What is The Shakespearean Apocrypha ? Plays of Doubtful Authenticity

"Shakespeare enjoyed the advantage of living in a creative age in a vigorous Protestant country where the madness of bigotry was silent for a while."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Shakespeare’s Apocrypha—Apocrypha means in its dictionary sense hidden or secret things and it is specially applicable to certain books or parts of books of the Old and New Testaments, which are not generally accepted as canonical or authoritative by the Jews and the Christians Apocryphal accordingly has come to ‘stand for something rather spurious, of doubtful authority or authenticity.

The Shakespearean Apocrypha comprises the plays of doubtful authenticity attributed to Shakespeare but not included in the canon of First Folio of 1623. These works fall into four groups:

(a) A group of seven plays which were added to the second issue of Third Folio published in 1664 These plays were— (1) Pericles, Prince of Tyre ( Although Pericles, Prince of Tyre was a great success in its own time, the play exists only in a somewhat corrupted text. It did not appear in the First Folio, and critics have long debated how much of it Shakespeare actually wrote. Some believe the play was a collaborative effort between Shakespeare and another author, usually thought to be George Wilkins. )  (2) The London Prodigall (3) The History of Thomas Ld. Cromwell, (4) Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham (5) The Puritan Widow, (6) A Yorkshire Tragedy,(7) The Tragedy of Locrine. It was claimed that these seven plays were never before printed in folio format. However, those had all been printed in Quartos and attributed to W. S. or openly to Shakespeare. In this group Pericles seems the only play which scholars seriously consider as being written by Shakespeare, if not fully, at least in part.

Shakespeare (Cobbe portrait)
(b) The second group consists of two plays, namely, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Cardenlo. The first of these was registered in 1634 and showed as his authors, John Fletcher and William Shakespeare, The other one is a lost play, which was acted in court in 1613. It was registered in 1653 as being composed by Mr. Fletcher and Shakespeare.

(c) In the third group fall two other plays titled Sir Thomas More and Edward III. No external evidence is available in respect of these plays. However, some passages in them have been attributed to Shakespeare on the basis of certain internal evidence.

(d) There are certain other plays which have been attributed to Shakespeare either by book-sellers or by publishers, without any evidence therefore. These are patently spurious. These are—The Troublesome Reign of King John, The Birth of Merlin, Arden Feversham, Faire Em, The Merry Devil of Edmonton Mucedorus etc. The three last-named plays were found in the library of Charles II bound together and bearing a label “Shakespeare, Vol. I”.

 Shakespeare's Plays

Early Comedies: The Comedy of Errors, the Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour's Lost

Middle Comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venic

 Mature Comedies: Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night 

Problem Comedies: All's Well That Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure

Early Histories: Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, Richard III 

Later Histories: Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and II ,Henry V ,King John, Henry VIII

Early Tragedies: Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar

Mature Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens

The Late Plays: Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Timon of Athens

The Doubtful Authorship: Titus Andronicus, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, A Yorkshire Tragedy , The London Prodigal , Sir John Oldcastle , The Puritan, or, The Widow of Watling Street , Locrine , King Edward the Third , The Merry Devil of Edmonton , Fair Em: The Miller's Daughter of Manchester , Mucedorus , Arden of Feversham , The Birth of Merlin, or, The Child Hath Found His Father , and The Two Noble Kinsmen