Doubts are cast on the true authorship of some of the plays. During the age of the Elizabethan theatre many dramatists worked together. It was the 'norm' for the day. There are arguments that parts of Henry VIII were written by John Fletcher who, from 1608 onward, wrote frequently for the King's Men. The Two Noble Kinsmen was published as Fletcher and Shakespeare's joint work in 1634. The are few records and therefore dates available in relation to first production and printing dates for the plays by William Shakespeare. Establishing the exact chronology of Shakespeare's plays is therefore impossible. Information has been pieced together by experts from various sources to produce the following chronology. The sources and documented records used are as follows:
- Actual historical events
- Allusions to historical events in his plays
- First Performance dates taken from personal diaries and records (Henslow and Manningham)
- Royal Court Records
- Legal documents
Registration of Plays
Plays were required to be registered prior to publication. It was important that plays were regulated as playwrights used the stage as a forum to express their own views on religion and politics. Registration provided an opportunity to invoke a form of censorship and the means to suppress too much freedom of thought and criticism of the crown and public affairs.
Playwright - a dangerous occupation
Any playwrights found guilty of expressing seditious or heretical views or opinions which were in opposition to the crown or government could be tortured and sentenced to death for treason or even atheism. Such accusations were levelled at Christopher Marlowe and the actor Thomas Kyd. (Kyd was arrested on charges of writing a slanderous play and was tortured. During his interrogation he implicated both Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh in relation to accusations of Heresy and Atheism.) It was therefore not unusual for playwrights to use a pseudonym or an alias to conceal their true identity. William Shakespeare never authorised the publication of any of his plays during his lifetime, neither did he claim authorship. The majority of Shakespeare plays were first published in the First Folio, seven years after his death, in 1623. This has fuelled the Identity Problem and mysteries surrounding the works of William Shakespeare.
First Performances of Plays and the dates plays first printed
The following Play Chronology is the 'best guess' based on the information available. Some views may differ regarding these dates but the 'bottom line' is that if a fact was available it would be included within the chronology, the rest can only be considered as conjecture.