Tag Archives: Dating Shakespeare’s Plays

From The De Vere Society — Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence

Dear Friends:  Please forgive this belated posting of the announcement (and additional information) about the publication of the De Vere Society’s Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.  As you’ll see, this very informative volume was published in November 2010.  I only recently received a copy of the book and wanted to make sure readers of our Online News were also aware of this very useful publication.  The dating issue — especially as it relates to possible dates of composition of plays after the Earl of Oxford died in 1604 — is profoundly important in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

If anybody could produce hard evidence that just one Shakespeare play (or poem for that matter) was composed AFTER June 1604, the Earl of Oxford would be eliminated as an authorship candidate.  By “composed” I’m talking about written by Shakespeare himself and not posthumously revised by others.  Indeed, orthodox scholars often insist, without conclusive evidence, that several plays were composed by Shakespeare AFTER 1604.  And they often insist that this proves Oxford could not be the author.

But the De Vere Society’s excellent book reveals persuasively that the orthodox chronology is built on a shaky foundation of conjecture and surmise.  The fact is nobody really knows exactly when Shakespeare composed any of his works.  We know about such things a first publication, date of entry in the Stationers’ Register, or first reference to the works by others (for example, the list of 12 Shakespeare plays compiled by Francis Meres in 1598).  We also know about the publication dates of source materials used in many of the plays themselves.  But pin-pointing the actual dates of composition is virtually impossible.  I hope others will find the information below useful and that you’ll pick up a copy of this indispensable volume.

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence
Edited by Kevin Gilvary

Published November 2010

After a long gestation period, the DVS is delighted finally to publish its research into the dating of Shakespeare’s plays.

This critical review of the evidence challenges the orthodox scholarly consensus about the order in which Shakespeare composed his plays and when they were written. It reveals surprising discrepancies in date comparisions. King John has been placed by scholars in every year of the decade up to 1598 and there are suggestions that Hamlet’s date of 1602 could be put back to 1589

In this authoritative book, evidence is reviewed methodically to produce a range of dates, supported by in-depth analysis of aids to dating such as language, historical allusion the testimony of title pages, as well as works by other authors including Palladis Tamia and the Stationers’ Register.

In considering Oxfordian dates, the intention is not to prove the Earl of Oxford was the author but to demonstrate the possibility of a range of earlier dates for each of the 36 plays in the First Folio, and four other plays which have been attributed to Shakespeare.

Kevin Gilvary has a BA and MA from the University of Southampton and is currently a research student at Brunel University. He has taught in Canada, South America, and Hampshire.

To order, please visit the DVS Publications page


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When did Shakespeare write his plays ?

There is, apparently, a scholarly consensus about the order and dates of Shakespeare’s plays. Yet, there is no contemporary evidence to date any play. Close comparison of the ‘scholarly consensus’ shows many surprising discrepancies, e.g., in the dating of King John (any year between 1588 and 1598), Love’s Labour’s Lost (some timee between 1589 and 1598) and Hamlet (1589-1602).

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays considers not only the evidence for dating every play but also every argument used in support of a preferred date. Each play is considered in its own chapter in relation to:

Publication data (Stationers’ Register, title pages, etc.)
Performance data (Revels’ Accounts, Henslowe’s Diary, etc.)
Dates of all sources (both probable and possible)
Allusions to the play (contemporary accounts, diaries, poems etc.)

Starting with the ‘orthodox dates’ proposed by E. K. Chambers in 1930, consideration is given to the dates suggested by major editors (including the editors of the Arden2 and Arden3 series, the Oxford Shakespeare and New Cambridge Shakespeare series).

The findings are necessarily inconclusive: it is only possible to establish the date range for each play. As scholar after scholar has said, the evidence to fix a precise date on any particular play is simply lacking.

This question is crucial to any biography of Shakespeare. After all, how can we assess his development unless we know fairly precisely when he wrote the works?

Rather surprisingly, we can’t date any play to any particular year. We can’t even date any play to any period shorter than five years. Here are a few examples:

Macbeth is normally assigned to the year 1606, the time of the trial of the Gunpowder plotters, due to the references to equivocation; yet equivocation was used in political trials as early as 1581. Apart from that, there is no references in the play or to the play which can give more precise date than 1587 (the publication of Holinshed’s Chronicles) and 1611 when it was described in performance.

Julius Caesar is normally dated to 1599 when it was apparently witnessed in performance but there is no evidence as to when the play was composed; we can only say it dates after 1579, since it was based on North’s Plutarch.

This volume considers all the evidence for each individual play in the following sequence:
a general introduction to the evidence available to help with dating
a consideration of the uses and limitations of Francis Meres’s observations in 1598
a consideration of the value of metrical and stylistic features

It then volume considers each play in the sequence presented in the First Folio (1623):
14 comedies
10 histories
12 tragedies

In addition, there are further chapters devoted to four plays often ascribed to Shakespeare.

The volume finishes with:
conclusions and inconclusions
appendix of eight tables
a thorough index
Total: 520 pages
31 illustrations