may have either constituted or generated a rival treatment.

  33. The Whitefriars manifestation, we may assume, would have projected the sexual aspect of the play's comedy, and especially of the thwarted erotic rivalry of the gallants, Lipsalve and Gudgeon (the homoerotic aspect of which, corresponding to that between Rogero and Claridiana, would have merited a special emphasis). It may be that the text drew little alteration at the two revision stages. The function of repertory design is likely to have been crucial. The written accretions must have been performed with regard not only to the inherited text but to the specific conditions which encouraged the play's release. One special significance of Barry, if the figure so prominent in the company's surviving business documents was the adaptor of The Family of Love, is that he may have been both repertory manager and textual reviser.

  34. If Taylor, Mulholland and Jackson are correct to say that 1605 is 'the earliest possible date for completion' of The Family (1999, 236) then another story emerges, one which 'may tell us something about the larger theatrical history of the years 1605-7' (239). And if it is 'possible to argue with some assurance' that The Family 'was written and performed in 1603-4', as Marsh suggests (1994, 206), then his sense of a work playing upon its audience's awareness of court familists becomes plausible (211-12). Efforts to establish the composition history of a play inevitably seek to shape our sense of its meaning. Should a consensus about The Family's composition be attainable, then we stand to gain a deepened awareness of the play's commercial and artistic aims.

  35. There is every prospect that other King's Revels plays would gain illumination through equivalent knowledge. There is, of course, a daunting challenge of methodology and rigour involved; and it is no purpose of the present essay to understate this challenge. Bly, in collating the impressive corpus of arguments to back her assertion of a 'singularly interactive' scriptwriting ensemble, combines strong evidence with more conjectural material: the case for an unacknowledged collaborator in The Turk partly relies upon a divergence of manner between the bawdy subplot and a tragic narrative whose language is 'marked by tendentious scholasticism and weighty phrases, suggestive of a recent university graduate' (1998a, 162). The single use of a textual dash as an ellipsis is the principal basis upon which Bly connects Day with The Turk (1998a, 176n56). Bly's general analysis of the likeness of the subplot to other Whitefriars material, of its dissonance of tone with the play's main plot, and of the possibility of an adaptive collaborator, seem to me strikingly perceptive, yet her discussion of the play demands a more systematic analysis of her provisional comments, and the statement that 'there is no way to be certain about attribution' (1998a, 162) smacks of too hurried an acceptance of scholarly prudence.

  36. This tentative note may seem to fit Masten's doubts, or McMullan's: yet it is the work of attributative scholars, however flawed, which underpins Bly's crucial and enlightening conflation. If we wish to deepen our understanding of the way in which playtexts of plural authorship took shape, this essay argues, we must try to wed an awareness of the cultural, commercial, and performative contexts of production to the most searching, accurate, sceptical, and persistent attempt to determine what layers of composition underlie such texts, when they were formed, and who formed them; and not to regard any such attempt as irrelevant or unhelpful to our own collaborative quest. 1


1. I am grateful to Gary Taylor for having been given the opportunity to read a draft of the 1999 article by Taylor, Mulholland, and Jackson prior to its publication.


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