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The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole


From the seventeenth century to the twenty-first, editors of “the complete works of Shakespeare” have had widely differing views on what completeness (and Shakespeare) ought to look like. The First Folio, while declaring itself “The Works of William Shakespeare,” omitted several plays and all the poems, among which were the works for which Shakespeare was best known in his own time. The poems were not, indeed, routinely included in “complete” Shakespeares until the twentieth century, and The Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare’s collaboration with Fletcher, is still not invariably part of the complete works. At the same time, the editorial tradition has, from the mid-seventeenth century on, involved a significant attempt to increase the Shakespeare canon, by adding works that either were ascribed to Shakespeare in his own time or have at some point had his name (or even his initials) associated with them. Individual plays too have, over the centuries, been felt to require additions to make them complete. Sometimes, as with the conflation of quarto and Folio texts, the additions have been Shakespearean; sometimes they have been derived from chronicles or other sources, to make Shakespeare more true to his originals; and sometimes they have been simply invented, to fill supposed gaps in the plot or in the dramatic psychology.

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