THIS POST IS THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF DAILY CONFERENCE RE-CAPS WRITTEN BY EARLY CAREER SCHOLARS ATTENDING THIS YEAR'S CONFERENCE.
By Meghan Andrews
Wednesday at the MSA International Conference was just as lively, intellectually stimulating, and provocative as the first day. Moreover, it felt unexpectedly yet rewardingly cohesive, as a distinct thread ran through most of the sessions I attended and helped the sessions, as well as the papers, speak to each other. It was not always the explicit topic of the panel (though sometimes it was), and the question was addressed more obliquely in some sessions than others, but what bound Wednesday together for me was the question of early modern authorial collaboration—and the productive tensions surrounding both our attempts to understand it and the rhetoric we use in so doing.
Collaboration has been on the critical frontburner in Marlowe studies for close to a decade now, largely thanks to the ascription of parts of the Henry VI plays to Marlowe based on stylometric analyses. The prospect of expanding Marlowe’s canon is both exciting and important, as Gary Taylor’s paper on The First Part of the Contention (the “bad” quarto of 2 Henry VI) reminded us. Equally important and energizing are the attempts to answer some of the lingering authorship questions about the “established” canon, as shown by Hugh Craig and Ruth Lunney’s very different approaches to (but agreement in their conclusions about) Nashe’s presence—or nonpresence, as both argued—in Dido, Queen of Carthage. Ros Barber’s critique of some of the methods used in stylometric studies in general also approached the question, though from a very different angle. Attempts to distinguish exactly who wrote what parts of what play are thus a very live and generative approach in Marlowe studies at the moment.
Yet the attempt to parcel out plays to that degree in many ways runs counter to the arguments made by Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith during their papers, as both argued for an expansion of our conceptions of—and the language we use for—collaborative work during the period. Pointing out that texts from the period acknowledge and name a range of possibilities for collaborative labor, Maguire noted that we don’t have a corresponding critical vocabulary that acknowledges the complexity of collaboration in the early modern theater. I found Maguire and Smith’s arguments entirely persuasive, yet the flexibility that they argued for troubles some of the assumptions of stylometric analyses of the plays. I don’t have the space to discuss it more fully here, but I found productive the tension inherent in attempts to trace collaborative labor with the complication of our models of that labor.
This also made for a fascinating connection with the keynote given by Holger Schott Syme on the twentieth-century performance history of Marlowe in Germany. Syme argued that the performance tradition is best understood when contextualized within the German theatrical culture of the 1920s, which held that old texts must be adapted so that contemporary audiences would have the same reaction to and relationship with them that Marlowe’s original audiences would have had to his drama. Syme’s paper served as an illustration that all sorts of collaborations exist, and that we need to have flexible paradigms for acknowledging them.
Meghan Andrews is an assistant professor of English at Lycoming College. She is currently working on a monograph about the influences of Shakespeare's social networks and institutional affiliations on his plays and poems.