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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Funeral Elegy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0112.  Tuesday, 13 February 1996.

(1)     From:   Richard J Kennedy <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 15:55:55 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0107  Re: Funeral Elegy

(2)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 22:11:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0102  Re: Funeral Elegy

(3)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 23:25:20 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0107  Re: Funeral Elegy


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 15:55:55 -0800
Subject: 7.0107  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0107  Re: Funeral Elegy

David Kathman likes the Funeral Elegy to be by Shakespeare. He finds Don
Foster's evidence to be "surprisingly broad and surprisingly persuasive," and
credits Shaxicon for providing"some of the most compelling evidence" for the
case.  Kathman thinks the long poem is a smooth piece of work, "almost
effortless" beside the funereal labors George Chapman, Sir John Davies, or
Thomas Heywood.  Let's take a look at Chapman first.  I have very little
reference at hand, and I'll use only The Penguin Book of Elizabethan Verse to
draw comparisons.  Here is Chapman speaking of death, Umbra's elegy on the
killing of Bussy D'Ambois, Act V, Scene 4 (1607).

     "Farewell, brave relics of a complete man,
     Look up and see thy spirit made a star;
     Join flames with Hercules, and when thou sett'st
     Thy radiant forehead in the firmament,
     Make the vast crystal crack with thy receipt;
     Spread to the world of fire, and the aged sky
     Cheer with new sparks of old humanity."

That's a fine farewell, second-rate only to Horatio's send off of Hamlet, and
in the Funeral Elegy we are to believe that Shakespeare wrote this earth-bound
dud.

     What can we leave behind us but a name,
     Which, by a life well led, may honor have?
     Such honor, O thou youth untimely lost,
     Thou didst deserve and hast; for though thy soul
     Hath took her flight to a diviner coast,
     Yet here on earth thy fame lives ever whole,
     In every heart sealed up, in every tongue
     Fit matter to discourse, no day prevented
     That pities not thy sad and sudden wrong,
     Of all alike beloved and lamented."  (195-204)

My guess is that the poet was asleep when he wrote this. David Kathman also
offers Sir John Davies as a lesser poet than the unknown W.S. in these matters.
Let's compare these lines of Davies, written in 1599:

     "For though the Soul do seem her grave to bear,
     And in this world is almost buried quick,
     We have no cause the body's death to fear,
     For when the Shell is broke, out comes a chick."

This is a bit too barnyardy and light-hearted for my own taste, but the poet
has at least risked a metaphore, which W.S. never does.  Here's the Elegy on
the same theme of rebirth:

     "So henceforth all (great glory to his blood)
     Shall be but seconds to him, being good.
     The wicked end their honor with their sin
     In death, which only then the good begin." (345-348)

The above is a good example of the boggling abstraction of the Elegy.  There is
never a fresh image or bright idea in the whole of it.  Kathman suggests that
there's a loss of heart which saps the strength of one's language when writing
a poem about a dear friend departed, but I doubt that.  Evidently he supports
Richard Abrams theory that there's a deliberate "anti-imaginative quality to
the poem."  That's rather a quaint notion, the shutting down of your poetic
powers to show your grief at a friend's death, sort of like cutting a finger
off, but not as neat.

As for Thomas Heywood, I found no elegy in the Penquin Book, but here's a
sample of the man's work:

     "The nimble Fairies, taking hand in hand,
     Will skip like rather lambkins in the downs
     The tender grass unbended still shall stand,
     Cool Zephyrus still flaring up their gowns;
     And every shephard's swain will tune his ode,
     And more than these, to welcome thy abode."

A lovely little piece, and the cool critical wind that blows up the skirts of
the Elegy will find Chapman, Davies, and Heywood to be easy masters of this
unknown W.S.

After half a thousand lines, the author of the Elegy has tired even himself
with the dead weight of his verse, and re-evaluates the situation:

     "But since the sum of all that can be said
     Can be but said that "He was good"......(531-532

I'm ready to believe it, and wish that he had said that right off, and quit
while he was ahead.  But you must read the poem for yourself and make your own
opinion.  Kathman allows for that:  "People's esthetic judgements of  a poem
are valuable and useful..."  That is, second only to Shaxicon.  Well, God rest
poor John Peter.  The bad news is that he was killed, but the good news is that
he didn't have to read his own Elegy.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 22:11:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0102  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0102  Re: Funeral Elegy

The discussion of the Funeral Elegy, with mention of "surprisingly persuasive"
evidence reminds me of the scene in the Emperor's New Clothes where the tailors
are describing the clothes to visitors, pointing out the delicacy of the lace,
the intricate patterns on the buttons, the richness of the fabrics.

If someone could point out one poem we can be sure that's Shakespeare that's
even HALF as bad as this one, I'll begin to pay attention to the "surprisingly
persuasive" evidence.

Stephanie Hughes

Are you guys all right? I'm worried about you.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 23:25:20 +0100
Subject: 7.0107  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0107  Re: Funeral Elegy

Bill Godshalk has questioned Don Foster's inference that the Elegy quarto was
privately printed and not meant for public sale, and he makes some points that
are definitely worth considering.  While I have no particular attachment to the
"privately printed" scenario and don't see it as crucial or even particularly
important for the question of whether Shakespeare wrote the Elegy, I'd like to
respond to some of Bill's points, in the spirit of scholarly give-and-take.

* First of all, we need to make clear that publisher, printer, and bookseller
were distinct roles in Elizabethan England.  The publisher owned the copyright
and bore the financial burden (and reaped any profits); the printer did the
actual printing; and the bookseller sold the finished product.  Sometimes all
three roles were filled by the same person, but more often than not there were
two, and sometimes three or more, people involved.  Most publishers were also
printers or booksellers, or both; thus George Eld was a printer who was also a
publisher, in that he owned the rights to some (but not all) of the works he
printed.  Thomas Thorpe, though, was neither a printer nor a bookseller; he had
to hire a printer for each of the works he published, and he also had to get
somebody to sell them.  Thus *Shakespeare's Sonnets*, published by Thorpe, was
printed by George Eld and sold by John Wright and William Aspley.

* Bill points out that the title-page of *The Puritan* is identical to that of
the *Funeral Elegy*, in that it only lists Eld's name and the date. However,
one significant difference is that Eld was not only the printer of *The
Puritan*, but also the publisher; he entered it in the Stationer's Register on
August 6, 1607, and thus owned the copyright.  The *Funeral Elegy*, though, was
entered in the Register by Thorpe, and the unusual thing about it is that
Thorpe's name or initials appear nowhere in the volume.  When a publisher hired
out the printing of a book, he almost always put his name or initials either on
the title page or on a dedicatory epistle.  Thorpe did so on all the books he
published in a 25-year career with only two exceptions:  the *Elegy* and John
Taylor's *Eighth Wonder of the World* (1613), which Foster speculated was "one
of many such projects financed by Taylor himself".  Looking at the title page
alone can be misleading.  Thorpe's first independent publication, Marlowe's
translation of Lucan (1600) lacks his name on the title page (it was printed by
Peter Short and sold by Walter Burre), but he signed a dedicatory epistle to
Edward Blount; and at least one of Bill's list of books bearing only Eld's name
on the title page (*St. Augustine, of the Citie of God*) also has a dedicatory
epistle by Thorpe.  I haven't checked, but I suspect that many of the other
books in Bill's list were either published by Eld (and thus required no other
name on the t.p.) or had dedicatory epistles by the publisher.  (I don't find
very tenable Bill's suggestion that Eld may have "assumed the role of
publisher" for the Elegy; he may have sold it, but the Stationer's company was
pretty strict about who held the rights to works, and the Register definitely
says Thorpe held the rights to this one.)

* Bill also wonders why W.S. had the Elegy printed rather than just circulating
it in manuscript.  One reason is that print is more permanent than manuscript,
and W.S. tells us that he wanted to set the record straight about Peter for
posterity.  A 1610 agreement between Thomas Bodley and the Stationer's Company
stipulated that the Bodleian Library at Oxford would receive a copy of every
book published in England, and in fact one of the two surviving copies of the
Elegy is in the Bodleian; I find plausible Foster's speculation that W.S. knew
that his Elegy would at least be preserved in the Bodleian if it was committed
to print.

Just some thoughts to be considered.

Dave Kathman

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