Vol. 5 (2016): The Many Lives of William Shakespeare: Biography, Authorship and Collaboration
Part One - Introduction

Everything and Nothing: The Many Lives of William Shakespeare

Roger Chartier
Laboratorio editoriale OA / Dip. LILSI

Published 2016-03-09


  • Attribution Studies,
  • Author’s Hand,
  • Biography,
  • Collaborative Writing

How to Cite

Chartier, R. (2016). Everything and Nothing: The Many Lives of William Shakespeare. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 5, 17–26. https://doi.org/10.13128/JEMS-2279-7149-18066


The essay is devoted to an analysis of the contributions gathered in this issue of JEMS. It begins with the scarcity (or total absence) of literary archives and autograph manuscripts for the English playwrights of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and among them Shakespeare). Such a diagnosis leads to stress the conditions ruling the composition and publication of plays: collaborative writing, reuse of the same stories and commonplaces, use of the author’s name as a commodity, publication based on memorial reconstruction, prompt books, or corrupted copies, etc. The consequences of these practices (so different from the romantic textual ideology of the author’s singularity, originality and propriety) are discussed in relation with the criticism of the traditional criteria of attribution studies and the operations necessary for writing the literary biography of an author without (literary) archives and (quite) any autograph remains (whence the discussion about Shakespeare’s signatures, his holograph – or not – will, and his hand in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More). Two perspectives could enrich these issues: on the one hand, a literary geography of Shakespeare’s works mapping the publication and circulation of the performances, editions, and later translations of his plays; on the other hand, comparative approaches locating the specificity (or not) of English drama and Shakespeare’s plays within the European context of Spanish comedias and Italian commedia dell’arte.