In Shakespeare’s lifetime seven plays were spuriously ascribed to him, all reprinted in the third Folio (1664). Since the early 19th century over 30 collections of such ‘apocryphal’ plays have appeared, a miscellaneous ragbag assembled on the feeblest justification. A new collection, edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, appears under the commercial auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company, entitled Collaborative Plays, as if to satisfy two market openings. But the majority of the plays included here are neither collaborative nor remotely connected with Shakespeare. In his introduction Bate gives confused justifications for the selection, inappropriate claims of ‘authenticity’ (plays performed by the King’s Men, as if that guaranteed Shakespeare’s approval) and the uncritical acceptance of the initials ‘W.S’ on a title page as having some credibility. Bate also perpetuates the myth created by Edmond Malone that Greene’s reference to an ‘upstart crow’ was an accusation of plagiarism rather than an attack on the actors for getting above their social station by writing plays.
Better versions exist of all the plays included here, edited by Rasmussen with many errors, perfunctory collations and minimum annotation. A long essay by Will Sharpe on co-authorship simply summarizes much secondary literature without evaluating many competing methodologies and discrepant judgments.