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Henry VI, Part 2 /

Appendix: Authorship of Henry VI, Part 2

Henry VI, Part 2 was first published in 1623, together with thirty-five other plays, in the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays to be issued in a single volume—the book we now call the Shakespeare First Folio. Until Lewis Theobald in 1734, no one suggested that any of the play was the work of someone else besides Shakespeare. After Theobald expressed skepticism about Shakespeare’s sole authorship, a great many editors and scholars have echoed his doubts, most influentially the renowned Shakespeare editor Edmond Malone in 1787. Others have contested Theobald’s doubts, including the respected Samuel Johnson. Beginning with Jane Lee in 1876, a number of investigators using different methods have attempted to discriminate between those parts of the play to be credited to Shakespeare and those parts to be attributed to other named playwrights of the period, including Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, and Christopher Marlowe. These scholars have arrived at no consensus about exactly who wrote which parts.

We do not think it impossible or even improbable that other hands may be represented in the play. It is conservatively estimated that at least half the plays from the public theater of Shakespeare’s time were collaborative efforts. We respect the labor expended and skill exhibited by attribution scholars, and, at the same time, we take seriously the limitations that they acknowledge necessarily attend their efforts. On this basis we simply set aside the question of whether Greene, Nashe, or Marlowe wrote some of Henry VI, Part 2 and contest neither those who have argued for collaboration nor those who have claimed the play for Shakespeare.

We treat the play in the same way as the others published in the Shakespeare First Folio, referring to it for convenience as a Shakespeare play. In doing so, we fully recognize that the theater is always the location of collaborative creation, not just among named dramatists but also among members of acting companies and their employees and associates. We are aware of documentary evidence of other hands reaching into dramatic manuscripts in the course of their annotation or transcription, and we suspect that Shakespeare’s words could not possibly have commanded in their own time the same reverence they have been accorded in later times. Such circumstances attach to all the Shakespeare printed plays that come down to us. In calling Henry VI, Part 2 Shakespeare’s, we are simply acknowledging its inclusion in the 1623 First Folio.