Group Theory

A Royal Elizabethan Writers' Room

Is it strange that William Shakespeare’s very detailed will lists no books or manuscripts as part of his estate? Is it remarkable that not one of England’s poet-dramatists, upon the death of Shakespeare, wrote a single line lamenting his passing or praising his literary talents?

 

The idea that a group of individuals worked together to create the Shakespeare Canon has been growing in popularity. Since it is common knowledge that during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century different artists collaborated in the writing of plays, it’s not surprising that a “group theory” has arisen regarding those attributed to Shakespeare. Add this to the fact that several groups famous for their writing (and drinking) escapades are documented during this time. The University Wits, The Friday Club and The King's Men are three of the most popular. In addition to Wilton Circle, presided over by the Sidney family.

 

Many individuals from the aristocracy, professional playwrights and even actors and producers such as Richard Burbage have been proposed as possible co-authors of the plays. Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, ran a literary academy at her estate in Wiltshire where most of the principal authors of the day spent significant periods of time, competing and collaborating. These writers were the backbone of English Renaissance literature. The group included Abraham Fraunce, Nicholas Breton, Henry Constable, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Edward Dyer, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, Hugh Sanford, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Watson, Ben Jonson, and Fulke Greville.

Arguments can be made for the contribution of others to the canon as well, such as Richard Barnfield, George Chapman, Thomas Dekker, Robert Greene, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, the Earl of Rutland (Roger Manners), Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere), John Marston, and John Webster. John Florio was a close friend to both Mary Sidney and Fulke Greville, as well as the Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

This academy was akin to a spider web with Mary Sidney and Fulke Greville at the center and strong links to all of the other candidates, all the theaters and acting troupes, the courts of England and Europe, the noble families, the politicians, the spy services and, especially, Stratford-upon-Avon and the First Folio of 1623.

*** note that the panel on the right is from the painting "Shakespeare and his contemporaries at the Mermaid Tavern" by John Faed, 1851. The 4 men depicted from left to right are: Sir Walter Raleigh, 3rd Earl of Southhampton, Robert Cotton and Thomas Dekkar.

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