- The New Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion ed. by Gary Taylor and Gabriel Egan
michel foucault's celebrated query—"what is an author?"—has organized four decades of scholarship on the definition and function of the writer in relation to his or her contexts. Here, in assessing Gary Taylor and Gabriel Egan's imposing collection of essays, which serves as the third of the three interconnected print publications comprising the New Oxford Shakespeare, we should adjust Foucault's question slightly. "What is a companion?" we might ask. And to continue the quibble, "what is an authorship companion?"
In the Shakespearean lexicon, a companion is distinctly human: an associate, an aide or comrade, or a rogue or rascal (David Crystal and Ben Crystal, Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary & Language Companion, Penguin Books, 2002, 86). Shakespeare's usage abbreviates a more expansive set of meanings available in the early modern period, including applications to objects rather than people. In 1533, a companion could be "an inanimate object, abstract quality, etc., regarded as company for a person," and, by 1621, it was understood as "a handbook or reference book" and, more particularly, as a vade mecum, "a book or manual suitable for carrying about with one" (OED II.9.b, 10.a).
At more than 750 pages, the hefty Authorship Companion is unlikely to be carried about, even by the most dedicated scholars, who will surely wish to consult, if not necessarily adopt or endorse, its positions on the canon and chronology of Shakespeare's written work. (These positions, some of which have garnered the attention of the popular press, include the diminution of Shakespeare's hand and the introduction of Christopher Marlowe's in the three Henry VI plays, as well as the ascription to shakespeare of parts of The Tragedy of M. Arden of Faversham, Edward III, and Lewis Theobald's 1727 The Double Falsehood, reclaimed here as The History of Cardenio (see, for instance, Christopher D. Shea, "New Oxford Shakespeare Edition Credits Christopher Marlowe as a Co-author," New York Times, 24 October 2016). In its comprehensive articulation of these positions, the volume does [End Page 189] double duty: it serves not only as a guide to its readers but as the essential accompaniment to the other volumes of the New Oxford Shakespeare, particularly the Modern Critical Edition (hereafter, MCE; edited by Gary Taylor et al., Oxford UP, 2016). All twenty-five of its chapters, in other words, work to explain and justify the texts that comprise the MCE; they revolve around questions about who wrote, or who wrote which parts of, plays associated with Shakespeare's name since the 1590s.
Attention to these questions distinguishes the 2016 Authorship Companion from Taylor and Stanley Wells's 1987 Textual Companion, the complementary volume to the 1986 Oxford Shakespeare: The Collected Works, which devoted more time and space to the history of editing shakespeare than to the history—and contemporary computational practices—of attributing works to him. The focus on the latter, according to Taylor and Egan, puts the "authorship" in the Authorship Companion, and the volume begins with a feisty chapter by Taylor on the nature of writing for the early modern stage. In it Taylor coins the term "artiginality," a neologism drawn from the vocabulary of the early modern guild and meant to capture both the inexorably material conditions of the Renaissance theater and the dramatist's agency and individuality in his work for it. Authorship in Shakespeare's time, Taylor explains, was a craft, one that "transform[ed] already-existing works, already-existing text-things, into recognizably new text-things" (25). The author (in another of Taylor's neologisms) was a "transformaker" (25), and like other early modern artisans or "wrights," he had had a proprietary interest in his labor. These definitions ground the rest of the volume, since they license—even mandate—the attribution of acts and scenes to the dramatists who crafted them. As Taylor writes, "The difference between one wrighter and another should matter to us because it mattered to them" (26). Thus, "modern editors and...