Wouldn’t Someone Have Complained That Shakespeare’s Used Old Plays? (They Did!)

Another question I often hear is: “Why didn’t anyone complain about this? Why didn’t people at the time mention that Shakespeare was just working from old plays?” I always respond that many people did complain about it—and many of these complaints are well known. Literary insiders repeatedly bemoaned the fact that Shakespeare was getting too much credit for adapting the works of an earlier playwright (or playwrights), and these grumblings began when Shakespeare was alive and continued during the decades after his death.

One should not necessarily blame Shakespeare for this –as four of the first five title pages that carried his name or initials clarified that he was merely modifying earlier works. Moreover, while it is not true that other renowned playwrights of the era–e.g., Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, etc.–also extracted whole plays from the texts of a contemporary (borrowing the whole plot, all the characters, and dozens of passages as we find with the Roman plays), it is true that many other dramatists adapted and corrected old plays. Indeed, as Neil Carson writes about the theatrical records of Shakespeare’s contemporary, Philip Henslowe: “by far the majority of payments for revisions recorded in Henslowe’s diary are to single authors for changes in other men’s work.  In some cases we do not know the names of the original authors….” (A Companion to Henslowe’s Diary, 77). Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, Henry Chettle — all received payment for their work on older plays. The only difference is that, unlike these other playwrights, Shakespeare would become such a well-known and popular figure-head of the Globe theater and the King’s Men, that he ended up getting full authorial credit for the plays that he corrected and adapted –though this was not exactly his fault and mostly happened after he died. For example, Shakespeare never published such obvious works of North as the Roman plays.

Still, other writers of the era knew about Shakespeare’s use of old plays and still expressed frustration at all the money and applause he was getting for adapting them. Importantly, these comments below are also consistent with everything else we know about Shakespeare — including all the references to seemingly Shakespearean plays (in Revels accounts, in anti-theater-pamphlets, in satires) long before Shakespeare could have written them; and the widely-known fact, accepted by all renowned Shakespearean source-scholars, that Shakespeare frequently remade old plays.

  1. Shakespeare, the Upstart Crow (1592)

The first widely-accepted literary allusion to Shakespeare appeared in the satirical pamphlet A Groatsworth of Wit in 1592, allegedly written by the playwright Robert Greene.[1]

A) Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow,* beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrap’t in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shakescene in a country. O that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses: & let those apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions

B) Yes, trust them [actors] not: for there is an upstart plagiarist, decorated with our work, that with his “Tiger’s heart wrapped in an actor’s hide,” supposes he is a great writer who is as well able to bombast out verse as the best of you. And being an absolute Jack-of-all-trades fancies himself a great and thundering actor too—the only Shake-scene in a country. Oh, I do implore you to use your rare creativity and intelligence in more profitable courses: & let those apes create imitations of your past works, and never give them any more plays to adapt…

    –A) Thomas Nashe, Groatsworth of Wit, 1592 (21)[2] and B) MODERN TRANSLATION OF “GROATSWORTH” PASSAGe

*The crow is a classical symbol for plagiarist discussed in a fable by Horace (see John Dover-Wilson’s explanation below).            

The Groatsworth passage is particularly significant because it is conventional that “upstart crow” and “Shake-scene” refer to Shakespeare. Nashe’s line is now so notorious that Katherine Duncan-Jones used it for the title of her biography, Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan: 1592-1623. And Upstart Crow was also the name of a 2016 BBC sitcom on Shakespeare

One give-away to the crow’s identity is the line “Tiger’s heart wrap’t in a Player’s hide,” which is a parody of a line from 3 Henry VI: “Oh, tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!” (1.4.137). Even more significantly, it is a parody of a stolen line. This line not only appears in 3 Henry VI, it also appeared in True Tragedy, Richard Duke of York, a briefer, rewritten staged adaptation of the play (in fact, as will be shown in a later work, True Tragedy is the version Shakespeare himself wrote—just as its title-page states).

Scholars have also correctly concluded that Shakespeare was being denounced in the Groatsworth passage as a plagiarist because a crow beautified with the feathers of others comes from Horace’s classical fable on plagiarism. As John Dover Wilson, editor of Cambridge’s “New Shakespeare” editions, writes about the reference:

[Horace] then goes on to warn Celsus not to pilfer from other writers any longer, lest those he has robbed should return one day to claim their feathers, when like the crow (cornicula) stripped of its stolen splendour (furtivis nudata coloribus), he would become a laughing-stock. … the crow in other birds’ feathers was closely associated with the idea of literary theft in the mind of anyone who knew anything of the classics and of many who did not.

J. Dover Wilson, “Malone and the Upstart Crow,” [3]

Dover Wilson also stresses that the comment “was accusing Shakespeare of stealing and adapting plays upon Henry VI …”[4]

A Pic of Dover Wilson’s page Introducing the “Upstart Crow” passage

Likewise, Peter Berek notes a similar crow-feather passage from the era that provides “quite explicit support” for the view that the Groatsworth comment “is accusing Shakespeare of being a plagiarist who takes credit for the work of other writers …”[5] This is, of course, exactly correct. And, in fact, as will be shown, the main person being addressed was Thomas North.

2. He would “Buy the Reversion of Old Plays” and “Marks Not Whose ‘Twas First ”—Ben  Jonson (16001612)

Ben Jonson also describes Shakespeare as a patcher of old plays—adding new details about North and Shakespeare in Every Man In His Humor, Epicene, and, especially, Cynthia’s Revels. In “On Poet-Ape,” a poem likely written between 1600 and 1612, he describes the chief dramatist of the era as a “thief” who would “buy the reversion of old plays” (reversion, a legal term, meaning the right of possession):

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief, 
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robbed, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own.
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose ’twas first: and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool, as if half-eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece![6] 

“Poet-Ape” refers to a poet-imitator, and, as Elizabethan and Jacobean satirists commonly referred to actors as apes, “Poet-Ape” could mean poet-actor. The epigram thus refers to a poor poet-imitator (or playwright-actor) who “would be thought our chief,” that is, the chief dramatist of the time. “Frippery,” in the second line, refers to a consignment shop, where old clothes are bought and re-sold. “Wit” refers to intelligence, especially creative intelligence; in the context here, it refers to the creativity and invention that goes into writing plays. Thus, a collection of works that are a “frippery of wit” is a collection of old, used plays that have been bought and resold. “Brokage” also refers to the trade of dealing—buying and selling—and “Buy the reversion of old plays,” refers to purchasing rights to produce and adapt them.

Although Jonson does not name Shakespeare in the poem, it is clear he is his target. Jonson’s poet-ape in fact recalls Nashe’s characterization of Shake-scene and his group—“let those apes imitate your past excellence . …”[7] And Shakespeare had indeed become a man of means and reputation—“grown / To a little wealth, and credit in the scene.”

But perhaps the most significant form of internal evidence is that Jonson wrote the poem in the style of a Shakespearean sonnet: 14 lines of iambic pentameter, divided into three quatrains and a heroic couplet. The rhyme scheme links every other line until the last two: abab cdcd efef gg.[8] None of the other 100 or so poems in the 1616 collection of Jonson’s Workes is written in this style. Nor is Jonson the only person to identify Shakespeare in this manner. In a 1599 collection of epigrams, John Weever published a poem entitled Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare; again, he is careful to frame only that poem in this same Shakespearean style. As Honigmann writes (while quoting his prior work), “John Weever’s Epigrammes (1955) contains about 150 poems, most of them between 4 and 20 lines in length. ‘One, and only one, is fourteen lines long, and takes the form of a Shakespearian sonnet,’ the epigram addressed ‘Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare.’”[9]

But even if Jonson had not chosen that style for the poem, we still have external evidence confirming its subject. First, Leonard Digges (1588-1635), from the next generation of poets, outraged at Jonson’s slights against Shakespeare, wrote a poem defending the King’s Men’s dramatist. In “Upon Master William Shakespeare,” Digges repeatedly paraphrases Jonson and references the satirist’s works. He also stresses that, despite what Jonson claims, Shakespeare most certainly did not “Plagiary-like from others glean/ Nor begs he from each witty friend a scene …”[10] This rebuttal of Jonson’s lines employs the same glean-scene-wit grouping in “On Poet-Ape”: “At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean, / Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown / To a little wealth, and credit in the scene, / He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own.” Clearly, Digges believed that “On Poet-Ape” was an attack on Shakespeare.

Finally, it is conventional that when John Lyly had famously admitted to borrowing from Thomas North, he used the same language: “if I seem to glean after another’s cart for a few ears of corn, or of the tailor’s shreds to make me a livery, I will not deny …” Lyly scholars agree the writer is referring to his pilfering of North’s Dial of Princes and Plutarch’s Lives.[11] Jonson has purposefully echoed Lyly’s glean-livery-shreds line (Jonson: glean-frippery-shreds from the whole piece) because North’s clothing was once again being snatched.

For a full understanding of “On Poet-Ape,” it is important to remember that Shakespeare worked with other writers as well, including Thomas Nashe, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, John Marston, and George Wilkins. Also, other non-Northern plays were published with Shakespeare’s name or initials on the title-page, like Locrine, A Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, and Sir John Oldcastle. A play with the same title as this latter work had also been published by Henslowe’s group, for whom Jonson also wrote. Currently, scholars believe that various corrupt printers were publishing these differently-styled, mediocre works in an attempt to profit from Shakespeare’s name, a conspiracy theory that will be examined in a later work. Regardless, the point is that Jonson had seen Shakespeare as a competitor who had first become famous by adapting works of North but also began reworking other people’s plays as well. A modern translation of “On Poet-Ape” makes it clear that this was the subject of Jonson’s displeasure:

Poor actor/poet-imitator, who would be thought our best dramatist, 
Whose works are like old garments that have been bought and re-sold.
Play-brokering has turned him into a bold thief.
And we [fellow-writers], the robbed, are no longer angry but pity it.
First he made subtle robberies, would be choosy and pick and glean.
He would buy reversions of old plays [like Hamlet and Henry V].
Now that he has become a little wealthy and famous in the theater scene,
He takes everything and is getting credit for everyone’s creations [like Middleton’s Yorkshire Tragedy and Sir John Oldcastle]:
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, his crimes
Are eaten up by the dull-witted, awed audience member.
He doesn’t credit the original author, and future generations
May actually think the works are his -- as well as ours.
The Fool, as if even half-closed eyes cannot tell the difference 
Between a beautiful, coherent play [like the original version of The Jew of Venice] from the pieces and shreds he puts together from the whole [like the staged and extant Merchant of Venice]. 

The most straightforward reading of Jonson’s epigram is that Shakespeare bought reversions of old plays and pasted and patched together new plays from them, keeping the “shreds” of “old plays” that he liked. He also neglected to mark the original author, and Jonson expresses concern that Shakespeare would eventually get full credit, that is, “after-times / May judge it to be his.” The poem is a satirical but unequivocal contemporary report of Shakespeare’s playwriting methods.

3. Jonson’s Ode to Himself (~1629)

Ben Jonson’s self-addressed poem, “Ode to Himself,” makes the same argument about Shakespeare as does his “On Poet Ape,” except that Jonson opts for a culinary metaphor rather than a sartorial one. More importantly, he explicitly references Shakespeare’s Pericles:

No doubt a mouldy tale,
Like Pericles, and stale
As the shrieve’s crusts, and nasty as his fish,
Scraps out [of] every dish,
Thrown forth and raked into the common tub,
May keep up the play club.
There, sweepings do as well
As the best-ordered meal:
For who the relish of these guests will fit,
Needs set them but the alms-basket of wit.[12]

This is the same description of play-crafting as in “On Poet-Ape.” Here, Jonson complains that plays like Shakespeare’s Pericles were popular despite the fact that they were based on an old work (a “mouldy tale”) and comprise “Scraps … / Thrown forth and raked into the common tub.” As in “Poet-Ape,” in which Jonson complains that the audience cannot distinguish a beautiful “fleece / From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece!” here he complains that the audience cannot distinguish “sweepings [of table scraps]” from “the best ordered meal.” As in “On Poet-Ape,” in which Jonson grumbles that Shakespeare’s plays are the “frippery of wit,” here he derides Pericles as the “alms-basket of wit.” A “frippery” denotes a place where old clothes of the rich are reused; an “alms-basket” denotes a place where old food of the rich is reused. This, again, is a cotemporaneous document, penned by a literary insider, identifying a play in the Shakespeare canon as the product of scraps and sweepings of an older play.

4. Ravenscroft: Shakespeare was not the original author of Titus Andronicus (1687)

Even in the decades after Shakespeare’s death, writers would still make similar comments. In 1687, Edward Ravenscroft wrote an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and in the preface he recorded the following tidbit:

I have been told by some anciently conversant with the stage that it [Titus Andronicus] was not originally [Shakespeare’s] … and he only gave some master-touches to one or two of the principal parts or characters.

Edward Ravenscroft, prefatory note to Reader to his adaptation of, Titus Andronicus (1687)[13]

Naturally, we do not find similar comments regarding any other renowned author. We do not come across any fellow writers decrying Christopher Marlowe, Leo Tolstoy, or Jane Austen as plagiarists who got too much credit for works of other authors. We do not see any later playwright saying that they heard from an old theatrical insider that Long Day’s Journey into Night was not originally Eugene O’Neill’s or A Doll’s House was not Henrik Ibsen’s. There is a reason we keep finding this same claim repeated about Shakespeare: It was true.

5. Shakespeare Adapted the Plays of an Impoverished Historian (1728)

Later writers also mentioned these same rumors about Shakespeare. In a 1728 text entitled An Essay Against Too Much Reading, an anonymous author using the pen-name “Captain Thomas Goulding” recorded an interesting account of Shakespeare’s playwriting methods that he claims originally came from one of the dramatist’s “intimate acquaintance.” He wrote that Shakespeare kept an historian within his employ, a man who otherwise “might have starved upon his history,” and it was this man who first wrote the plays that Shakespeare later adapted:

I will give you a short account of Mr. Shakespeare’s proceeding, and that I had from one of his intimate acquaintance. His being imperfect in some things was owing to his not being a Scholar, which obliged him to have one of those chuckle-pated historians for his particular associate, that could scarce speak a word but upon that subject; and he maintained him [the historian] or he might have starved upon his history. And when he wanted anything in his [the historian’s] way, as his plays were all historical, he sent to him, and took down the heads of what was for his purpose in characters, which were thirty times as quick as running to the books to read for it. Then with his natural flowing wit, he [Shakespeare] worked it into all shapes and forms, as his beautiful thoughts directed. The other put it into grammar; and instead of reading, he [Shakespeare] stuck close to writing and study without book…. [Shakespeare] was no scholar, no grammarian, no historian, and in all probability could not write English.

Thomas Goulding, “An Essay Against Too Much Reading,” (1728) [xiv]

This rumor is, of course, true. Indeed, North’s major translations were collections of histories and, by 1781, his Plutarch would become known as “Shakespeare’s storehouse of learned history.”[xv] North was this hired historian, and it is true that he sold his plays to Shakespeare in order to escape poverty.

6. “A Botcher up of old plays” (1837)

Isaac Disraeli (1766-1848) was a well-known writer and literary historian who studied many of the same Elizabethan satirists and pamphlets that I had first started investigating with digital technologies in 2005. This includes the works of Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey. Thus, it is probably no coincidence that in the novel Venetia (1837), written by Isaac’s son Benjamin Disraeli, we find the following remark:

And who is Shakespeare? … We know of him as much as we do of Homer. Did he write half the plays attributed to him? Did he ever write a single whole play? I doubt it. He appears to me to have been an inspired adapter for the theaters, which were then not as good as barns. I take him to have been a botcher up of old plays.

Benjamen Disreali, Venetia (1837), [xvi]

7. “[Shakespeare] was not the author but the adapter of them to the stage” (1837)

Also in 1837, the same year as the publication of Disraeli’s Venetia, British historian Samuel Astley Dunham wrote entries for Dionysius Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia. Dunham was renowned for his “original research and sound judgement.” A friend of Dunham’s, Robert Southey, described him as an indefatigable researcher since a young boy, someone who would spare no expense and brook no obstacle in uncovering new details, making four extensive tours of Europe on scholarly missions.[17] Dunham’s contribution to the Cyclopaedia appeared in volumes dedicated to the Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Great Britain and focused on early writers and dramatists. His long biographical treatment of William Shakespeare was particularly thorough and included the following conclusion:

[W]e must observe that in the beginning of his [Shakespeare’s] career—for years indeed after he became connected with the stage—that extraordinary man was satisfied with reconstructing the pieces which others had composed; he was not the author but the adapter of them to the stage. Indeed we are of opinion that the number of plays which he thus recast as well as those in which he made very slight alterations is greater than any of his commentators have supposed.

Astley Dunham, “William Shakespeare,” Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Great Britain,[18]

Later in the work, Dunham repeated this claim: “In fact there is not one drama of our author prior to 1600—perhaps not one after that year—that was not derived from some other play.”[19]

Right here is the fork in the road. This is the moment where an offshoot and fringe theory about Shakespeare’s authorship began to develop. One particular writer, the American lawyer and novelist Joseph Hart, was especially shocked by Dunham’s biography of Shakespeare. In fact, it infuriated him. Hart soon began investigating the life of Shakespeare himself and published his conclusions in “The Romance of Yachting” (1848). As one might expect from the title, Hart devoted much of the book to descriptions of sea travel, particularly his own voyage across the Atlantic to Spain. But in one of the later chapters, he quotes a work of Samuel Purchas, an early seventeenth-century publisher of travelogues, and used it as a segue: “Shakespeare lived about the same time with Purchas,” he wrote. And then Hart continued discussing the Stratford playwright for the next 35 pages. Hart argued that Shakespeare lacked the education and experiences to create the plays attributed to him. “[Shakespeare] merely adapted other people’s works to the playing stage, like a Theatrical Factotum, as Greene calls him [in Groatsworth of Wit], and he was nothing else.”[20] Hart frequently quoted long stretches of Dunham’s biographical entries in the Cyclopaedia, stressing that Shakespeare was not the originator of these works, and his anger about it is palpable. “It is a fraud upon the world to thrust his surreptitious fame upon us,” Hart ranted, and followed it up with an important question: “The enquiry will be, who were the able literary men who wrote the dramas imputed to him?”[21]

Literary historians frequently describe Hart’s “Romance of Yachting” as the first known “anti-Stratfordian” work, that is, the first known published text that challenged Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays. But it is not exactly true that Hart denied that Shakespeare was a dramatist. He did agree that Shakespeare adapted the plays, but that the credit for their genius should be placed elsewhere. Still, over the next 75 years, there was an explosion of speculation about the original authorship of the plays as amateur researchers on both sides of the Atlantic entered the fray. Candidates for the original authorship of the plays began popping up every few decades or so: first, Francis Bacon was supposed to have been the true author of the canon, then it was Christopher Marlowe. No, argued Thomas Looney in 1920, it was really the Earl of Oxford. Wild conspiracy theories also started to proliferate: Bacon used ciphers to create codes within the canon; Christopher Marlowe was a spy who faked his own death; the Earl of Southampton was the love-child of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth; etc. Almost no speculation, no matter how feverish and wild-eyed, seemed to strain credulity. At the same time, their attacks on Shakespeare also became more outrageous and hostile. Eventually, many anti-Stratfordians began to claim Shakespeare was actually an illiterate stooge and wrote no plays at all. He was just an ignorant front-man for their particular candidate, propped up by the powers-that-be for murky political reasons. Shakespeare scholars easily dispatched all these fanciful new theories. But in the ensuing ruckus, there was one important point that seemed to get lost—a point that insiders have repeatedly made since 1592: Shakespeare was not the original author of these plays, and up until now, we didn’t know who was.


ENDNOTES:

[1] Robert Greene had just died before the publication of A Groatsworth of Wit (1592), and in the ensuing months the satirist Thomas Nashe and Henry Chettle published strenuous denials that they were the ones who wrote the pamphlet—and then passed it off on the recently deceased Greene. In fact, as will be shown in future publications, it is quite clear that Nashe and Chettle were lying—and that Nashe was the primary author of the work. Nashe and Chettle denied authorship because the first part of the pamphlet contained an insulting family history of Thomas North, including negative portrayals of Thomas’s father and brother—the 1st and 2nd Lord Norths, respectively. Groatsworth is the first work to explain in detail how North came to write plays for Shakespeare.

Importantly, Nashe was not the only satirist who published works about North and Shakespeare. Gabriel Harvey, Samuel Daniel, the anonymous author of Histriomastix, and, most especially, Ben Jonson also wrote about the elderly literatus and his most famous disciple. What is more, they all told the same story: Shakespeare, the young and wealthy play-producer, adapted the plays of an elderly, well-travelled playwright—one they repeatedly identify as Thomas North. Their commentary is so consistent, illuminating, and persuasive that we may literally ignore all other proofs of North’s authorship of Shakespeare’s source plays—all of North’s travels, experiences, and prose passages that he put into his plays and all the external unpublished manuscripts linking him to the canon—and turn exclusively to the satires for a rigorous proof that Thomas North wrote the plays Shakespeare adapted for the stage.

[2] [Thomas Nashe], Greenes, Groats-worth of witte, bought with a million of Repentance. Describing the follie of youth, the falshoode of makeshift flatterers, the miserie of the negligent, and mischiefes of deceiving Courtezans. Written before his death and published at his dyeing request (London: Imprinted for William Wright, 1592).

[3] J. Dover Wilson, “Malone and the Upstart Crow,” Shakespeare Survey 4 (1951): 56-68; 65.

[4] J. Dover Wilson, “Malone and the Upstart Crow,” 57.

[5] Peter Berek, “The ‘Upstart Crow,’ Aesop’s Crow, and Shakespeare as A Reviser,” Shakespeare Quarterly 35.2 (1984): 205-207; 206.

[6] Ben Jonson, “On Poet-Ape,” in Ben Jonson: The Complete Poems, ed. George Parfitt (1975; New York: Viking Penguin, 1988), 51. Scott McCrea notes that “many scholars think Jonson’s ‘Poet-Ape’ is Shakespeare,” but he stresses that the charge is one of plagiarism, “not of concealing someone else.” See Scott McCrea, The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2005), 21.

[7] [Thomas Nashe], Greenes, Groats-worth of witte, 21.

[8] Those who contend that Jonson was not referring to Shakespeare point out that other playwrights—Thomas Heywood and Anthony Munday, for example—were also actors at some point. Moreover, Shakespeare did not invent the “Shakespearean sonnet,” as it appeared in the 1580s; poets, including Philip Sidney, Samuel Daniel, and Edmund Spenser, also tried it. Yet Shakespeare is the one playwright-actor who fits all the details.

[9] E. A. J. Honigmann, “The First Performances of Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” in Shakespeare Performed: Essays in Honor of R. A. Foakes,ed. Grace Ioppolo (Newark: University of Delaware Press),131-48;134. See also E. A. J. Honigmann, Shakespeare: The Lost Years (1985; Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 54.

[10] Leon. Digges, “Upon Master WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, the Deceased Authour, and his POEMS,” in Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. (Printed at London by Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by John Benson, dwelling in St. Dunstans Church-yard, 1640), EEBO document image 3.

[11] In his edition of the works of John Lyly, R. Warrick Bond quotes these lines above, beginning with “if I seem to glean” and takes for granted that Lyly here is referring to Thomas North. “It is noticeable, however,” writes Bond, “that throughout his work he never mentions either North or Plutarch or [George] Pettie by name.” The Complete Works of John Lyly: Now for the First Time Collected and Edited from the Earliest Quartos with Life, Bibliography, Essays, Notes, and Index, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), 154n1.  See also John Lyly, Euphues and his England (London: Gabriel Cawood, 1580), 3-4.

[12] Ben Jonson, “The just indignation the Author tooke at the vulgar censure of his Play, by some malicious spectators, begat this following Ode to himselfe,” Epilogue The nevv inne. Or, The light heart A comoedy. As it was neuer acted, but most negligently play’d, by some, the Kings Seruants. And more squeamishly beheld, and censured by others, the Kings subiects. 1629. Now, at last, set at liberty to the readers, his Maties seruants, and subiects, to be iudg’d. 1631 (London: Thomas Alchorne, 1631), EEBO document image 62. In a few subsequent versions of this poem published after Jonson died in 1640, the lines are “There, sweepings do as well / As the best-ordered meal” were altered so as to include a disciple of Jonson, Richard Brome, in the attack: “Brome’s sweepings do as well / There, as his master’s meal.” See Virginia Brackett, ed., “Ode to Himself,” in The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry: 17th and 18th Centuries (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008), 290-92; 291.

[13] Edward Ravenscroft, prefatory note to Reader, Titus Andronicus, or the Rape of Lavinia (London: Printed by J. B. for J. Hindmarsh …, 1687), reprinted in William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage, ed. Brian Vickers (London and Boston: Taylor & Francis, 1974), 1:238-39.

[14] Much of this passage and other relevant quotations of Goulding’s work appear in Alden Brooks, Shakespeare and the Dyer’s Hand (New York: C. Scribner and Sons, 1943), 87-88. Although Goulding’s work was published in 1728, more than 100 years after Shakespeare died, he still claims he “had” the account “from one of his [Shakespeare’s] intimate acquaintances.” It is possible he means that the account had originally come from an “intimate acquaintance.” For example, perhaps this author met a grandchild of one of Shakespeare’s fellow actors or neighbors, someone who reported this old story as coming directly from the Stratford dramatist’s inner circle. It is also possible he did hear this directly from someone who knew Shakespeare, some of his acquaintances having lived until the 1670s.

[15] Thomas Warton, The History of English Poetry: From the Eleventh to the Seventeenth Century. A full Reprint—Text and Notes-of Edition, London, 1778 & 1781 (London: Ward, Lock, and Co., 1875), 879.

[16] Interestingly, Disraeli puts this comment into the mouth of Lord Plantagenet Cadurcis, a character based on Lord Byron. Benjamin Disraeli, Venetia (London: Longmans, Green, 1890), 437.

[17] C. W. Sutton and G. Martin Murphy. “Dunham, Samuel Astley (1795/6-1858), historian.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004 (accessed 8 Oct. 2019) https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy.lafayette.edu/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-8265.

[18] Samuel Astley Dunham, The Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Conducted by the Rev. Dionysius Lardner, LL.D., etc.: Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. II (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Greene and Longmans, Pasternoster-Row; and John Taylor, Upper Gower Street, 1837), 35.

[19] Samuel Astley Dunham, Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. II, 106.

[20] Joseph C. Hart, The Romance of Yachting (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848), 220.

[21 Joseph C. Hart, The Romance of Yachting,216.

 

2 thoughts on “Wouldn’t Someone Have Complained That Shakespeare’s Used Old Plays? (They Did!)

Leave a Reply