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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Authorship
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0835.  Saturday, 22 October 1994.
 
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Friday, 21 Oct 94 18:11:15 CDT
Subject:        Authorship
 
Martin B. Hyatt correctly points out that Ward Elliot's computer study does not
"prove" that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays published under
his name.  This is true but irrelevant, as Elliot's study was never intended to
prove any such thing.  The point of the study was to take the Shakespeare
corpus, compare it one by one to other bodies of work attributed to a single
author, and determine in each case how likely it is that a single author wrote
both bodies of work.  None of the other authors Elliot tested came close to
Shakespeare, but Shakespeare was internally consistent across the canon (except
for some tests, such as feminine endings, which changed over time as
Shakespeare's style matured). The conclusion was that a single author wrote the
works of Shakespeare, and that this author is not any of the others tested.
The study does not in itself say who did write the works of Shakespeare, though
by greatly weakening the cases for most of the rival candidates, it
correspondingly strengthens the case for William Shakespeare of Stratford.  By
the way, Hyatt is correct in pointing out that we have no unpublished works
(e.g. letters) written by William Shakespeare with which to compare his
published works, but this is hardly unusual for the time.  Exactly the same is
true of both Christopher Marlowe and John Webster, probably the two
contemporaries of Shakespeare whose works are today most popular after the
Bard's.  In fact, the only scrap of writing we have in the hand of these two
great playwrights, *combined*, is a single signature of Marlowe's, written when
he was 19 years old and only discovered about 20 years ago. Compare this with
the six, possibly seven, signatures of Shakespeare. But I digress.
 
Hyatt raises the objection, which has been raised by Oxfordians before, that
the attributed works of Oxford were written in the 1570s, and that his style
could have changed by the time he (supposedly) wrote the plays. This is
potentially a relevant point in theory, but a pretty weak one in practice.
Oxford's style is radically unlike Shakespeare's by Elliot's tests (I believe
the phrase Elliot used somewhere is "out in left field"), but Shakespeare's
style remains remarkably consistent over 36(+) plays. We are asked to believe
that Oxford's style changed radically between the 1570's and the time he began
writing plays, but then stayed consistent for a couple of decades.  I find that
implausible, but I suppose someone could believe it if they really wanted to,
and pending further studies of how much authors' styles change over time.  But
a more significant problem is the Oxfordians' own dating of the plays.  Since
Oxford died in 1604, before about a third of the canon was written according to
standard chronology, Oxfordians claim that Oxford actually wrote the plays
years earlier than the standard dates, beginning in the 1570s or early 1580s.
But that's when Oxford was writing the poems which appeared under his name, and
which are so unlike Shakespeare's style.  You can't have it both ways ---
either you move the dating of the plays back a decade or so, in which case it's
much, much harder to claim that Oxford's published poems are merely juvenalia
not indicative of his mature style, or you leave the dating where it is, in
which case Oxford died too soon to have written The Tempest, etc.  I know this
isn't strictly an either/or question, and that Oxfordians can always come up
with some new rationalizations, but I stick by my statement that Elliot's study
is significant evidence (specifically, evidence that Oxford was not the author
of the Shakespeare canon) which can't be lightly brushed aside.
 
By the way, I see that Mr. Hyatt has tipped himself off as an Oxfordian by
using the spelling "Shakspere" for the Stratford man, as opposed to the author
"Shakespeare".  I know I'm beating my head against a brick wall here, but I'll
say again what I've said before.  If you go through the contemporary records
which refer to the Stratford man, you'll find that by far the most common
spelling of the name is "Shakespeare", and that forms without the first "e"
(e.g. "Shakspere" and variants) occur about 25-30 percent of the time.  If you
go through the comtemporary records which refer to the playwright/poet, you'll
find that by far the most common spelling of the name is "Shakespeare", and
that forms without the first "e" (e.g. "Shakspere" and variants) occur about
25-30 percent of the time.  In other words, given the variability in
Elizabethan spelling, IT WAS THE SAME NAME, and anyone who tries to show
otherwise is playing fast and loose with the facts.
 
Dave Kathman
University of Chicago

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