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Canonizing Shakespeare: The Passionate Pilgrim, England’s Helicon and the Question of Authenticity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

. . . and finding you . . . so carefull and industrious . . . to doe the author all the rights of the presse, I could not choose but gratulate your honest indeavours with this short remembrance.

Thomas Heywood to Nicholas Okes

The concept of a Shakespeare Apocrypha assumes an absolute distinction between authentic and fake versions of his plays and poems, since its very existence is predicated on the idea of a Shakespeare Canon against which it is defined. But Shakespeare scholars have come to realize in line with a New Textualism that the dream of an absolutely fixed canon, the guiding principle of the New Bibliography, is illusory. We will never have Shakespeare verbatim. Although the texts of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece are clearly authoritative, even a cursory glance at the three versions of Hamlet reveals the impossibility of constructing an authentic edition. Compounding this difficulty, inferior early editions of Shakespearian texts – the ‘bad’ quartos – can occasionally include wording that appears to be more genuine than that found in comparably better copy. A current heightened awareness of the historical conditions under which Shakespeare’s work was written and disseminated through manuscript, print and performance has prompted a re-examination of how these modes of production have shaped and continue to shape what ‘Shakespeare’ means.

One of the results of this investigation has been a critical re-estimation of William Jaggard’s motives in publishing The Passionate Pilgrim that challenges Swinburne’s memorable characterization of him in 1894 as ‘an infamous pirate, liar, and thief ’ whose collection was a ‘worthless little volume of stolen and mutilated poetry’. One of the strangest twists in Elizabethan literary history is the fact that Jaggard, one of the principal publishers of the Shakespeare First Folio (1623), should also earlier have produced a collection of twenty poems called The Passionate Pilgrim (in two editions between September of 1598 and 1599; expanded in 1612), with a title-page attribution to ‘W. Shakespeare’, even though probably only five of these lyrics (1, 2, 3, 5 and 16) are his.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 252 - 267
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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