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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Date of King John
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0343  Monday, 21 February 2005

From:           Michael Egan <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Feb 2005 17:01:32 -1000
Subject: Date of King John
Comment:        SHK 16.0325 Date of King John

Bill Lloyd insinuates that the attributions to Shakespeare of The
Troublesome Raigne's later Q. were probably fake. But in fact their
publishers were respectable businesses closely associated with
Shakespeare and unlikely to engage in piracy. Valentine Simmes, who
handled the 1611 edition ('Written by W. Sh.'), also published the first
three quartos of Richard II (1597-8), Richard III (1597), 2 Henry IV
(1600) and Much Ado About Nothing (1600). Augustine Matthews,
responsible for the 1622 text ('Written by W. Shakespeare'), later
published the second quarto of Othello (1630). Not all uncertain
attributions are forgeries, and no one at the time complained that these
were.

Moreover in 1623 everyone connected with the theatre and publishing
clearly believed Shakespeare wrote T.R., or at least was closely enough
identified with it to claim possession. The play was popular for more
than 30 years, judging by its original title page and two subsequent
editions. In November, 1623 Jaggard and Blount, representing the F1
syndic, registered 16 new titles with the Stationers' Office 'as are not
formerly entered to other men,' i.e., they legally claimed16 previously
unpublished Shakespeare dramas. The revealing fact is that King John was
not among them-that is, all who were in a position to know, including
Shakespeare's friends, professional associates and competitors, accepted
that the play had already been published by him. But in 1623 the only
previously available King John was The Troublesome Raigne.

We may add that Jaggard and Blount, etc., were exceptionally scrupulous
when handling doubtful cases, excluding Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen
and the now-lost Cardenio. Pericles in particular, published under
Shakespeare's name in 1609, had been registered by Blount himself the
previous year. They still left it out. For whatever reasons, perhaps
because some or all of these plays were disproportionately
collaborative, perhaps because the editors felt their texts were
insufficiently accurate, they declined to claim them. Obviously the same
might have been done for King John without commercial damage to the
final enterprise.

We may note finally that if King John had in fact been an original play
'not formerly entered to other men,' there was nothing to stop its
registration in 1623, i.e. by entering 17 new plays. The implicit claim
that TR was Shakespeare's thus means that either the editors and
publishers of F1 were uncharacteristically and gratuitously fraudulent,
or they genuinely believed that King John F1 was in fact the latest
version of his own work. Chambers agrees that TR and KJ were 'regarded
as commercially identical' in 1623, meaning that everyone thought
Shakespeare's executors held the copyright. Even Peter Alexander, who
first suggested that TR might be the debtor play, reluctantly conceded
in 1964 that 'Heminge and Condell treated the publication of The
Troublesome Raigne as authorizing the printing of King John, a claim
which could hardly have been maintained had The Troublesome Raigne been
an original play by an author other than Shakespeare.'

This conclusion continues to be resisted by scholars only because TR's
verse (not its plot) seems so unlike what we find in King John. But
Vickers has recently conclusively demonstrated that the verse writer was
Peele. Until now however no one has considered the possibility that T.R.
might have been a collaboration between him and the young Shakespeare,
who created TR's Author's Plot and perhaps contributed a few phrases.
Yet this hypothesis accounts not only for everything that is known about
the publication and performance histories of both works but (more
important) their contrasting stylistic qualities, plot similarities and
narrative contradictions. It also extends by one the list of Peele's and
Shakespeare's known collaborations.

--Michael Egan

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