Did Shakespeare Have a Co-Author on All’s Well?

The question did Shakespeare have a co-author for some of his plays is one that has stumped and fascinated academics for hundreds of years. As a matter of fact, there have been questions raised about whether Shakespeare even wrote any of the works that he is given credit for. Scholars at Oxford University have determined that it is quite likely that the Bard was assisted in the writing of All’s Well That Ends Well by fellow playwright Thomas Middleton.

All’s Well That Ends Well was written in 1606/07 at around the mid-point in Shakespeare’s career. He was a recognized and successful writer while Middleton was a young up and coming but well known writer in his own right. While they might not have been quite equals, it was a pairing that was possible.

The  research was conducted by two members of Oxford University’s English Department, Professor Laurie Maguire and Dr. Emma Smith. For their research they used Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623 to analyze the works. They found a number of things that suggest that Middleton was the co-author of portions of the play.

There are several things in All’s Well that have raised questions among academics for years. They are things not usual for the works of Shakespeare and some of them are very much more in keeping with Middleton.

According to Dr. Emma Smith, “The narrative stage directions especially ‘Parolles and Lafew stay behind, commenting on this wedding’ look as though it is the point at which one author handed over to another.”

Another thing that has raised many questions is the spelling and vocabulary. Professor Laurie Maguire stated, “There are more feminine endings and tri- and tetra-syllabic endings than usual; again hallmarks of Middleton. Shakespeare tends to use Omnes as a speech prefix and All (preferred by Middleton) only occurs twice in the Folio; both times in All’s Well.

Maguire also states “The proportion of the play written in rhyme is much higher than usual for Jacobean Shakespeare, 19 percent of the lines are in rhyme, which fits Middleton’s norm of 20 percent.”

Dr. Emma Smith adds: ‘We are not saying that Middleton and Shakespeare definitely worked together on All’s Well, but Middleton’s involvement would certainly explain many of the comedy’s stylistic, textual and narrative quirks.”

One word that jumps out as not Shakespearean is “ruttish”, it does however show up in one of the works of Middelton. Is this definitive proof? Maybe not but it is a tantalizing hint at authorship.

It is a known fact that Shakespeare worked with other playwrights. When he was young he was mentored and as he grew more successful and older he was the mentor. This relationship would have been neither of these so it creates as many questions as it answers. It sheds a whole new light on what may have been a very successful collaboration. To answer the question did Shakespeare have a co-author? The answer is a positive maybe.


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