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First master's degree to study the authorship of Shakespeare's plays

Brunel University in West London together with Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, are today announcing the launch of the first two graduate degree courses in the world dedicated to Authorship Studies.

Brunel University is launching its unique master's degree in Shakespeare Authorship Studies this October, and Concordia's master's program in Authorship Studies begins this summer.

The partnership between the two universities will be formally announced today [April 14] at the awards banquet at the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference, held this week, at Concordia University. The Agreement will enable the two universities to co-operate on research activities and other projects.

Brunel's head of English, Dr William Leahy, said: “Applying students are asked to enter the course, as in any course, with an open mind. The course does not have an agenda, other than to examine Shakespeare and authorship.

“It's a phenomenum that's existed for hundreds of years and has generated countless books and articles. It involves hundreds, even thousands of people. “

Concordia's master's program in Authorship Studies will look at other literary conumdrums as well. “Students will be able to explore major authorship questions such as whether Harper Lee or her childhood friend Truman Capote wrote the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, or to investigate the centuries-old question of who wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare,“ explained Dr Mark Wahlers, Provost of Concordia University.

Its first graduate course, to be offered this summer, will be: “The History of Shakespeare's Sonnets: Authorship, Publication, Interpretation.“

Modules on Brunel's Shakespeare Authorship Studies MA course include the production of the First Folio, the “deification process beginning in the eighteenth century“; considering Shakespeare's collaborations with his contemporaries through a close reading of specific texts, and investigating “the alternatives to Shakespeare as author.“

Dr Leahy suggests that part of the case against Shakespeare being the sole author of the body of work consisting of 38 plays and 154 sonnets, is that the First Folio which appeared in 1623, seven years after the Bard's death, “contained 18 of 36 plays which had never been heard of before.“

He adds that, furthermore, the first plays which appeared didn't have William Shakespeare's name on the title page.

“They are a varying quality: Henry VI is plodding, and then, there's Hamlet,“ Leahy explained. “Scholars say that Henry VI was written when Shakespeare was young, and that Hamlet was composed when he was old. But the fact is, we don't know when Henry VI was written.“

Students will hear the cases for other 16th century contenders who may have penned the plays and sonnets behind the famous name.
These include the English aristocrat and Elizabethan courtier Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford; playwright Christopher Marlowe; Sir Francis Bacon; Sir Henry Neville or the poet Mary Sidney, who hosted a literary salon which some believe was the group behind Shakespeare's plays. This idea is known as the “groupists“ theory.

MA Shakespeare Authorship Studies which begins in October 2007, is a one-year full-time course; or students can study for two to three years, part-time, including one evening only per term, to suit full-time teachers.