Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hey! Where's Shakespeare in Henslowe's Diary?

One of the most important documents of the Elizabethan theatre is Henslowe's Diary, which covers the years 1591-1609. Philip Henslowe, perhaps the most powerful theatre owner and impresario of his day, kept a detailed log of financial transactions with writers and actors, the dates of a play's performance, box office receipts, etc. (the full text of Henslowe's Diary is available on Google Book Search). In the diary, Christopher Marlowe's popularity as a playwright--even after his supposed death in 1593--is obvious, as we see records of his many plays that Henslowe produced, such as Tamburlaine I and II, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta. Yet an intriguing issue and omission, according to Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, is with the payouts Henslowe made to playwrights. As Blumenfeld states, "In those days, plays and all their rights were bought by the theater owners . . . writers were paid a single amount no matter how popular the play became, or how many performances were staged." Among the transactions (advances, IOU's, etc.) with the leading writers of the Elizabethan/Jacobean era--Jonson, Heywood, Middleton, et al.--there is no mention of any pay to William Shakespeare, despite the diary indicating that some plays we attribute to Shakespeare (Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew) were produced by Henslowe. As Blumenfeld succinctly puts it (and based on other evidence he lays out in his book), Shakespeare's name is not among the writers because "he was not one of them. He may have been an actor and part owner of a theatre, but he was clearly not a writer." In fact, the "prolific" Shakespeare has no mention of his name anywhere in the diary.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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Craig said...

Arguing for those kinds of broad conclusions from a single piece of documentation is a very risky business ("Shakespeare is not mentioned in Henslowe, so Shakespeare can not have been a writer."). Shakespeare is described as England's best playwright for both tragedy and comedy in Francis Meres' _Palladis Tamia_, which was printed in 1598. If Henslowe does not record paying Shakespeare any money, it is because Shakespeare didn't write plays _for Henslowe._ And if he didn't write plays for Henslowe, it is probably because he was busy writing plays for his own company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later King's Men).

I will be the first to admit that I'm no expert on Henslowe's papers, but who _does_ he record paying for those scripts about Hamlet, Henry VI, etc, that you mention. No one? Perhaps, then, these were performances in which a company was using his space to perform their own plays under a profit-sharing arrangement?

CARLO D. said...

Thanks, Craig. Appreciate your posts!

I should clarify. This is merely a snippet from Blumenfeld's 360-page book. He concludes that Shakespeare wasn't a writer based on a lot of material. I just thought this nugget was interesting.

Karen said...

I have always found the Shakepeare (or whomever you believe it is) line "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" to be the most telling.

It doesn't really matter to me--400 or 500 years later--who wrote it. The fact that it was written and that Hamlet is still dramatic, MacBeth is still profoundly sad, Titus Andronicus is still devastatingly cruel and the sonnets are still the standard for romance is more important to me than the name of the person who wrote them.

At the same time, I love the intrigue--Nancy Drew and the Case of the Shakesperean playwrite.

Anonymous said...

I've been very interested in the Marlowe conspiracy theory for a number of years. It just doesn't compute that Shakespeare wrote the plays--see Shakepeare Authorship Coalition link. True, the most important thing is that we have these amazing plays. Carlo, perhaps you should post the entire theory in summary form and keep it front and center on your main page so viewers see it right away. I see you have a good summary in your archives and the Blumenfeld interviews capture it all in a nuthshell. Keep up the good work. I like your desert-island lists!

Anonymous said...

all interesting material. great blog!

CARLO D. said...

It should be quite fishy that there really is no record of Shakespeare as a writer in the early 1590's.

CARLO D. said...

Great suggestions, Clive. Thanks!