Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0918. Monday, 14 November 1994.
From: Pat Buckridge <
Date: Sunday, 13 Nov 1994 22:31:39 +1000
Let me respond first to Dave Kathman's slack-jawed amazement at my remarks
on Marlowe's authorship. As far as I can tell, Dave seems to have missed
my point, which was *not* to assert the unquestioned status of Marlowe's
authorship claims as against those of William Shakspere. Why would I want
to do that? As it happens, I'm well aware that some traditional Marlowe
attributions have in fact been challenged from time to time, by Oxfordians
and others; but this is entirely beside the point. It was Dave, after all,
who introduced Marlowe's authorship into this discussion in the first
place, as a parallel case to Shakespeare's of attribution-by-inference.
His implication, I took it, was that he considered both to be safe
attributions, to which my response was that I am more than happy to
entertain the hypothesis that both of them are unsafe and open to
challenge. And the same goes for all the other playwrights of the period -
the large majority - whose authorship also rests mainly on inference. The
charge that I'm applying 'double standards' only holds up if it's assumed
that I'm committed to accepting certain inferential attributions (e.g.
Marlowe), and not others (e.g. Shakspere). But I'm not. As I said last
week (with the unexpected and I'm sure unintended support of Bill Godshalk)
I'd be more than happy to see a general amnesty on all such attributions.
I'm also happy to dissociate myself from any arguments, Oxfordian or
otherwise, that invoke the kind of contrast Dave objects to.
That was my main point. A minor parenthesis, which Dave seems to have
mistaken for the main point, was that *on the face of it* there seemed to
be less reason to doubt Marlowe's authorship than Shakspere's if only
because he, unlike Shakspere, had the higher education usually deemed
requisite for writing highly educated dramas (autodidacts like Jonson
The SHAXICON study has now been somewhat more fully explained.
Dave Kathman is right to suppose that his initial summary led me to infer,
wrongly it appears, that an order of composition was an *explicit*
assumption of the study. I continue to think it is probably an *implicit*
assumption. He and Don Foster both make the surprising claim that a
chronological sequence for the plays and poems is 'wholly determined by
[the] statistical data'. Now, I can allow for a bit of rhetorical
exaggeration, but this sort of statement verges on being seriously
misleading to those of us who aren't all that statistically numerate, but
want to know what's going on behind all the numbers - and, just
conceivably, it may even be symptomatic of a methodological blind spot in
As far as I can see, the chronology is clearly neither 'determined' nor
'generated' by the data; it is *induced* from it by applying a quite
particular interpretive assumption to what the statistical procedures do
generate, namely a set of lexical distribution patterns for Shakespeare's
plays, poems and characters. To translate these patterns into a
chronological sequence of plays requires the assumption that the
distribution-differentials for characters were caused by the author
memorising the speeches of certain characters in order to perform them as
an actor. Surely you can see that (a) this is not the only possible
explanation for the existence of these distribution patterns, and (b) it
*is* dependent on your assuming that the author was an actor. Indeed, Dave
Kathman made this rather important concession in his most recent posting,
when he wrote: 'Now, it's true that when he started his study Foster
assumed . . .that the person who wrote the plays . . . also acted in them.'
He then goes on to deny that the distribution patterns were generated by
this assumption, which of course I never suggested they were. My point
was, and it remains, that the *interpretation* of the patterns (in
'mnemonic' terms) is dependent on the 'actor' assumption. And it is.
Don Foster seems, if anything, more reckless than Dave Kathman in his
claims about what his study proves. I'd have expected him, like Ward
Elliott, to try to reel in the excesses of his more enthusiastic advocates,
but to the contrary: he seems to believe that he's 'demonstrated' the
truth of at least two assumptions that hadn't even entered the discussion
till now, viz. 'that the canon is substantively [sic] by the same
individual' (an assumption with which I don't necessarily disagree, but an
assumption nonetheless), and the dating of the canon (a quite different
matter, obviously, from the order of composition) - that, at least, is how
I interpret his comical thrust about Lord Oxford's posthumous roles. How
on earth the study, as described, can possibly demonstrate either of those
things is a complete mystery to me.
Can I protest, finally, that I did not say I regarded the study as
'worthless'. The patterns it reveals may well be of great significance; I
just don't believe we can say we *know* what their significance is. If we
look at them with different assumptions, quite different explanations may
suggest themselves. The fact that I don't have an alternative explanation
ready to hand is hardly surprising, and doesn't vitiate my criticism in any
way. Dave's impulse to get the whole thing sewn up and finalised, even if
it involves riding roughshod over logical and methodological difficulties,
strikes me as a touch precipitate. No offence intended, but that's the
kind of thinking that sent witches to the stake.
Just one final point, one that I put on hold several months ago and never
got back to, and which has now clearly become relevant again. It's this.
Why do people assume that Shakespeare must have been an actor in order to
have been a great playwright? It seems an extraordinary assumption when
you think about it, but it's one that's very commonly made, especially on
this list. How many great playwrights can anyone think of who were also
full-time professional actors? I can think of Moliere, period.
(Acknowledgments to Charlton Ogburn who posed the same question years ago.
As far as I know, nobody ever answered).
My apologies for going on at such length. I don't demand to have the last
word on the SHAXICON matter, and will happily shut up about it as of now
whether or not any responses appear.