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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: November ::
Authorship
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0875.  Tuesday, 1 November 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Oct 1994 11:42:41 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Shake-scene
 
(2)     From:   Charles Boyle <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Oct 1994 10:06:47 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Authorship
 
(3)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Nov 1994 09:42:00 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Authorship
 
(4)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 Oct 94 19:31:49 CST
        Subj:   Authorship
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Oct 1994 11:42:41 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Shake-scene
 
SHAKSPERians will be familiar with the assumed attack on Shakespeare by Robert
Greene in his 1592 pamphlet, 'Greene's Groatsworth of Wit' in which he calls
him an 'upstart crow' who considers himself the 'only Shake-scene in a
country'.  The word 'Shake-scene' is said to be a 'punning' allusion to
Shakespeare's name.  My question is: what is the nature of the pun?  Does the
word exist outside this pamphlet, and if so what does it refer to? Was a
'shakescene' perhaps a backstage worker of some kind?
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Boyle <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Oct 1994 10:06:47 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Authorship
 
In response to David Evett posting on authorship:
 
The "good-sized body" of evidence (Title-pages, etc.) only supports the
reasonable inference that certain play were published under the name "William
Shakespeare." Your "somewhat smaller body" of evidence only supports the
inference that someone referred to by that name was a sharer in the
Chamberlain's Men. By the time we reach a "still smaller body of evidence"
concerning the relationship of the Stratford fellow to all this the inferences
are pretty much whatever your ideology wants to make of them. That unfortunate
collection of signatures, for instance, can be used to argue that the gentleman
in question could write his own name. They can also be used to argue that he
couldn't write his own name. We do know that no other documentary evidence
exists that would suggest this man was actually literate. Infer from that what
you will.
 
When it comes to "conflicting positive evidence" there's plenty - particularly
in the letters, poems and life of Edward De Vere. As for the hopeful reference
to "comparative stylistics," is this another allusion to the Ward Elliott
study? Here's the man himself on the value of his work (Shakespeare Newsletter,
summer, '90): "A last word for your readers interested in Shakespeare
authorship: don't stack arms on our account. Ours is not the last word on the
subject, far less the only word." The fact is, calling his study "flawed" is
giving him all the breaks.
 
                         Charles Boyle
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Nov 1994 09:42:00 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Authorship
 
Since David Evett wants to introduce scientific analogies, let me propose what
I think is a better one than his about the behavior of electrons and genes - as
thus:  believing that William Shakspere wrote the plays and poems in question
is like believing in the existence of the gas phlogiston, itself a perfectly
reasonable inference based on centuries of observation of the natural world.
It just happened to be totally wrong.
 
Evett notes: 'For three centuries, thousands upon thousands of scholars and
readers have accepted [this] reasonable inference'.  True enough. And for more
than two centuries people have been rejecting it.  Where does that get us?
Nowhere much.  It strikes me as a rather servile and obscurantist form of
argument.  Why not take the plunge and look at the evidence all by ourselves?
 
Evett divides this evidence, quite helpfully, into three 'bodies'.  The first
supports the reasonable inference that the author of the plays was *named*
William Shakespeare (my emphasis).  Fair enough; so he was.  But the
interesting question is whether that was his real name or not.  The title pages
give no grounds for reasonably inferring it was (pseudonymity is hardly an
'unreasonable' hypothesis), and some grounds (hyphenation) for inferring it
wasn't.  And 'contemporary allusions' - of which there are remarkably few - are
inconclusive, inasmuch as they may all have been made by persons either
uninformed about, or complicit in, a misrepresentation of the real author's
real name.
 
The second body of evidence gives rise to the inference that 'a person named
William Shakespeare was a sharer in the Chamberlain's/King's Men'. Agreed.  But
none of this evidence identifies this man as a playwright or poet, or even
implies it.  On this same evidence we could 'reasonably infer' that Richard
Burbage and Will Kempe were playwrights.
 
The third body of evidence, which goes to the inference that 'this player was
the son of John Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon' is indeed, as Evett
acknowledges, very small.  In fact it consists of one item, Shakspere's will,
with its mention of 'my fellows Heminges, Condell' etc.  Without it there would
be no reason to suppose that the Shakespeare who lived in New Place, Stratford
was the same man as the Shakespeare who lived in various parts of London.
 
We're instructed, finally, that 'persons wishing to disable this inference must
. . . supply conflicting positive evidence'.  Perhaps I don't understand what's
meant by 'positive evidence'.  I'd have thought it meant direct evidence that
one or another person wrote these plays. Well, it's true there's no evidence of
that kind for Edward de Vere (yet).  But there's none for William Shakspere
either, and people have been trying to find some for 300 years.  Maybe the
alternative inference should be given a run for its money.
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 31 Oct 94 19:31:49 CST
Subject:        Authorship
 
Other things kept me from replying to Pat Buckridge's latest authorship posting
right away, and now I see that Dave Evett has contributed some very reasonable
words to the discussion.  Let me, if I may, make a few comments.
 
1) No, Pat, I don't imagine that you think Oxford wrote the plays in the 1570s
and 80s and then laid them in a desk drawer for 15 years; I'm perfectly well
aware that you think he wrote them in the earlier time for performance at court
and then revised them for publication in the 1590s. But this scenario has more
holes in it than a Swiss cheese sandwich, and is no defense at all against
stylometric studies like Elliot's.  What, are you claiming that Oxford wrote,
say, *The Merchant of Venice* in poulter measure in 1578 or whenever, then
entirely rewrote it line for line in blank verse when he decided to release it
to the public in the mid-1590s? Or maybe you think Oxford originally wrote the
plays in the verse styles in which they came down to us, but he was just a
couple decades ahead of his time in his poetic tecniques?  If so, he must have
kept his stylistic innovations secret from his buddies Philip Sidney and Fulke
Greville, because their poetry from the same period fits in well with the
standard story of how English poetic styles developed.  (Sidney was, of course,
quite an innovator in his own right, and his poetry influenced other courtiers
but not the general public until it was published a few years after his death.
See Stephen May's very thorough study, *The Elizabethan Courtier Poets*, which
also has a section on Oxford and concludes that he was roughly as skilled a
poet as Fulke Greville.)  I'm not trying to set up straw men here, though I'm
sure I could be accused of that; I'm just trying to understand what exactly is
being claimed here, because I don't see how any of what Pat says is a defense
against Elliot's stylometric evidence.
 
2) Pat also accuses me (and Elliot) of the sin of "stylistic essentialism", and
of believing that authors can be stylistically fingerprinted.  Well, I wouldn't
go that far, but I do believe that stylometric studies, if properly done, can
provide evidence for attribution question --- not necessarily conclusive
evidence, but evidence which can be added to the pile of other evidence on a
given question.  Any given stylometric study should be taken with a grain of
salt, but when a bunch of them point to the same conclusion, then I think one
would be foolish to dismiss that evidence.  As far as I can tell, Elliot's
study is well done and complete, and provides some pretty good evidence that
none of the rival candidates, including Oxford, wrote the plays of Shakespeare.
 Pat's invocation of Frederick Fleay is awfully misleading and more than a
little ironic, because Fleay actually had much more in common with present-day
Oxfordians than with Ward Elliot; like the Oxfordians, Fleay and other
disintegrators relied for their attribution arguments on lists of alleged
parallels between Shakespeare's plays and the works of other authors, the
problem being that most of these parallels reflect either common sources and
themes or outright plagiarism and are thus notoriously unreliable as evidence
of authorship.  Elliot's study and other similar ones deal systematically with
the entire corpus rather than picking and choosing where to make comparisons,
and the criteria used by Elliot are mostly things below an author's level of
conscious control.
 
3) And that brings me to Don Foster's study, which hasn't been properly given
its due in this thread.  As Dave Evett points out, Elliot's study is negative
evidence, i.e. evidence that none of these other people wrote Shakespeare's
plays; in the absence of other writings by William Shakespeare of Stratford,
stylometrics cannot provide positive evidence that he did write them.  But
Foster's study provides positive evidence of a different and ingenious kind:
Foster shows convincingly that whoever wrote the plays also acted in them, and
he is able to pinpoint the roles this person played, including Adam in *As You
Like It*, the Ghost in *Hamlet*, Egeon in the *Comedy of Errors*, King Henry in
the Henry IV plays, the Chorus in *Henry V*, and so on.  What Foster did was
look at the distribution of Shakespeare's rare words (i.e. those used 10 times
or fewer in the corpus), broken down not only by play but by the character who
speaks them.  If you look at the rare words shared by two individual plays, in
the later play these words are distributed proportionately among the
characters; if a character speaks 5 percent of the words in the play, he speaks
5 percent of the rare words shared by the two plays.  In the earlier play, the
shared words are distributed proportionately among most of the characters, but
one role always has two to six times the expected number of shared rare words.
This is the role that Shakespeare himself played; when he memorized a role, the
words spoken by that character were imprinted in his mind, and were thus more
likely to be used when he later wrote another play.  This works remarkably
consistently; when you look at the rare words shared by *Hamlet* and any given
play written after Hamlet, in every case the test picks out the Ghost as
Shakespeare's role, and when you compare Hamlet to any earlier play, the shared
rare words are randomly distributed. When the test picks out two roles as
Shakespeare's (e.g Chorus and Mountjoy in *Henry V*, John of Gaunt and the
Gardener in *Richard II*), the characters are never on stage together,
providing for the doubling we know must have occurred.  In virtually every
instance, the character which Foster's tests identify as Shakespeare role is
the first to come on stage and speak, and in most cases is an old and/or lame
man.  The test never assigns to Shakespeare a role we know was played by
someone else, and it does assign to Shakespeare the two roles we have
independent evidence (however shaky) he did play --- the Ghost in *Hamlet* and
Adam in *As You Like It*.  There's a lot more; Don Foster wrote a series of
three articles in the Shakespeare Newsletter about this in 1991/92 which goes
into some detail; I'd advise not writing him directly, since as he said in his
last post he's been overwhelmed with correspondence.  Now all of this is pretty
convincing evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote these plays ---
we have evidence that Shakespeare was an actor/sharer in the company which put
them on (even Oxfordians generally acknowledge this evidence, though they try
to disparage it), and there is no evidence that Oxford ever acted, especially
on the public stage.  (And no, being the patron of an acting company isn't the
same as acting in it.) Knowing the Oxfordian mind, I'm sure they can
rationalize this evidence away to their own satisfaction, but for the rest of
us this is pretty strong evidence for Will the glover's son.  I apologize for
going on at such length; I'd better stop now before my fingers fall off.
 
Dave Kathman
University of Chicago

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