Shakespeare's brothers and Peele's brethren: Titus Andronicus again

MacD P Jackson. Notes and Queries. London: Dec 1997.Vol.44, Iss. 4; pg. 494, 2 pgs


Jackson comments on Boyd's argument concerning the origin of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. A case is made for dual authorship of the play with George Peele.

BRIAN BOYD's recent argument for Peele's involvement in Titus Andronicus depended mainly on quantification and analysis of the tendency, especially within Act I of the play, towards `the lazy repetition of a few common words the author has retrieved from his wordbox and keeps on reshuffling'.I But he also noticed that, in a tragedy involving many brothers, the suspect scenes are inclined to use the plural brethren, which Peele favoured for his The Battle of Alcazar, marked by fratricide.2 His figures are not quite accurate, however, and a wider range of data shows that Boyd's point about the alternative plurals is even more telling than he himself recognized.

The Chadwyck-Healey 'Literature on Line' electronic database is now available on the World Wide Web to institutions willing to pay the annual subscription. It allows one to search some 4,000 English plays, from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century. The textual bases for Renaissance dramatists are mainly the original quartos or octavos, though folio collections have also been used. Plays may be searched by periods and genres. 'Elizabethan' includes ninety-three plays of the period 1580-1603; a few plays categorized as 'University Plays' or under 'Tudor' or `Jacobean and Caroline' might reasonably have been in the Elizabethan group. In any case, it is possible to search all the canonical plays of Peele and most of those by his contemporaries. Shakespeare's may also be searched, though the text is taken from the First Folio of 1623, and Spevack's Concordance perhaps gives the more appropriate counts.

In Titus Andronicus the plurals brothers and brethren each occur nine times.3 But the distribution of the alternative forms is striking. Eight of the examples of brethren are in the suspect Act I, while eight of the examples of brothers are in the rest of the play. Neither word occurs within II.i, II.ii, or IVi, which may be, at least partly, Peele's.4 This is a ings in Act I of Titus Andronicus Q (1594): Shakespeare or Peele?', Studies in Bibliography, xlix (1996), 134-48. 2 Boyd. 305. 3 Marvin Spevack's A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare (Hildersheim, 1968-80) has provided my figures for Titus Andronicus and for other Shakespeare plays. TheTitus references (from Spevack, Riverside numbering) are: brethren I.i.89, 104, 122, 123, 146, 160 (brethren's), 348, 357, Vi.104; brothers 1.i.287, III.1.30, 49, 109, I09, IIl, 166 (brothers%, 180, V.ii.173, V.iii.100. Three examples of the spelling variant bretheren have been retained in the Riverside Shakespeare, on which Spevack's concordance is based, and he lists these forms separately, but naturally I have included both spellings in the tally. remarkable discrepancy: 8:1 in Peele's putative share as against 1:8 in Shakespeare's. Moreover, the one example of brothers in I.i is a vocative, which makes it somewhat distinct.

If we exclude Titus Andronicus, "brethren" occurs only ten times in all Shakespeare's plays, and one of these instances is in a scene of Henry VIII that is usually ascribed to Fletcher (Viv.70). Thus Titus Andronicus accounts for half the examples of brethren in the whole Shakespearian dramatic canon, and all but one of these are in the 'Peelian' Act I. Shakespeare's preferred plural is brothers: outside Titus Andronicus there are sixty-four instances in his plays. For his eleven earliest plays, apart fromTitus, the count is two brethren, twenty-three brothers.5 Peele's dramatic canon yields opposite results: nine brethren and one brothers.6 The discrepancy between the 'Peelian' and 'Shakespearian' parts of Titus Andronicus in the use of the alternative plurals is thus perfectly in line with the practices of the two dramatists in their canonical plays. The `English Poetry' database can add another scrap of relevant information: there is only one example of either plural in Shakespeare's or Peele's poems, and that is brethren in Peele's Polyhymnia. So Peele's preference was consistent.

'Literature on Line' reveals that Peele was not alone among the database's 'Elizabethan' playwrights in his liking for brethren. Munday was evidently keen on this plural, especially in his pageants and entertainments, where the older form has an obvious ceremonial function, since the speaker is addressing the `Brethren of the Society of Drapers', and so on. Marlowe also uses "brethren" in Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta. But the only `Elizabethan' plays to match The Battle of Alcazar are anonymous ones, such as Jack Straw (brethren 4, brothers 0), King Darius (5/0), A Knack to Know a Knave (9/0), Selimus (7/0), and Locrine (3/0); three of these have, at some time or another, been attributed to Peele, though on inadequate grounds.7

The repeated use of "brethren,: rather than "brothers," in Act I of Titus Andronicus thus differentiates this piece of writing from anything else of comparable size in the Shakespeare canon. This small but significant item of evidence supports a theory of dual authorship, while tending to strengthen the case for thinking that Shakespeare's collaborator was George Peele.

MACD. P. JACKSON University of Auckland

[Footnote] I Brian Boyd, 'Common Words in Titus Andronicus: The Presence of Peele', N&Q;, ccxxxx (1995), 300-7, at 301. A case for Peele's involvement in Titus Andronicus is also made by MacD. P. Jackson, `Stage Directions and Speech Head

[Footnote] 4 Boyd, 301, 307; Jackson, 'Stage Directions', 142-8; MacD. P. Jackson, Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare (Salzburg, 1979), 151 4.

[Footnote] 5 The plays are (as in the Oxford chronology) The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, 1, 2, and 3 Henry Vl, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard If, but only The Two Gentlemen of Verona (0/1), 2 and 3 Henry VI (Ol/1 and 1/9), and Richard III (1/12) contribute to the totals.

[Footnote] 6 The counts are from the Chadwyck-Healey `Literature on Line' database, and include The Battle of Alcazar (8/0), The Arraignment of Paris, David and Bethsabe (Ill), Edward!, and The Old Wives' Tale, the last of these falling within the 'Jacobean and Caroline' section. Since the texts are in old spelling, it is necessary to visit the various contexts in order to distinguish between brothers as a plural and brothers as a singular possessive without the modern apostrophe.

[Footnote] 7 S. Schoenbaum, Internal Evidence and Elizabethan Dramatic Authorship (Evanston, 1966), xvii-xviii. Again, the counts for the anonymous plays exclude instances of brothers as singular possessive; the Literature on Line' tallies have to be corrected through scrutiny of contexts, which the search functions facilitate. 1