Shakespeare Collaboration

Shakespeare is thought to have collaborated with at least nine other poets on his own plays, and with other poets on their plays.

  • Henry VIII seems to have been composed very largely in partnership with John Fletcher.
  • The Two Noble Kinsmen , probably also composed in 1613, was written principally by John Fletcher, with Shakespeare contributing; and is not therefore counted as a Shakespeare play. The Two Noble Kinsmen was not published until 1634 and bore the names of both authors.
  • Some scholars believe that Philip Massinger was also involved in helping to write Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
  • The History of Cardenio, the lost Shakespeare play, seems to have been written in collaboration with Fletcher, the publisher Humphrey Moseley claiming copyright on it in 1653 as an old play said to be by Shakespeare and Fletcher.
  • Many scholars consider that the collaborator with Shakespeare on Pericles Prince of Tyre, was probably the dramatist George Wilkins, who wrote an accompanying novel to the play entitled The Painful Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Being the True History of the Play of Pericles, published in 1608—although John Day and Thomas Heywood have also been suggested. In addition some scholars think that Wilkins may have contributed to Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens.

Besides Fletcher, Massinger, Wilkins, Day and Heywood, other collaborators in the Shakespeare plays have been identified as or conjectured as being Christopher Marlowe, George Peele, Thomas Middleton and Robert Greene.[1]

  • Christopher Marlowe. Although there appears to be a significant difference in style, breadth of knowledge and depth of meaning between the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays, some of the Marlowe plays show signs of ‘Shakespeare’ and some early Shakespeare plays show signs of ‘Marlowe’.
  • George Peele has often been proposed as a possible part-author of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 1, and Titus Andronicus, the latter being an expansion of a Peele work that survives chiefly in Act 1.
  • Robert Greene has been suggested as partly responsible for some of Titus Andronicus and Henry VI, Parts 1 & 2, as also contributing to The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1590-1) has a number of elements pointing to his and Shakespeare’s collaboration on the play, and his Pandosto (1588) was the source for the plot of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale.
  • Thomas Middleton is considered to have been a collaborator on Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and Macbeth. For instance, there are signs of the Hecate scenes in Macbeth having been written by Middleton, and two songs are included which are also to be found in Middleton’s play, The Witch (c 1610-20).

It is noteworthy that all the collaborators with Shakespeare were university men (with the possible exception of George Wilkins, about whom little is known).

In addition, there are strong influences showing in the Shakespeare plays from many other poets.

Contemporary influences come from dramatists such as Kyd, Marlowe and Daniel (history and tragedy), and Lyly, Greene and Peele (comedy), and from epic poets such as Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney.

In his early plays Shakespeare was particularly influenced by the University Wits (Lyly, Lodge, Peele, Greene, Kyd, Watson and Nashe), and most of the half-dozen or so plays that he had produced by 1594 resemble the work of these predecessors of his.

It also seems to have worked the other way as well. For instance, Shakespeare is perceived to have collaborated with others on the anonymous history plays Edward III and Sir Thomas More, and he may have been involved with Robert Greene in writing Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Sir Thomas More is attributed nowadays to Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle, with alterations by Chettle, Dekker, Heywood and Shakespeare.

Peter Dawkins, July 2005

(See the author’s book, The Shakespeare Enigma)

Refs:

1. Prof. Brian Vickers, in his book Shakespeare, Co-Author (Oxford University Press, 2002), shows how numerous tests, made by many generations of scholars, seem to demonstrate fairly conclusively that other playwrights contributed substantially to at least five Shakespeare plays: for instance, George Peele wrote almost a third of Titus Andronicus, Thomas Middleton about two-fifths of Timon of Athens, George Wilkins two of the five acts of Pericles, and John Fletcher more than half of Henry VIII and three-fifths of The Two Noble Kinsmen.

The Francis Bacon Research Trust