The Booke of Sir Thomas Moore (British Library, Harley MS 7368) holds a paradoxical place in the scholarly tradition: although the manuscript has long been recognized as the most vivid documentary record of early modern dramatic collaboration, the play itself has received scarcely any critical attention. This paper attempts to join these two approaches by showing how the thematic concerns of the play illuminate the evidence within the manuscript about the practice of collaborative playwriting. The key connecting idea is dilation and its limits. In the original text by Anthony Munday (and possibly Henry Chettle), the play’s eponymous character is associated with the very idea of more: besides the frequent puns on his name in multiple languages, More is himself a figure of dilation, at once accumulating political power and playing the role of the clown, whose time-wasting jests link folly (moria) with delay (mora). In revising the play, the team of writers that likely included Shakespeare was deeply responsive to this theme, not least as it related to their own work of dilating the Original Text. My argument is that the complex thematic treatment of dilation sheds light on how the playwrights approached their work on Sir Thomas More as well as on the materiality of playwriting more broadly.
Misha Teramura is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toronto, where he researches and teaches Shakespeare and early modern drama. His work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in ELH, Shakespeare Quarterly, English Literary Renaissance, RES, The Chaucer Review, and other journals. He is currently completing a monograph on Shakespeare’s adaptations of Chaucer.