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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: November ::
Authorship
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0911. Thursday, 10 November 1994.
 
From:           David Joseph Kathman" <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Nov 94 19:50:57 CST
Subject:        Authorship
 
Sigh.  I had hoped to take a break from all this, but Pat Buckridge's latest
compels me to respond, mainly to correct his misconceptions about Don Foster's
study, but also to express my incredulity at his comments on Christopher
Marlowe.  I will not attempt to rebut all the other stuff because I'm too tired
and have no desire to get into an extended discussion of any of it right now.
Glad to hear you're feeling chipper, Pat.  Let's get down to brass tacks.
 
1) Pat alleges that Foster's study is worthless because it assumes a known
order of writing for the plays.  An understandable misconception, especially
based on my abbreviated summary, but WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.  Foster's study does
NOT depend on our knowing the order of the plays ahead of time; it
*automatically* accounts for the relative order of the plays and would work
just as well if we had no idea of their order (though it might take longer to
interpret the results); in fact, it can be used as evidence in some cases for
disputed orderings.  Here, let me explain it a little more fully, abstracting
away from complications and rough edges.  You take a play, say *Hamlet*.  One
by one, you compare it to each of the other plays in the canon according to
Foster's shared rare word tests.  Roughly speaking, the other plays will divide
into two groups.  In the first group, the shared rare words will be divided
proportionally among all the characters in Hamlet.  Lo and behold, this group
consists of the plays which, according to the traditional chronology, were
written before *Hamlet*.  Whaddaya know about that!  In the second group, the
shared rare words are disproportionately concentrated in the roles of the Ghost
and the Player King.  Lo and behold, these are the plays which according to the
standard chronology were written *after* *Hamlet*.  Hmmm.  Now, take another
play, say *1 Henry 4*.  You also compare it one by one to each other play in
the canon according to the rare word test.  These, too, will divide into two
groups.  The first group will have the shared rare words distributed
proportionally among the parts; this group will consist of a subset of the
parallel group for *Hamlet*, and will include those plays which according to
standard chronology were written before *1 Henry 4*.  The second group will, in
each case, have the shared rare words disproportionately concentrated in the
role of King Henry.  This group will consist of the analogous group for
*Hamlet*, plus the plays which, according to the standard chronology, were
written between *1 Henry 4* and *Hamlet* --- *2 Henry 4*, *Twelfth Night*, etc.
 It doesn't matter whether we know ahead of time whether *1 Henry 4* or
*Hamlet* was written first --- the pattern of rare words tells us by itself.
The above is oversimplified, of course, but I hope it makes it clear what the
study really does, and that it does not rely on knowing the order of the plays
ahead of time.
 
2) Next, Pat accuses me of "begging the question" (a textbook example, no
less!), namely, assuming that the plays were written by an actor in order to
prove that the plays were written by an actor.  Sorry, no dice.  It's only
possible to beg the question if you're reasoning deductively, and I was not
doing that; the patterns Foster found are powerful *circumstantial* evidence
that whoever wrote the plays acted in them in certain roles, and if you want to
discredit this conclusion you're going to have to come up with an alternative
explanation for the data.  Now, it's true that when he started his study,
Foster assumed (very sensibly) that the person who wrote the plays, namely
William Shakespeare, also acted in them.  Had he not had this assumption in
mind, he probably would have never thought of tagging the rare words according
to role and comparing them the way he did.  But the presence of the patterns he
found does not depend on this assumption or any other; it's just there, to be
interpreted as one sees fit.  Now, Foster concluded, also very sensibly, that
the patterns he found are consistent in every way (including some totally
unexpected ways) with the thesis that the author of the plays acted in them;
it's called circumstantial evidence, and in this case it's unusually strong and
consistent.  Consider: for each play, there is at least one role which shows a
disproportionately high overlap of rare words with a subset of other plays in
the canon (and this subset consists, in each case, of the plays which we
believe to have been written later than the play in question). When there is
only one such role, it is a relatively substantial supporting role, such as
King Henry in *1 Henry 4*; when there are two or (in a few cases) three such
roles, they are smaller supporting roles (e.g. Ghost and Player King in
*Hamlet*), and the characters in question never appear on stage at the same
time.  In play after play, the first character to come on stage and speak is
one singled out by this test (e.g. Egeon in *Errors*, King Ferdinand in *LLL*,
Chorus in *Romeo and Julius*, Flavius in *Julius Caesar*, King Henry in *1
Henry 4*, Rumour in *2 Henry 4*, Chorus in *Henry V*, Theseus in *MND*, Duke
Orsino in *Twelfth Night*, Gower in *Pericles*, etc. etc.), and in virtually
every case this is either an old man or an allegorical chorus-like figure who
presumably stood in one place, suggesting that these roles as a group would
have been ideal for someone who had trouble getting around quickly.  (We have
no direct evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford had trouble walking, but twice
in the Sonnets the poet mentions his lameness, and commentators have always
argued over whether this is metaphorical or literal.  And yes, I know that
Oxford's leg was injured in a duel with Thomas Knyvet, but there is no evidence
that he ever acted, let alone over a span of 20 years in public theaters.)  The
two roles which seventeenth-century theater gossip assigned to Shakespeare,
namely the Ghost in *Hamlet* and Adam in *AYLI*, are among the roles singled
out by the rare-word test.  Now, all of this is circumstantial, but I'd say
it's pretty darn powerful evidence that the author of the plays acted in them
in these roles.  Any alternate explanations for the patterns found by Foster
would have to account for all the above facts, which seems to me to be a tall
order.  Good luck.
 
3) I see I've yammered on for a while, but I do have to address Pat's comments
about Christopher Marlowe, which left me slack-jawed with amazement when I read
them.  He responds to the scarcity of evidence for Marlowe's authorship by
saying that there is no particular reason not to accept Marlowe's authorship,
and that there is an evident 'fit' between the man and his writings.  My
response to this is, "HUHHHH?"  You're telling me that a hot-tempered
shoemaker's son with no demonstrable connection to the theater, given to street
brawling and hanging out with shady underworld characters, murdered under
suspicious circumstances at the age of 29, is a more plausible playwright than
a sweet-tempered glovemaker's son and country gentleman who spent 20 years
connected with the leading acting troupe in England as an actor/sharer?  What
planet are you living on?  Oxford was also hot-tempered and is alleged to have
killed a man; is that your criterion?  Are we to assume that Al Capone actually
wrote the plays of Eugene O'Neill because he had the requisite short fuse?
Seriously, what I take Pat to mean by this comment is that Marlowe attended a
university and Shakespeare did not, and according to Oxfordians a university
education was required for any writing more learned than a how-to pamphlet (I
exaggerate, but not by much.)  I'm sorry, but that's completely wrong again.
Michael Drayton was born within a year or two of Shakespeare and in the same
neck of the woods in Warwickshire; he never attended a university, but he
became on of the most popular (and learned) poets in England; he even knew some
Latin!  Ben Jonson was raised in considerably *lower* economic circumstances
than either Shakespeare or Marlowe (his preacher father died when he was an
infant, and he and his mother lived in poverty until she married a bricklayer),
and he too never went to a university, but he somehow managed to pull himself
up by his bootstraps to become recognized as one of the most learned men in
England. I could give more examples, but I won't.  There were *ample*
opportunities for self-education in Elizabethan England, and in any case
Shakespeare got a very good head start from the Stratford grammar school (the
evidence that it was an excellent one is extensive).  As I said before, the
evidence linking Marlowe to his plays is considerably less than the parallel
evidence for Shakespeare, and nothing in Marlowe's "way of life" makes him a
likely candidate for a playwright, unless you believe that fighting duels is a
necessary part of the creative process.
 
4) Pat also says that there is no reason to doubt Marlowe's authorship because
there is "no alternative candidate clamoring for attention." Oh, really?  You
obviously aren't familiar enough with your anti-Stratfordian brethren, lots of
whom have suggested alternate candidates for Marlowe's plays.  Many, many
Baconians (including some of the most prominent, such as Ignatius Donnelly and
Sir Edward Durning-Lawrence) believed that Bacon wrote Marlowe's plays as well
as Shakespeare, and as far back as 1931, George Frisbee in *Edward de Vere, a
Great Elizabethan*, found Oxford's cipher 'signature' in the quarto of *The Jew
of Malta*.  You've obviously forgotten that your hero, Charlton Ogburn, claimed
in *The Mysterious William Shakespeare* that Oxford wrote *Edward II* --- after
all, it's about kings, and we all know a commoner like Marlowe couldn't have
known anything about royalty.  As far as I know Ogburn lets Marlowe keep the
rest of his plays (awfully nice of him, don't you think?), but there are
certainly prominent Oxfordians today who believe that "Christopher Marlowe" in
addition to "William Shakespeare" was a pseudonym for Oxford --- unless I'm
mistaken, David Hanson of the De Vere Foundation is one.  Are you saying that
these people are wrong?  On what grounds?  They use the exact same methods as
you use to argue that Oxford wrote Shakespeare, but at least they apply them
consistently.  I'll say once again that if you believe that Christopher Marlowe
wrote the plays attributed to him but William Shakespeare did not, you're being
wildly inconsistent and applying a double standard of breathtaking proportions.
 
Dave Kathman, University of Chicago, 
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