Authorship studies in the early Modern period
There is a great number of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays which are either anonymous, wrongly ascribed, or thought to be the work of more than one writer. This situation is a result of the particular context in which early Modern plays were written, acted, and published – and an understanding of this context explains many of the most common authorship problems which arise (Bentley 1971, and Wells et al. 1987:1–68 provide excellent accounts of these issues in more detail than can be given here). Such an understanding can also help in explaining the shortcomings and limitations of much previous authorship work.
The single most important factor in this context is that early Modern plays were only very rarely regarded as ‘literature’ in a sense recognisable today. They are better regarded as raw material fuelling the profitable entertainment industry of early Modern London, much as film scripts are the raw material of today's film industry. Like film scripts, they were bought from writers by acting companies and, just as today, once a script was sold, the writer lost control over it.
The demand of the theatres for new material, especially in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, was insatiable, and, again as often in the film industry, this favoured collaboration as a means of producing material of the required standard in as short a time as possible. Writers might specialise in certain types of writing – opening scenes, closing scenes, comic scenes, love scenes; and unsatisfactory scripts might be touted round various authors who would add to and cut the script in the hope of producing something playable.