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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Authorship
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0825. Wednesday, 19 October 1994.
 
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Oct 94 18:01:42 CDT
Subject:        authorship
 
Just a few quick comments on the recent "Authorship" postings:
 
I agree that Ward Elliot's computer study is not the last word on the subject;
I think few if any people, least of all Elliot, would say that it is. But it is
some pretty significant evidence which can't be lightly brushed aside.  I think
it's significant that Elliot started out as a borderline Oxfordian, but changed
his mind when he saw how little Oxford's style resembles Shakespeare's.  I also
think it's significant that while it was going on, Elliot's study was subjected
to intense scrutiny by Oxfordians, among others, and in some cases he changed
or abandoned parts of it in response to their criticisms.  This was all
documented in a series of articles in the *Shakespeare Newsletter* a few years
ago (c. 1991); in one of the final articles, Elliot defends his study point by
point against the Oxfordian criticisms which had been made of it, and does a
pretty good job (IMHO) of defending his methodology and showing that most of
the criticisms were based on misunderstandings or incomplete information.
 
On the other hand, I don't think you can seriously compare Elliot's study to
Fowler's *Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters*, as William Boyle does.
Elliot systematically compared the entire corpora of several authors, including
several controls (such as Fulke Greville) who have not been claimed as the
author, to the Shakespeare corpus.  For Fowler's book to be remotely comparable
to Elliot's study, he would have to at least have to use some controls, either
taking some other playwright and showing that Oxford's letters are not
reflected in that author's work, or taking some other nobleman's letters and
showing that they are not reflected in Shakespeare's plays.  But as far as I
can tell (sorry, I haven't read the book, only reviews of it), Fowler doesn't
make such control comparisons, for the simple reason that if he did, his entire
thesis would be undercut.  If I had the time (which I don't, right now), I'll
bet you a large sum of money that I could sit down with copies of Oxford's
letters on the one hand, and the plays of, say, Christopher Marlowe on the
other, and come up with a startling collection of parallels.  I also bet you I
could take a comparable corpus of letters from another Elizabethan nobleman,
say the Earl of Essex, and come up with a similarly impressive list of
parallels.  This is all reminiscent of the attempts by Baconians 100 years ago
to find parallels between Bacon's work and Shakespeare's.  Many of these
attempts centered around Bacon's *Promus*, an unpublished manuscript of his,
discovered in the 19th century and claimed by Baconians to contain a multitude
of parallels with Shakespeare's plays and poems.  Someone (I forget who) wrote
a book similar to Fowler's, triumphantly showing the parallels between Bacon's
*Promus* and the Shakespeare canon and offering these as "conclusive proof"
that the same person wrote both.  However, Stratfordian scholars (such as J. M.
Robertson) showed that one could find parallels between Bacon's *Promus* and
almost any Elizabethan work.  The logical conclusion is that either Bacon wrote
all of Elizabethan literature, or the supposed parallels are simply reflections
of the literary conventions and knowledge shared by all educated Elizabethans
and mean diddly squat as evidence.  A few Baconians embraced the first
conclusion (and some still do today; check out the latest issue of *Baconiana*,
amazingly still kicking after a century), but most quietly acknowledged the
second.
 
Dave Kathman
University of Chicago

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