Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Book Review • SHAKESPEARE AND CO. by Stanley Wells • 2007

Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story


In the 1616 Folio of Ben Jonson’s Workes, published seven years before the more famous Folio of Shakespeare, Jonson adds to his flamboyant title-page a Latin motto:

Neque me ut miretur turba, laboro;
Contentus paucis lectoribus –

Adapted from the Latin poet Horace, this motto claims that Jonson doesn’t ‘work to be gaped at by the mob, but am happy with a few readers.’ The latest venture by the eminent Shakespearean scholar Stanley Wells, newly published by Penguin Books under the title Shakespeare and Co., is certainly not restricted to enjoyment by a few erudite readers.

Wells has written an exciting and adventurous book which clearly examines the nature and times of his favourite writer. This wonderfully readable book explores not just the life and writings of the nation’s ‘Bard’, but uncovers the many and diverse playwrights who were contemporaries and near-contemporaries to the Stratford lad, and who influenced or were influenced by his writings – as Wells defines them, ‘the other players in [Shakespeare’s] story’.

Wells presents in an easily-understood style a glorious evocation of the ‘collaborative’ nature of early modern drama. Calling upon over a century of historical and literary research, he translates the stuff of cold historical fact and conjecture into a ready narrative. In so doing, Wells presents us with characters which, for many theatregoers of today, would be names lost in the obscurity of time. When Shakespeare was writing, these same names – Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, John Webster – would attract their audiences at the numerous playhouses dotted around London and its suburbs.

These were glamorous, radical individuals, who fought duels, fought in wars, and fought each other for the love of women, men and boys, whilst at the same time writing topical, occasionally notorious, and immensely popular drama. Wells brings these playwrights’ lives to life and in the process adds so much to our appreciation of the author’s obvious hero, William Shakespeare.

Time and again, we are presented with textual echoes from Shakespeare, or even times when Shakespeare has blatantly copied someone else’s style or content. Time and again, the fascinating and troubling history of the time inevitably filters through into the writing of drama. These were people at the cutting edge of the nation’s cultural history.

In recent years, companies such as the RSC at Stratford and the Globe in London have revived these obscure playwrights. We have marvelled at Jonson’s Sejanus, guffawed at George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston’s Eastward Ho!, or sat back in amazement at John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi. With Wells’s excellent narrative flair, we are led easily and concisely through the history of these and other late Elizabethan and early Jacobean plays, understanding how they fit into our own national heritage with no less importance than the great writings of Shakespeare.

With all the rhetorical skill which this eminent academic can muster, this book will please both lay reader and scholar alike. The most up-to-date opinions on sources and collaborations, combined with illuminating examples of primary textual material, aid our understanding and further our understanding and awareness of an age lost in the mists of time.

Having read Shakespeare and Co., I feel as though I have been mixing in the smelly realms of the South London playhouses, being jostled by pickpockets and ladies of ill repute, watching expensively-clad gallants strut about on stage, vying for the audiences’ attention with the equally well-clad actors. I have tasted the beer and choked on the stench of the nearby bear-baiting arenas. I have settled in a water ferry, shouted ‘northward ho!’ back home across the Thames. I have listened to the crackle of thatch as a fire catches hold at the Globe, as women and children run screaming and as drunken louts fling their beer-bottles into the flames. I have watched a beautiful boy pretending to be a beautiful girl pretending to be a beautiful boy. All this and more is brought to life in the pages of Shakespeare and Co. Utterly enchanting.

Kevin Quarmby © 2007

Originally published on R&V 07-08-07


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....


Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork


by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

Life with an Illness

*Tips and tricks on how to get through life when you have a chronic illness*

The poor side of life

Exposing the unfair treatment of jobseekers, the horrors of Universal Credit, unfair sanctions and heinous treatment of claimants at Ashton under Lyne Jobcentre.

Wild Woman Wisdom

We are wild, we are feminine we are rooted: I help women find their power and speak their truth.

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science


Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This site is Pacific War era information


The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics


News, politics, insights, inside information from the left

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me


How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

%d bloggers like this: