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Home :: Archive :: 1991 :: November ::
Donald Foster and the Sonnets
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 295. Friday, 8 Nov 1991.
 
 
Date: 		Thu, 7 Nov 1991 22:43:01 -0500
From: 		"Tad Davis" <
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Subject: 	Donald Foster and the Sonnets
 
I have to admit it: I'm a sucker for anyone with a list of statistical
reports.  The latest is Donald Foster, who has presented some intriguing
and possibly exciting analyses of rare word patterns in Shakespeare.  I
want to be excited.  I want to believe it.  I want to believe it's possible
to make truly informed guesses about what parts Shakespeare played: I think
the answers tell us a little bit about the plays and a lot about the man
himself; and while I realize it's "irrelevant" (in some circles) to a
discussion of the play, I find the life endlessly fascinating in its own
right.  The question is, how sound is the approach?  Has anyone else been
able to see the raw data?  Is it a unique and creative application of a
commonly-accepted methodology, or a daring and controversial plunge down a
completely new road?
 
In the latest note in the Shakespeare Newsletter, Foster makes a case for
dating the sonnets quite a bit later than usual.  (If all this did was get
A.L. Rowse to shut up, it might be worth all the work that went into it.)
I seem to remember that Dover Wilson tried to make a strong case for verbal
parallels between the sonnets and the Henry IV plays.  Part of it was an
attempt to depose Henry Wriothesley as the youth and replace him with
William Herbert.  Without venturing down that path of madness, could it at
least be said that the evidence for a later date is promising?  (The major
weakness I could see in Foster's article was that he mentions, but never
returns to, the subject of Meres and the "sugared sonnets"; so at least
some of them were well-known for quite some time before the dates Foster
appears to be proposing.  Based on his analysis of parallels, he says,
"most of the Sonnets were written later than 1598.")
 
Tad Davis

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