Bruce Smith: The Congeniality of Shakespeare’s Genius

Abstract

Although William Shakespeare, along with Homer, Dante, Rembrandt, and Mozart, is universally regarded as one of the geniuses of Western civilization, his creativity as a writer of plays was dependent on con-geniality, an ability to work creatively with his peers. This paper will explore the variety of ways in which Shakespeare proved himself to be, not an isolated creator of masterpieces, but a craftsman whose achievement very much depended on the work of collaborators. The early modern term for these partners was “fellows,” a term quite at odds with Romantic ideas of genius operating in sublime isolation. In the course of the paper we shall have occasion to look at manuscript pages from the collaborative play Sir Thomas More that may be in Shakespeare’s handwriting. These pages provide first-hand evidence of how Shakespeare created his scripts with other people always in mind.