David Bevington, PhD, will present a lecture titled, “The Assembling and Printing of the Shakespeare First Folio, 1623” at the University of Chicago Humanities Day October 17, 2015. The event is free and open to the public; registration is recommended.
According to the University of Chicago’s online synopsis, Bevington chose his topic to coincide with the Folger Library’s “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare” tour of the US in 2016. The synopsis says:
This seems like a good time to ponder the history of this book. How was it assembled after Shakespeare’s death by two of his theater colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell? How complete is it? What sorts of copy did the editors have access to? What is the printing history? What is the cultural and literary importance of this book? How has it shaped what we know about Shakespeare and his reputation? What would we be missing if it had not been published? What role if any did Shakespeare have in its being put together, in view of the fact that it was published seven years after his death? What was Henry Folger’s contribution as book collector?
SOF journal editor, Roger Stritmatter, PhD, will address these and other questions about the publication of the First Folio in a special edition of Brief Chronicles titled The 1623 Shakespeare “First Folio” — a Minority Report scheduled for publication December 2015. Stritmatter said:
“The special issue will reprint and make widely available a series of articles written over the past 75 years — approximately — that show how problematic the folio is from an orthodox point-of-view.”
The special Brief Chronicles edition will be available in hardcopy from Amazon and will be available online at the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship website.
For more information on the publication of the First Folio, read the late Robert Brazil’s research on the topic, Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare Printers, available in print and also in a Kindle edition from Amazon.
Postscript Sept. 17, 2015
John Shahan, chairman of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, reminded us that David Bevington was one of the experts quoted in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s 2011 “Sixty Minutes with Shakespeare” project supporting the Stratfordian authorship candidate. Shahan shares Richard Whalen’s anti-Stratfordian rebuttal to Bevington, below.
Shakespeare Authorship Coalition rebuttal
to Question 33 of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s
“Sixty Minutes with Shakespeare” 2011 authorship project
Oct. 26, 2011
Question 33: What kind of authority is the 1623 Folio collection of Shakespeare’s plays?
David Bevington, Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, replies for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust:
The 1623 Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, published seven years after he died, is an extraordinarily important authority in establishing what he wrote. Approximately half of the plays it contains, including Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest, had not been published prior to 1623 and might otherwise be lost to us. The lists of plays corresponds to many other pieces of evidence as to what plays were his. The editors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, Shakespeare’s long time colleagues in the King’s acting company, had access to drafts and scripts of the plays that had been used in production. They prefaced it with tributes from prominent intellectuals and writers, notably Ben Jonson, who publicly proclaimed in the Folio volume that he regarded Shakespeare as a genius of tragedy equal to Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, and the greatest writer of comedy the world had ever seen. This is stirring praise indeed, coming from a man of such fierce intellectual integrity. That Ben Jonson, and so many others, could have been bamboozled into praising Shakespeare if the plays were not his, or would have consented to a widespread conspiracy to perpetuate a lie about the authorship, is simply inconceivable.
Richard Whalen, Past President, Shakespeare Oxford Society; author of numerous research articles and book reviews in Oxfordian publications over nearly two decades:
We agree with the first 80 per cent of what David Bevington says about the significance of the First Folio. Ben Jonson, however, was not “bamboozled.” He praised Shakespeare and rightly so. The plays were his, appearing as by William Shakespeare, just as the works of Mark Twain were his and appeared under his pen name. The authorship question is whether “William Shakespeare” was a pen name. Note that nothing in the First Folio clearly and unambiguously attributes the plays to Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon.
There is no evidence of a “widespread conspiracy to perpetuate a lie.” Doubters make no such claim, and no “widespread” conspiracy would have been required. This is an assumption that Stratfordians impose on doubters for the sake of argument. If a writer uses a pseudonym, does this mean that he, his family, friends and publisher are part of a “widespread conspiracy” to conceal his identity? What is “widespread”? There is little evidence that people knew who the author Shakespeare was in the first place.
However the claim that actors Heminges and Condell wrote the introductory material in the First Folio, or edited the plays, was shown to be false by George Steevens in 1770. His conclusion has been accepted by most Shakespeare scholars ever since. Would they and Ben Jonson have helped to perpetuate a myth for some good reason? Probably yes. We know that this claim by the two actors is false. Why assume everything else is true?