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The London prodigall.
1605

STC 22333 copy 1, title page

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STC 22333 copy 1, title page
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Creator: William Shakespeare
Title: The London prodigall. As it was plaide by the Kings Maiesties seruants. By VVilliam Shakespeare,
Date: Printed by T[homas] C[reede] for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold neere S. Austins gate, at the signe of the pyde Bull, 1605.
Repository: Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, USA
Call number and opening: STC 22333 copy 1; title page
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Item Title
The London prodigall. As it was plaide by the Kings Maiesties seruants. By VVilliam Shakespeare,
Item Date
London : Printed by T[homas] C[reede] for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold neere S. Austins gate, at the signe of the pyde Bull, 1605.
Repository
Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, USA
Call Number
STC 22333 copy 1, title page

Institution Rights and Document Citation

Terms of use
Images that are under Folger copyright are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This allows you to use our images without additional permission provided that you cite the Folger Shakespeare Library as the source and you license anything you create using the images under the same or equivalent license. For more information, including permissions beyond the scope of this license, see Permissions. The Folger waives permission fees for non-commercial publication by registered non-profits, including university presses, regardless of the license they use. For images copyrighted by an entity other than the Folger, please contact the copyright holder for permission information.

Copy-specific information
Creator: William Shakespeare
Title: The London prodigall. As it was plaide by the Kings Maiesties seruants. By VVilliam Shakespeare,
Date: Printed by T[homas] C[reede] for Nathaniel Butter, and are to be sold neere S. Austins gate, at the signe of the pyde Bull, 1605.
Repository: Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC, USA
Call number and opening: STC 22333 copy 1; title page
View online bibliographic record

 

The London Prodigal was published in 1605 attributed to William Shakespeare, as performed by the King’s Men. On the basis of external evidence from Shakespeare’s lifetime, The London Prodigal in fact has a much stronger claim to Shakespearean authorship than even most of the canonical plays, many of which were first attributed to Shakespeare posthumously. It is only the omission of the play from the First Folio (1623) that casts any doubt on its authenticity.

The 1605 quarto was published by Nathaniel Butter, who three years later printed the authoritative quarto of King Lear. Both quartos display Shakespeare’s name with unusual prominence, suggesting Butter’s confidence in the saleability of Shakespeare’s name, which may account for the attribution. Nonetheless, no persuasive alternative candidates have ever been put forward for The London Prodigal. Some stylistic tests indicate a likeness to John Fletcher’s style, but that would make the play Fletcher’s earliest known (Sharpe 679-704).

There is no serious dispute about the play having belonged to the King’s Men, and it shares important thematic and dramatic concerns with several other plays in the same repertory, especially Measure for Measure, All’s Well that Ends Well and The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, which consider state and community intrusions into the institution of marriage (Kirwan 75-89).

Following the publication of the quarto, The London Prodigal was not printed again until Philip Chetwinde added it, along with six other plays, to the Third Folio of 1664. It remained in the canon through the Fourth Folio (1685) and Nicholas Rowe’s 1709-11 edition, and resurfaced again in Alexander Pope’s 1728 edition and in single editions published in the mid-1730s by Robert Walker and Jacob Tonson. Following Edmund Malone’s inclusion of it in his 1780 Supplement to the edition of George Steevens, the play appeared in several collections of spurious Shakespeare plays through the nineteenth century, culminating in C.F. Tucker Brooke’s The Shakespeare Apocrypha (1908). Despite it having one of the best and least-resolved bibliographic claims to Shakespearean authorship of the disputed plays, The London Prodigal has received very little modern critical, editorial or theatrical attention, causing Richard Proudfoot to dub it “Shakespeare’s most neglected play.” (Proudfoot 149-57)

 

Written by Peter Kirwan

Sources
Peter Kirwan, Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha: Negotiating the Boundaries of the Dramatic Canon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Richard Proudfoot, "Shakespeare’s Most Neglected Play" in Textual Formations and Reformations, eds Laurie E. Maguire and Thomas L. Berger (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998):149-57.

Will Sharpe, "Authorship and Attribution" in William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays, eds Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, with Jan Sewell and Will Sharpe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013): 643-747.

Last updated February 16, 2017