Rethinking Middleton’s Collaborations: Making Meaning in Early Modern Texts

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Thomas Middleton’s work as a playwright and pamphleteer was highly collaborative: from 1601 to 1627 he wrote with at least ten of his contemporaries including Dekker, Jonson and Shakespeare. However, Middleton’s texts are even more collaborative than these writing partnerships would suggest. This thesis defines collaboration as the act of sharing in the process of making meaning, and so proposes that Middleton’s collaborators included not only his many co-writers but also performers, printers and editors. Middleton’s partnership with Thomas Dekker, the three plays and two pamphlets they co-wrote together, are the starting point from which I explore early modern collaboration. Since these texts have survived only in print form, the best information available about the creative processes that generated them is archival sources and the evidence provided by attribution studies. Yet there are two potential problems with the use of attribution evidence. First, because attribution involves assigning parts of texts to writers, it can imply that co-written texts were always singly authored in separate sections then pieced together. Secondly, attribution’s concern with tracking the presence of authors can suggest that non-authorial contributions to a text are not worthwhile. This thesis challenges both of these assumptions. To resolve the tension between valuable evidence provided by attribution studies and their misrepresentation (as I see it) of collaboration, this thesis takes as its starting point those poststructuralist theories which call for a decentred conception of the author. Co-writing can then be understood as an essential aspect of how meaning in a text is made but not the only significant aspect. My thesis reframes attribution evidence in light of this idea and uses it to gain insight into how and why Middleton and Dekker wrote together, rather than to discover ‘who wrote what’. I argue that Middleton began writing with the more experienced Dekker to hone his craft and that their process changed as Middleton became more practised. Taking this approach to attribution scholarship means that I can investigate co-writing without devaluing non-authorial collaboration: Middleton and Dekker’s co-writing is presented alongside the collaborative acts of those who performed, printed and edited their texts. By applying the idea of a decentred author to attribution evidence, this thesis offers an original way to approach early modern collaboration: one which analyses co-writing whilst recognising it as part of a larger network of collaborative acts.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
Award date2 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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