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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: July ::
Macbeth and Middleton
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0440  Wednesday, 4 July 2007

From: 		Tom Reedy <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 04 Jul 2007 10:57:31 -0500
Subject: 	Macbeth and Middleton

I've been reading Stanley Wells's *Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher 
Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and 
the Other Players in His Story*. Wells says it is generally agreed that 
"the surviving version of Macbeth is almost certainly Middleton's 
revision of Shakespeare's play" (27) and that scene 4.3 may have been 
written by Middleton (164).

For his support he mentions three items:

1. The interpolated Hecate scenes with the witch's songs (189),
2. the fact that it is exceptionally short (189), and
3. that the version we have differs from Simon Forman's description of a 
performance he saw in 1611, i.e. Forman, who was keenly interested in 
the supernatural, makes no mention of Hecate and describes the weird 
sisters as "nimphes."

He gives no other arguments nor citations.

Now, the Hecate scenes have long been considered to have been 
interpolated from Middleton's The Witch, but by whom we don't know, and 
Forman's description to me only indicates that the scenes had not yet 
been interpolated. Forman also describes the weird sisters as fairies, 
and while "nymph" today chiefly means a young, nubile woman, it also 
means a minor female divinity of nature, and much more so in 1611, 
according to the OED:

Chiefly Classical Mythol. Any of a class of semi-divine spirits, 
imagined as taking the form of a maiden inhabiting the sea, rivers, 
mountains, woods, trees, etc., and often portrayed in poetry as 
attendants on a particular god.

As far as the length of the play, Comedy of Errors and The Tempest are 
shorter, and MND almost as short. While some have tried to make the case 
that The Tempest is an adaptation, largely because of Prospero's first 
speech that summarizes the plot up to that moment, it has not been 
generally accepted as such, and no one, AFAIK, has tried to make the 
case that CE and MND are adaptations.

Vickers considers Macbeth to be almost entirely Shakespeare. He gives 
only 303 words to Middleton and the two songs, and he points out that 
the relatively high statistical score for the word "but" in Macbeth 
compared to the rest of the plays is not enough to base a theory of 
co-authorship upon when all the other function words are well within 
normal Shakespearean ranges for the chronological period (Shakespeare 
Co-Author 96-98). Vickers also relates a study that claimed Middleton's 
hand was evident in Macbeth based upon the number of "thou"s in the 
play, but he notes that Jonathan Hope points out various problems with 
the study, among them the fact that it counted the "thou"s by play, 
rather than by proportion (I find almost unbelievable that a scholarly 
study would do this, but I'm learning), which put the use of "thou"s 
well within Shakespeare's range (124-25). So bottom line for Vickers is 
that Macbeth is almost entirely Shakespeare.

Does anybody know of any other studies or papers on this?

TR

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