chapter  5
19 Pages

Collaborative playwrights and community-making


I The very word collaboration suggests the creation of a community, even if often small and temporary, but it is hard to get a purchase on how to evaluate alliances in the world of the early modern theatre. Furthermore, collaboration is sometimes used to describe a method of work (usually co-authorship), while at other times it implies a value judgement (like cooperation). Studies of the ‘War of the Theatres’ or of ‘rival playwrights’, which foreground envy, hostility, and competition, emphasize the negative and propose a vision precisely opposite to community collaboration. On the other hand, positive ideas about early modern theatrical collaboration have been perhaps overly influenced by Aubrey’s idealized description of Beaumont and Fletcher, sharing house, clothes, wench, and plots.1 Even attempts to isolate the linguistic identifiers of the authors in the Fletcher canon have failed before Beaumont, who seems to have formed the perfectly adaptable, almost invisible collaborator. Descriptions of more anxious collaborations, still suggesting professional friendship and assistance, come from Henslowe’s papers, where we hear how one playwright, apparently despairing of meeting his deadline himself, has enlisted another to complete a scene.2 Again more negatively, Paul Werstine’s work on ‘close contrivers’, or the nameless collaborators who helped produce – on the stage and the page – the plays of the early modern theatre, has further complicated our view of the process: when Nashe complains that four acts of his play ‘without my consent, or the lest guesse of my drift or scope, by the players were supplied’, we have a sudden view of how ‘collaboration’ by unexpected but invisible agents could constitute interference more unwelcome than the mere misreading of a word by a compositor or scribe.3