Researchers at the University of Oxford have named dramatist, and former student of Queen’s College, Thomas Middleton as the most likely co-author of All’s Well That Ends Well, a play previously attributed exclusively to Shakespeare.
Inconsistencies of vocabulary, rhyme and grammar led researchers to believe that the play, like many others of the period, was not written by the Bard alone. The play’s unusually high frequency of rhymes and polysyllabic word endings – hallmarks of Middleton’s style – were seen as particular giveaways to the identity of Shakespeare’s collaborator.
Magdalen Tutorial Fellow Professor Laurie Maguire, who led the research along with Dr. Emma Smith of Hertford College, highlighted the positive effects of the team’s findings:
‘The important thing to stress when writers write collaboratively is that there is a harmonic vision,’ she said. “The picture that’s emerging is of much more collaboration; we need to think of it more as a film studio with teams of writers. In that sense, Shakespeare is in all five acts of his plays. He’s talking with his collaborators. So don’t worry, we’re not losing Shakespeare. It’s our gain, not loss.’
Though it has long been known that Shakespeare had collaborators – including Middleton himself on Timon of Athens – the Maguire/Smith hypothesis is new, and suggests that Shakespeare’s writing partnerships ran throughout his career, rather than at its beginning and end.
Though Shakespeare is often considered an isolated master wordsmith, he worked during a time in which high demand for theatre meant collaboration made practical sense. “We have a Romantic view of the creative genius having to write alone”, noted Maguire, “[but] over 50 percent of Renaissance plays were written collaboratively; it was the norm not the exception.’