Dr. Mortimer’s lecture is generally clear and well-argued, but it suffers from a major blind spot: his failure to notice the problem posed by the ‘apocryphal’ Shakespeare plays and Shakespearean ‘bad quartos.’ Take, for instance, the plays A Yorkshire Tragedy, ascribed to “W. Shakespeare” in 1608, and The London Prodigall, ascribed to “William Shakespeare” in 1605. According to Dr. Mortimer, in both these cases the “ascription of authorship was just a printer’s or bookseller’s ploy.” How did Dr. Mortimer come to this conclusion? Why is he so willing to ignore the direct historical evidence that William Shakespeare wrote these plays in favor of an unproven fantasy involving supposedly fraudulent printers and/or booksellers, many of whom (according to the implications of his unsubstantiated theory) conspired to trick the London public into believing that William Shakespeare wrote a series of works he didn’t actually write over a span of decades?
There’s an old Stratfordian joke that goes like this: “Shakespeare’s plays weren’t actually written by Shakespeare. They were written by some other guy named Shakespeare.” The funny thing is, there could very well have been “some other guy named Shakespeare.” According to title page evidence and other usually reliable forms of authorship evidence, this other William Shakespeare wrote, adapted, or co-authored around a dozen surviving plays: The Taming of A Shrew, The Troublesome Reign of King John, Fair Em, Locrine, Mucedorus, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Thomas Lord Cromwell, The Puritan, The London Prodigal, A Yorkshire Tragedy, The Birth of Merlin, and perhaps Double Falsehood (originally titled Cardenio). These plays are usually assigned to the “Shakespeare Apocrypha,” but they were evidently accepted as authentic Shakespeare plays by William’s contemporaries and near-contemporaries even though they weren’t printed in the First Folio. The “other Shakespeare” was also credited with writing six or so Shakespearean ‘bad quartos,’ shorter and poetically inferior adaptations of six or more canonical plays (Henry VI Part Two, Henry VI Part Three, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Richard III, Hamlet, and perhaps Pericles and Henry VI Part One). There are no contemporary records indicating that anyone other than William Shakespeare wrote these apocryphal plays and bad quartos, at least as a co-author or play reviser.
To paraphrase Dr. Mortimer’s own words, applied to this problem rather than that of who wrote the canonical Shakespeare plays, “when we consider the possibility that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the apocryphal plays and ‘bad quartos,’ we find a dearth of direct evidence. All the direct evidence points to William Shakespeare as the author. No document indicates that another author was wholly responsible for any single play, let alone the whole set of some 18-odd works. It is purely on stylistic and literary grounds that scholars have argued he didn’t write them. There is no direct evidence that William didn’t write the apocryphal Shakespeare plays and bad quartos. All the direct evidence points in one direction, and none of it indicates any other author. It is as simple as that.”