graphic Shakespeare and the Book

The Creation of Dramatic Authorship
Author Attributions on Title Pages

Shakespeare, Henry the Fifth (1608 [1619]): title page

When plays from the professional theater were first published in the late sixteenth century, their title pages rarely named an author. Shakespeare, for example, went unnamed on all eight editions of his plays published from 1594 to 1597. Instead of authors, professional playing companies were typically included on play title pages; from 1576 to 1597, they were named on about 60% of title pages, authors on about a quarter. Companies, therefore, and their collaboration of sharers, players, musicians, costumers, bookkeepers, theatrical scribes, and writers, were initially marketed as the originating producers of plays.

Over the course of the seventeenth century, however, this trend gradually changed. Publishers increasingly named authors on play title pages, so that by the 1650s, about 85% of play title pages contained an author. Even as early as 1598, Shakespeare's name appeared on four title pages: Richard the Third, Love's Labor's Lost, and two editions of Richard the Second. As a result, plays were no longer primarily sold as the products of collaborative theater companies, but as the works of single individuals, or sometimes of two or three such individuals. In the pages that follow, we can see various types of author attributions from the early seventeenth century and some evidence for changes in their use.

The title page from the third edition of Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, prominently dated "1608," does not name an author, advertising instead that it was "sundry times playd by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants." The date on its title page is a fabrication; the play is actually from 1619 and was intended to be part of a collection of ten Shakespeare plays put out by Thomas Pavier, the "T.P." on the title page. Pavier's project fell through, though, partly because the Lord Chamberlain forbid the Stationers' Company to print any plays belonging to the King's Men-as Shakepeare's plays did-without the company's consent.

Rather than lose money on copies that had already been printed, Pavier produced a spurious title page for Henry the Fifth, one with the false date of "1608" and with its wording copied from the two earlier editions of the play (from 1600 and 1602). Thus, this edition of Henry the Fifth, which its publisher obviously knew was written by Shakespeare and in fact was part of project designed to capitalize on Shakespeare's name, omits an author attribution as part of a deliberate strategy to make the play seem older than it was.

Massinger, The Roman Actor (1629): title page

By 1629, single authors were a regular feature on play title pages. The title page to The Roman Actor (1629) still names a playing company-"the Kings majesties Servants"-but it also identifies the play as having been "Written By Philip Massinger."

W. S., Thomas Lord Cromwell (1613): title page;  Shakespeare, Fourth Folio (1685): title page; first page of Thomas Lord Cromwell;  Ford, Perkin Warbek (1634): title page

Some title pages only used a set of initials to identify their authors. Thomas Lord Cromwell (1613; originally published in 1602) is advertised as having been written by "W. S.," an attribution that later earned it a place in the second issue of the Shakespeare Third Folio (1664) and in the Shakespeare Fourth Folio (1685). It no longer is considered part of the Shakespeare canon. John Ford, in a form of author attribution that was even more rare, is identified by the anagram "Fide Honor" on the title pages of four his plays, including Perkin Warbeck (1634).

Chapman, Jonson, and Marston, Eastward Hoe (1605): title page

Collaborative authorship was a standard practice in the early modern theater. The theatrical manager Philip Henslowe, for instance, kept an diary in which he recorded all the playwrights that he paid for each play. Of the 282 plays that he mentions, nearly two-thirds were written by more than one person. But relatively few title pages record this aspect of the theater; when a title page does list an author, it usually lists only one. A notable exception is Eastward Hoe (1605), the only play before 1650 to name three authors on its title page.

Middleton and Rowley, The Changeling (1653): title page<br>
  2.2 Beaumont and Fletcher, Knight of the Burning Pestle (1635): title page

The Changeling (1653) and The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1635) designate multiple authors, joining their names with brackets and a shared attribution of status. The use of brackets to link the names of two authors primarily developed during the 1620s and 1630s on the play title pages of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, the early modern period's most famous collaborative duo.

Images: Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Technology: Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning