"Young Shakespeare's Aspirations" by Gabriel Egan
How did the young Shakespeare get his break in the theatre? Between 1585 when he is last heard of in Stratford-upon-Avon and 1592 when a dying dramatist in London parodies a line from Henry 6, Part 3 and tells his colleagues to beware a new upstart who thinks himself "the only Shake-scene" around, we do not know where Shakespeare lived or what he was doing. But by 1592 he had broken into the theatre industry in London, as an actor and a writer. He also seems to have had aspirations to be a non-dramatic poet, but it was his plays that most rapidly made his fame and fortune. What other aspirations might Shakespeare have had? In this talk we explore the start of Shakespeare's career and the ways that it set the pattern for the rest of his life. We see also that he had aspirations to be a published author, not just a man of the theatre, and we look at how far he realized that ambition in his own lifetime.
Shakespeare's Start in the Theatre
We know quite a bit about the young Shakespeare's life because it created official records in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. We have the register of his baptism in 1564 and of his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582 when he was 18 years old and she was 27 and already three months pregnant. In their first three years of marriage the Shakespeares had three children--Susanna in 1583 and the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585--and these events also leave records in Stratford-upon-Avon. But thereafter, from 1585, Shakespeare more or less disappears from the records and we just don't know where he was. He next pops up on the grid in 1592 in London in the theatre industry when the playwright Robert Greene is supposed to have called him:
an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey. (Greene 1592, F1r)
I say that Greene "is supposed to have called" Shakespeare this but in fact Greene doesn't mention Shakespeare by name here in this extract from a pamphlet called Green's Groatsworth of Wit of 1592 that claims to record what Greene said on his death-bed. Greene simply warns his fellow playwrights that there is an "upstart crow" around London, and by "beautified with our feathers" he seems to be alluding to Aesop's fable sometimes called "The Bird in Borrowed Feathers". In this story, a crow picks up some discarded feathers from prettier birds such as peacocks and sticks them amongst its own feathers to try to pass itself off as one of them.
The point of Greene's attack seems to be that Shakespeare, now aged 28, is trying to be something he isn't, and that something seems to be: being a playwright. That's what Greene means by "bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you". But how do we know that Greene is referring to Shakespeare here? Two clues. He says that this upstart crow is "in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey", which sounds like a theatrical pun on Shakespeare's name. And, taking in a new direction the idea of a crow wearing others' feathers, he says that this man also has a "Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde", where hide means an animal skin. This is an adaptation of a line from a play that was, much later, attributed to Shakespeare, called Richard Duke of York in which Richard says to Queen Margaret that she has a "tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" (1.4.138). By changing "woman's hide" to "player's hide" Greene is saying that there's an actor--they were known as players--who is pretending to be something he isn't, like a crow dressing himself up in other birds' feathers. And what is this lowly actor trying to be? Well, it must be a playwright, since Greene then quotes, or rather deliberately misquotes, one of Shakespeare's own lines from one of his earliest plays. Calling this new upstart an "Iohannes fact totum" (meaning a Jack-of-all-trades) also confirms that Shakespeare is aspiring to be something he shouldn't: a creative writer.
Greene's deathbed warning to other writers might not in fact be by Greene as it was put together by the writer Henry Chettle and could be Chettle's own work, so essentially a forgery (Jowett 1993). But either way it tells us that by 1592 Shakespeare was an actor and that he had aspirations to be a writer. How did Shakespeare come to be an actor? We simply don't know. When he was a child and a young man in Stratford-upon-Avon some of the best acting companies in the country certainly visited his home town, and nearby towns, on their annual tours and performed shows in their guildhalls. Perhaps in the lost years of 1585-1592 he joined one of these troupes when it came to or near Stratford and left the town with them as they continued on their tour. Because he was the son of quite an important figure in the commercial life of Stratford, Shakespeare would have gone to the town's grammar school and received an education that required extensive reading in English and Latin, including lots of plays and oratory, and he would have practised public speaking and performance. In the late 17th century a story emerged that Shakespeare left Stratford and went to seek his fortune in London because he was caught stealing deer from the park of a local landowner and had to flee from home. The truth is that we do not know how Shakespeare ended up in London in 1592, but from Greene's evidence we know he was there and was working in the theatres as an actor who was aspiring to become a playwright and upsetting at least one playwright in the process.
Shakespeare's Collaborative Plays
Just how Shakespeare got into the theatre is a mystery we may never solve, but new light is being thrown on just what he did as he started his writing career. The more that we study the early plays of Shakespeare, the more that we discover that he did not write them on his own. We now have all of Shakespeare's works in the form of digital texts that we can process with computers and we also have almost everything else that was published in printed form at the time, so we can start to make computerized comparisons of authorial style. Even before we had computers to do this, it was possible to notice that certain phrases are preferred by certain writers. But we all also have certain habits of style that are less easily spotted by the eye.
About half of all the words that we say and write are the very common words such as the, and in, and on, and but, and so on, that we call 'function' words. It is tiresome for a reader to manually count how often a writer uses these very common words, and how often they are used in various combinations with one another, but computers do not get tired counting these things. We can now analyse just how different writers use these so-called 'function' words that do not carry any meaning of their own but serve as the glue we use to join together the more interesting 'lexical' words in our sentences. We can also go looking for the more interesting lexical phrases used in a piece of writing from Shakespeare's time and, because we have virtually all the writing of the period in digital form, we can figure out just which phrases were common at the time and which really were the preferred phrases of certain writers that no-one else was using.
Writing the software to do these comparisons by machine and running it is the art we call Computational Stylistics and in the past few years it has given us a very different picture of the start of Shakespeare's career than we are used to. We must distinguish, of course, between what Shakespeare wrote and when, and what was published and when. That is, we know of works that we are confident he wrote in the early 1590s but did not get published until 30 years later in the early 1620s when the first volume of the collected plays of Shakespeare was published. A play published early in a writer's career must have been published early in that career, but a play published late in a writer's career need not have been written late in that career: it may simply have lain in a drawer unpublished for a long time. Here is a list of what we know think are the first books by Shakespeare that were published:
1592 Arden of Faversham (a play)
1593 Venus and Adonis (a poem)
1594 Titus Andronicus (a play)
1594 The Rape of Lucrece (a poem)
1594 The Contention of York and Lancaster / 2 Henry 6 (a play)
1595 Richard Duke of York / 3 Henry 6 (a play)
1596 Edward 3 (a play)
You might be wondering why I said that these are what we think Shakespeare published --surely we know what he published because his books will have his name on them? In fact, no, it was perfectly normal for plays to be published at this time without the writers' name on the title-page. Let us look at the title-pages of five plays in this list. [SLIDE] The first two are Arden of Faverham published in 1592 on the left and Titus Andronicus published in 1594 on the right. [Read them both out]. Notice that both are published by the same publisher, Edward White.
Both plays are tragedies and notice that both are called "lamentable", suggesting that there is a moral value to reading about these sad events and lamenting over them. We don't know who came up with the wording for play title-pages, but the publisher would have the final say and it is noticeable that other tragedies published by White also use this word "lamentable" on their title-pages. Notice that for Titus Andronicus (but not Arden of Faversham) the title-page tells us about the acting companies that performed the play and there are three of them: the Earl of Derby's men, the Earl of Pembroke's men, and the Earl of Sussex's men. How come three playing companies, who would normally be rivals with one another competing for audiences, played the same play? We don't know, but the likeliest explanation is that Shakespeare belonged to each of these three companies at different times in his early career and that he brought with him, when he joined each company in turn, this play Titus Andronicus he had written and that was apparently popular. (We know it was popular because people were still talking about it decades later--they remembered it.) Although we hear from Greene that Shakespeare was an actor by 1592 we do not know which acting company or companies he was in until in 1594 he is named as a founding member of a new company called the Lord Chamberlain's men that Shakespeare then stayed with until the end of the his career.
Notice that neither play title-page mentions Shakespeare as the author. This is not just true of Shakespeare: almost all play title pages of this period neglected to mention the name of the author. It's rather the same as with Hollywood film posters today: the title-page tells you something of the story and why you should be interested, and tells you about its circumstances of production (the publisher and printer's names are there) but not the writer's name.
If you know a bit about Shakespeare you probably recognize the name of the play Titus Andronicus but probably not the name of the play Arden of Faversham. If both plays were written by Shakespeare how come one of them is well known and one isn't? The answer is that Titus Andronicus was included in the collected plays edition of Shakespeare that was published in 1623, six years after his death, that we now call the First Folio of Shakespeare. Arden of Faversham was not included in the First Folio, so for centuries we did not know that it is by Shakespeare, although now due Computational Stylistics we do know (Jackson 2014). Or rather, we know that Arden of Faversham is partly by Shakespeare and partly by one or more other writers, for that is what the results of Computational Stylistics tell us. This is also true of Titus Andronicus: although it was published in the 1623 First Folio as if it were entirely by Shakespeare, it is now clear that the whole of the first act of the play and part of the second was written by the playwright George Peele (Vickers 2002, 148-243).
[SLIDE] Let's return to my list of the first works published by Shakespeare to look at his next three published plays, and let's look at their title-pages. [SLIDE] The first is called The First Part of the Contention Between the Famous Houses of York and Lancaster (later the play was renamed Henry 6 Part 2) and there's no mention of Shakespeare or the playing company. The second is a continuation of the same story and is called the tragedy of Richard Duke of York (later renamed Henry 6 Part 3). These two plays depict the English Wars of the Roses and after he had finished them Shakespeare wrote what we would now call a prequel telling the earlier part of the story, which was named Henry 6 Part 1. Again there is no mention of Shakespeare, although Richard Duke of York does name the acting company, and it's Pembroke's Men, who were one of the three companies named on the title-page of Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare's next published play was Edward 3, which has a very minimalist title-page: no mention of the plot or the writer or the playing company.
So, those are how Shakespeare's early plays appeared to his first readers: utterly anonymously. [SLIDE] Of these plays, three have long been known to be Shakespeare's because they appeared in the first collected plays editions of 1623: Titus Andronicus, Henry 6 Part 2, and Henry 6 Part 3. But Arden of Faversham and Edward 3 have only recently been discovered to be Shakespeare's work so they are widely unknown even amongst professional Shakespeare scholars. Shakespeare wrote all these plays, but he wrote none of them on his own [SLIDE]. In each case Shakespeare wrote only part of the play and the rest was written by one or more other writers. So, that's a our first important big fact about how the young Shakespeare began to fulfil his career aspirations: he started out by writing with others. We don't know how these collaborations were organized, but certainly George Peele with whom he wrote Titus Andronicus was eight years older than Shakespeare and had been writing plays since the early 1580s. We may assume that although he only wrote the beginning of Titus Andronicus, Peele was the senior partner in the collaboration.
Christopher Marlowe, who co-wrote all three of the Henry 6 plays (Craig & Kinney 2009, 40-78; Craig & Burrows 2012; Egan et al. 2016), on the other hand, was exactly the same age as Shakespeare, being in his late 20s at the beginning of the 1590s. How they collaborated we do not know, and it's possible but the Henry 6 plays began life as play entirely by persons other than Shakespeare, including Marlowe, and that Shakespeare then took them over and rewrote parts of them for himself to make the hybrid plays that we now know. Where Shakespeare wrote with others whose identities we don't know--that is, Arden of Faversham and Edward 3--we naturally do not know how they collaborated. But thanks to Computational Stylistics we can something about Shakespeare's co-authors. In the case of Arden of Faversham, whoever the co-author or co-authors were, they were not Thomas Kyd or Christopher Marlowe (Craig & Kinney 2009, 78-99). And in the case of Edward 3, whoever the co-authors were, they were not Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe or George Peele (Craig & Kinney 2009, 116-33). The styles of Kyd, Marlowe, and Peele simply are not present in the these two plays.
What does this all tell us about Shakespeare's aspirations as a young(ish) man entering the theatre profession in the late 1580s and early 1590s? It tells us that he did not burst onto the scene as a wholly original and singular voice that was unlike what had come before. He did not arrive from Stratford-upon-Avon with a saddle-bag full of scripts written in splendid isolation with which to dazzle the London theatre. Instead, he arrived and somehow became an actor and then began to collaborate with other writers on a series of plays that became successful. He annoyed at least one other writer, Robert Greene (or whoever was forging what Greene was supposed to have said) by making the transition from actor to writer. In collaborating with Peele and Marlowe he was working with men who already had written successful plays in the 1580s so we must assume that he was the junior partner in the relationship. We can think of this in many ways as a kind of informal apprenticeship, with Shakespeare learning his profession from the master craftsman with whom he works.
Shakespeare as a Narrative Poet
[SLIDE] Let us return again to the list of early editions of Shakespeare's works, because I skipped over two of them that are quite unlike the others. As well as writing plays, the young aspirational Shakespeare also wrote poems not for performance but for private reading. These were long poems: Venus and Adonis is 1,200 lines long and The Rape of Lucrece is more than half as long again. The poems are narratives based on classical myths. Venus and Adonis is based on parts of the book Metamorphosis by the Roman poet Ovid who lived around the time of Jesus Christ and it tells the kind of story that Shakespeare repeatedly returned to: a woman (in this case the goddess Venus) pursuing a man (Adonis) who rejects her. There are women like this and doing this right across Shakespeare's plays from Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona to Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Olivia in Twelfth Night, Helen in All's Well that Ends Well, Mariana in Measure for Measure, and the mad Gaoler's Daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen. The Rape of Lucrece is also about sexual attraction, and like Venus and Adonis is ends badly for the attractive person as Lucrece kills herself to wipe out what she considers to be the shame that has fallen upon her.
The publication histories of these two long narrative poems are very different from the publications histories of Shakespeare's plays. [SLIDE] Here is the title-page of Venus and Adonis together with its dedication to the young Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley. Although Shakespeare's name does not appear on the title-page, he signs the dedication which, as is the manner of such dedications, is sycophantically flattering and describes the poem as mere "unpolished lines" that are scarcely worth the attention of this extremely rich young man. This is not a play aimed to please a popular audience in the theatre but a poem targetted at one young aristocratic man. The obvious inference is that Shakespeare hoped to received the patronage of Henry Wriothesley, and patronage was a long-established way for a writer to maintain a living by this pen. This sort of life took a lot of crawling.
Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece published the following year, 1594, has a title-page and dedication that look like this [SLIDE]. Again the poem is dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, in a way that dispraises the work ("untutored lines") and praises the young aristocrat, although this time Shakespeare manages to get some rather poetic writing into the dedication: "What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours". Indeed, we might detect beneath the flattery some real affection here, even romantic love. Whatever the motivation behind writing these two long narrative poems, publishing them and dedicating them to the Earl of Southampton must have been a conscious decision by Shakespeare since he signed the dedication page.
Moreover, both books were printed in London by Richard Field of Stratford-upon-Avon who was just three years older than Shakespeare. Because of their close family connections Shakespeare and Field must have known each other since childhood. In his plays, Shakespeare very seldom referred to any of his contemporaries, and just three cases are widely accepted. In The Merry Wives of Windsor Shakespeare has Slender brag that once he caught the celebrated bear Sackerson (1.1.275-6). In Henry 5 the Chorus refers to "the General of our gracious Empress" (5.0.30) which is generally taken to mean the Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth's favourite. And in Cymbeline, Innogen pretends to be a boy servant to "Richard du Champ" (4.2.379), "A very valiant Briton, and a good" (4.2.371, 379), which sounds like Shakespeare making a compliment to his old schoolfriend Richard Field who sometimes translated his own name as Ricardo del Campo.
So, we have two distinct career paths lying before the young William Shakespeare in the early 1590s: he could be a dramatist for the popular stage or he could be a poet with an aristocratic patron. It is unlikely that he thought he could be both because in the early 1590s they were widely perceived to be entirely incompatible activities, quite different career paths. Poets spent their time either with the aristocrats at court or at their country homes, keeping away from ordinary people and ordinary life. They might help out with the education of the aristocrat's children, but that was a close as they got to anything like a job. Dramatists for the popular stage, on the other hand, worked in London in the theatres that were literally on the city's fringes. (Once or twice a year the most-favoured acting companies might get invited to perform at court, but this was not a significant part of their income and was undertaken to keep the court on their side more than anything else.)
[SLIDE] This is what the capital looked like in Shakespeare's time and this [SLIDE] part is what is officially London, all the area outside the city wall (or south of the river) was officially the suburbs. And [SLIDE] here is where the open-air theatres were, forming a ring around the affluent central district. Theatre was popular entertainment but at the same time literally marginal, tolerated but dangerous. Officially, performances at 2pm on a weekday afternoon should have found no audiences except the well-off, since all working people should have been at their jobs. But in fact working people flocked to the theatres, and with between two and five theatres open at any one time, as much as 10% of London's population of 100,000 people was at the theatre each afternoon instead of being at work. And it was not just the form but the content of theatre that was social dangerous. It was bad enough to bring together 2,000 or more working people, but it was worse still to have them watch other working people pretend to be kings, queens, princes, dukes and earls, or gods and classical heroes, fighting for power and wealth and love.
How did Shakespeare choose, then, between the two career paths of poet or dramatist? It seems that to a certain extent matters beyond Shakespeare's control decided things for him. The 1998 film Shakespeare in Love written by John Madden and Tom Stoppard begins in exactly our period, the early 1590s, and it accurately depicts the economic hardships suffered by acting companies when the theatres were closed due to plague. These closures were ordered by the government and were a sensible precaution because large crowds really were the ideal conditions for spreading plague as infected fleas jumped from one person to another. But the effects of plague closure on theatre companies were devastating because, unlike trades operated by the old medieval guild system, there was no welfare support system to members of this new industry through hard times. A long plague closure from the middle of 1592 to the middle of 1594 coincides with the publication of Shakespeare's two long narrative poems, so presumably he turned to this alternative form of creativity because the theatres were closed and there was no demand for new plays. The acting companies often went on tour when the plague closed their London theatres, but on tour there is no need to keep coming up with new plays as there was with the captive audience in London. In London, the same audiences kept coming back day after day and had to be given new plays. Nobody in Coventry would object if the actors simply performed the same play they had given Leicester two days before and would give in Oxford two days later.
When the theatre reopened in 1594, after the long plague closure, Shakespeare's career really took off. He joined what was to become the most successful theatre company of the age--the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later renamed the King's Men--and for the next 10 years he wrote two plays a year that were increasingly successful. In just three years, by May 1597, Shakespeare had amassed enough wealth to buy the second best house in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and he went on to make further purchases of land. As far as we know he wrote no more long narrative poems although he appears to have continued writing shorter poems including his Sonnets which were published in 1609, although whether they were published with or without his permission is hotly disputed by scholars.
Shakespeare as a Published Author
As books, Shakespeare's narrative poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece sold extremely well, going through 16 and 8 editions respectively by 1650. Until very recently it was widely said by scholars that although Shakespeare cared about the publication of his poems, he did not care about the publication of this plays and made no efforts to become a successful published author. This is the view you will find in most of today's textbooks, even in ones written by me, and it is wrong. We now know that Shakespeare aspired to be a successful author in the print medium, and that he succeeded in achieving this aspiration. Why did we ever think that Shakespeare might be indifferent to print? The reason is that in his day theatre was the mass medium and print was a minority pursuit, which is precisely the opposite of how our media work today. Theatre was the mass medium because each open-air playhouse could hold up to 3,000 spectators and there were several of them operating at once. It was the mass medium because a theatre seldom showed the same play two days in a row: there was a rotating repertory and a new play was introduced to it every couple of weeks.
Theatre, at least when performed outdoors, had the feeling of social experience that united spectators in their responses. Books are very different. Aside from the fact that they are mainly read when alone and to oneself, books were quite unlike the social experience of theatre because literacy was not high: most people simply couldn't read them. Books were also relatively expensive: it cost a penny to see Hamlet performed at the Globe in 1600, but six times as much to buy the book of the play. This is an exact reversal of the pricing we now enjoy in which books are cheap and theatre tickets are expensive. Added to that, the print runs of books were limited by the guild of publishers to just 1500 copies, whereas twice that many spectators could squeeze into the Globe to see the play. We have for a long time taken these conditions of dissemination, and the lack of any direct evidence of Shakespeare's involvement with the publication of this plays, as reasons to assume that he was thoroughly a 'man of the theatre' who saw in performance the realization and culmination of his artistic effort.
We kept saying this until about 12 years ago when a relatively obscure Swiss scholar, Lukas Erne, re-examined the whole question and came to the conclusion that Shakespeare did have aspirations to be a successful author in print (Erne 2013b). That is, Shakespeare aspired to be what Erne called a literary dramatist. Looking at the publication of Shakespeare's plays, Erne observed that throughout the 1590s his fame and popularity rose. Between 1594 when he joined the Chamberlain's Men and the turn of the century in 1600, Shakespeare wrote perhaps 12 to 14 plays for this company. (The uncertainty is due to the fact that we cannot be sure just exactly when some plays were written.) Of these, nearly all of them were in print by 1602, and Erne attributed this to the playing company seeing it as being in their interests to publish the plays to raise their collective profile and as a kind of marketing. As a sharer in the Chamberlain's Men, this decision was as much Shakespeare's to make as anybody else's. Erne left out of this equation the plays Shakespeare wrote before he joined the Chamberlain's Men in 1594, of which there were perhaps 7 or 8, on the grounds that these were out of the hands of the Chamberlain's Men. Some of them, we have seen--Titus Andronicus, The Contention of York and Lancaster (2 Henry 6) and Richard Duke of York (3 Henry 6)--had in any case already been published.
Erne's theory that Shakespeare agreed with his fellow actors that publishing his plays would only do them good gets taken further in the second half of his book where Erne argues that by about 1600 Shakespeare could see that he was gaining a substantial and appreciative readership. From 1598, Shakespeare's plays began to be printed with his name on the title-pages, proving that his name itself helped to sell copies. Shakespeare cannot have been unaware of this, and Erne goes on to argue that Shakespeare began writing with his readers in mind. This, Erne explains, is why some early editions of some Shakespeare plays are much longer than other early editions of the same plays. The short versions, generally those printed as individual one-play editions during Shakespeare's lifetime, represent what got performed on the stage, while the longer versions, generally (but not always) those printed in 1623 collected plays edition known as the First Folio, reflect additional writing that Shakespeare did simply to please his readers.
If Erne is right, and I think he is, this changes our view of Shakespeare's artistic aspirations. Shakespeare wanted to be a successful published author as well as a writer of plays that were successful on the stage. In a new book recently published, Erne takes the argument one stage further and argues that Shakespeare not only aspired to be a successful author in print, but he also succeeded in that aspiration, becoming by far the most frequently published and republished dramatist of his age (Erne 2013a). Astonishingly, for this new book Erne needed to make no fresh discoveries to demonstrate conclusively that Shakespeare was by a long way the most successful dramatist in print in his lifetime and for decades after. He merely had to count things that anyone could have counted before.
Just how to count things can be a point of contention, of course: does the 1623 Folio count as one edition of Shakespeare, or 36, once for each play? And, for comparison, how do you count the plays in the Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher collection of 1647 given that it has "only a few Beaumont-and-Fletcher collaborations, fewer than a dozen single-authored Fletcher plays and no single-authored Beaumont plays, but a number of Fletcher-and-Massinger collaborations as well as, it seems, collaborations between Fletcher and Nathan Field; Fletcher and Middleton; Fletcher and Rowley; Middleton and Rowley; Fletcher, Massinger and Field; and Fletcher, Massinger, Ford and Webster; and a single-authored play by Ford" (). Erne's counts have the significant merit of not being idiosyncratic: he tallies in much the same way as Alan Farmer and Zachary Lesser have tallied for their scrupulous demonstration that, contrary to recent claims--printed plays were an important and lucrative part of the early publishing industry.
Since much of what I have said about authorship, aspiration, and success has been built on numerical data, I shall end with some of Erne's startling statistics. First, recall that print runs of plays were limited to 1,500 copies, so we can use as a good measure of whether a book was successful the fact of whether or not it was reprinted in a second edition and whether or not that second edition followed soon after the first. On average in this period 20% of plays were reprinted within nine years of first publication, but for Shakespeare's it was 60%, and broadening the horizon to 25 years after first publicatoin the average was 50% for everyone else but 85% for Shakespeare (Erne 2013a, 47-48). Even more stark is a simple rank order of total numbers of editions up to the closure of the theatres in 1642: 145 editions of Shakespeare's plays, followed by 55 of Thomas Heywood's, then 41 of Ben Jonson's, then 36 of Fletcher's. Extending the period to 1660 makes little difference: Shakespeare still has twice as many editions as his nearest rival (Erne 2013a, 41-42).
By any measure, the young Shakespeare's aspirations were entirely fulfilled. Necessarily, as an actor Shakespeare collaborated with others, for theatre demands working. As a writer Shakespeare chose to collaborate with others although he did not have to. Shakespeare's individuality was not submerged in these collaborations. Rather they provided the conditions that enabled it to flourish. In the field of literary studies there has been since the 1960s a widespread prejudice against the individuality of the authorial voice and in favour of the idea of a collective cultural voice. The idea is that the writer speaks only the language of the times, that all writing is just what Roland Barthes called a tissue of quotations of what has been said before. In this model of authorship, when writers collaborate they blend their voices so that their individuality is lost and this is supposed a good thing. These ideas came out of French literary theory that was meant to be inspired by Marxism, but Marx himself took a very different view. "In a real community", wrote Marx, "the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association" (Marx & Engels 1974, 83). This is an understanding of humanity that is unremittingly social and in which the fullest expression of individuality is only possible through our relations with other people. That is, I believe, also a core principles of the Humanities as taught and researched here at De Montfort University.
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