Perhaps, when Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 85, “I think good thoughts whilst other write good words,” he was giving us a hint.
After thorough analysis of the language, rhyme, and style of the bard’s 1606-7 play All’s Well That Ends Well, two Oxford professors say it’s likely Shakespeare wrote the work with a co-author. They even think they know who it is: Thomas Middleton, the 17th-century playwright behind The Changeling and Women Beware Women.
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They imagine that Shakespeare, older and more experienced than Middleton, was working with a young “rising star” on his play, in the way that a master would work alongside his apprentice.
While it’s impossible to know the truth about All’s Well That Ends Well’s authorship, researchers say, their work has uncovered some pretty strong clues. Among them, according to an article on the University website:
- Unusually narrative stage directions:
Dr Emma Smith, of the Oxford University English Faculty, said: “The narrative stage directions – especially ‘Parolles and Lafew stay behind, commenting on this wedding’ – look as though it is the point at which one author handed over to another.”
- Low incidence of Shakespeare’s spelling and vocabulary:
Professor Laurie Maguire, who also worked on the project, explained: “There are more feminine endings and tri- and tetra-syllabic endings than usual – again hallmarks of Middleton. Shakespeare tends to use ‘Omnes’ as a speech prefix and ‘All’ (preferred by Middleton) only occurs twice in the Folio – both times in All’s Well.”
- Language quirks:
Maguire pointed out: “This scene [Act 4, Scene 3] sees Parolles describing Bertram as ‘ruttish’ – a word whose only other occurrence as an adjective is in Middleton’s The Phoenix. It also sees an unusual number of Middleton’s known spelling preferences.”
- Rhyming patterns:
‘”The proportion of the play written in rhyme is much higher than usual for Jacobean Shakespeare – 19% of the lines are in rhyme, which fits Middleton’s norm of 20%,” said Maguire.
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