Two further plays were published in Shakespeare’s lifetime under his initials.
In 1607, George Eld — who would print Shake-speare’s Sonnets two years later — published The Puritan, or the Widow of Watling Street as ‘Written by W.S.’ There is no public link to The King’s Men and it is somewhat quieter in its approach, the initials again allowing for a certain deniability. This might be reasonably explained by the fact that The Puritan is widely accepted as a play by Thomas Middleton, a playwright who would turn twenty-seven that year, and had not yet had a work published under his own name.
The publication of a Middleton play by George Eld under false initials presents a puzzle. George Eld published other Middleton plays but apparently saw no particular need to publish them under someone else’s initials. In the same year, 1607, Eld published Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy with no author’s name or initials on the title page. On 7 October 1607, Eld registered Middleton’s A Trick To Catch the Old One, publishing it anonymously the following year. A second edition, printed by Eld for bookseller Thomas Rocket in 1609, bore a title page declaring it was ‘Composed by T.M.’. Eld printed a third edition in 1616, ‘By T. Middleton’. In 1608, Eld printed Middleton’s Your Five Gallants for Richard Bonian as ‘Written by T. Middleton’. There seems to be no reason why George Eld would put false initials on one Middleton play and not on others, unless he was deliberately guided to do so by the person who provided him with the play.
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