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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Funeral Elegy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0120. Thursday, 15 February 1996.

(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Feb 1996 22:05:55 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0116 Re: Funeral Elegy

(2)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Feb 1996 00:27:01 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0116  Re: Funeral Elegy

(3)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Feb 1996 13:42:01 SAST-2
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0112  Re: Funeral Elegy


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Feb 1996 22:05:55 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0116 Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0116 Re: Funeral Elegy

Regarding my conversations with Dave Kathman about the printing and publication
of *A Funeral Elegy,* I found today that Eld used only his name on STC 21028
(*art of iugling*) which had been entered by T. Bushell on Jan. 16, 1612, and
on STC 19823 (*petite palace*) which had been entered by F. Burton on March 11,
1605.  I suspect -- only suspect -- that Eld got the rights to these books, but
the transfer is not recorded in the Stationers Register (to my knowledge -- and
I did check).

When Thorpe entered *A funerall Elegye* on 13 February 1612, it was entered as
"A booke to be printed when it is further aucthorised" (Arber 3.477). As
Kenneth Palmer commented about a similar entry for Shakespeare's *T&C*, "It is
not clear whose authority might have been required" (Arden ed. 1). Greg (*Some
Aspects*) thinks the word "authorized" refers to "an ecclesiastical imprimatur"
(41), but that seems odd in the two contexts cited.  Why would *T&C* need
ecclesiatical approval?  It should have been approved by the Master of the
Revels.

If Thorpe were acting as Shakespeare's agent, why would he need further
authorization?  And who was to do the authorizing?

Why is this argument important to our knowledge of Shakespeare?  Well, if we
conclude that Thorpe did act as Shakespeare's agent in the case of the FE, then
it seems likely that he was acting as his agent in the case of the sonnets.  If
this is true, then Eld's printing of the sonnets was authorized by Shakespeare
-- and we can assume that Shakespeare had the chance to proofread them. And if
this is true, then what we now take for mistakes in the text, did not appear so
to Shakespeare  -- or he was a perfectly lousy proofreader -- or out of town
while the sonnets were aprinting -- or he needed new glasses.  Take your
choice.

Obviously, there are other issues at stake.  But I leave those for others to
clarify.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Feb 1996 00:27:01 +0100
Subject: 7.0116  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0116  Re: Funeral Elegy

No time for a full reply, but here are a few of my reactions in the Funeral
Elegy discussion:

To Richard Kennedy: First of all, in the passage Mr. Kennedy responded to I was
quoting Don Foster, who has read many more Elizabethan funeral elegies than I
have and knows much more about the subject.  That being said, I should clarify
that when I spoke of the "literary context" of the Elegy, I was talking about
published funeral elegies for real people who had died (and so was Don Foster
in the quoted passage).  Such elegies tended to be rather somber and repetitive
affairs, abounding in cliches, and even poets who were elsewhere capable of
beautiful poetry tended to drone on excessively when memorializing a dead
celebrity in print.  None of Mr. Kennedy's examples are from elegies for real
people, and so aren't directly relevant to the point I was making.  That
excerpt from Bussy D'Ambois is nice, I agree, but I have Chapman's elegy for
Prince Henry in front of me, and it's rough sledding in comparison.  It opens:

        If ever adverse influence envied
        The glory of our Lands, or took a pride
        To trample on our height; or in the eye
        Struck all the pomp of Principality,
        Now it hath done so; oh, if ever Heaven,
        Made with the earth his angry reckoning even,
        Now it hath done so.  Ever, ever be
        Admired, and fear'd that Triple Majesty...

It goes on at great and repetitive length for 656 lines, longer than W.S.'s
Elegy.  My point is that the Elegy was not written in a literary vacuum, and
the tendency for elegies of this type to be somber and dreary is one factor
that should at least be considered when we're discussing the poem.

2) To Stephanie Hughes: Ms. Hughes asks for a poem undoubtedly by Shakespeare
that is half as bad as the Funeral Elegy.  One problem here is that many
critics have tended to doubt Shakespeare's authorship of works which they deem
not "good enough" to be by him -- A Lover's Complaint, The Two Noble Kinsmen,
Titus Andronicus, the Henry VI plays, etc. Ms. Hughes earlier said that even
the best scholarship can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, the
implication being that Shakespeare only wrote silk purses.  I don't want to get
into a big discussion of this right now (maybe later), but one question here is
whether Shakespeare was capable of being mediocre.  I think anyone would agree
that everything Shakespeare wrote was not of equal quality; not everything can
be Hamlet or the Sonnets.  Most people find the Funeral Elegy mediocre on first
(or second or third) reading, and it's not an easy poem under any
circumstances.  One of the points I've been trying to make is that given the
circumstances of publication and the literary and historical context, the Elegy
is not necessarily as bad as it might first seem.  Some people may still be
unwilling to accept it as Shakespeare's, and that's certainly their right. But
I think that context is at least worth considering here.

3) To Simon Morgan-Russell, who asks "what does it matter?":  I'll leave to
others discussion of this question in terms of attribution studies in general.
In this specific case, the Funeral Elegy is a very personal poem, and if
Shakespeare did write it, that fact has enormous biographical significance.

4) To Bill Godshalk:
   a) Bill's speculation that Eld had an informal agreement with Thorpe to
assume the rights to the poem is just speculation, of course; there's no
evidence for it, and I'm not aware of any evidence that this was done in other
cases.  If such evidence exists, I'd be interested in seeing it.
   b) When I said that printed books are more permanent than manuscripts, what
I meant was that books are more likely to be preserved (in libraries, whether
personal or institutional), on top of the greater number of copies of a printed
book.  Yes, there are manuscripts from that era, but there are many more
printed texts.
   c) Absent personal papers and financial records of printers like Thomas
Thorpe, we can't know for sure how their finances worked.  But I think it would
be reasonable to assume that Thorpe paid a fee to his printers, and also that
he paid some sort of rent to the booksellers who sold his books, with the
revenue from those books going into his pocket.  If a book were privately
printed and paid for by the author, as Foster argues the Elegy probably was,
that means the author would pay the fee to the printer, plus maybe any
distribution costs.  Thorpe would not make any money (unless the author paid
him something for his troubles), but he would retain the rights to reprint the
work in the future.
   d) Bill asks why Shakespeare wouldn't go directly to Eld.  Well, maybe he
didn't know him personally; the two Shakespeare works Eld printed were both for
other publishers (Troilus and Cressida for Richard Bonion and Henry Walley, the
Sonnets for Thorpe).  Thorpe, on the other hand, was apparently well-connected
to the London theater world:  he printed numerous works by Ben Jonson, George
Chapman, and John Marston, for most of which there is evidence of close
authorial involvement.  Though Thorpe was just a "middle-man", sometimes
middle-men can be very useful.
   e) As for where I'm getting my info on Thorpe, some is from Don Foster's
book, and some more is from Don's 1987 PMLA article "Master W.H., R.I.P." and
Katherine Duncan-Jones' 1983 article in the Review of English Studies, "Was the
1609 Shake-speares Sonnets Really Unauthorized?", all of which I happened to
have lying around.

I see this post has turned longer than I expected.  Ah well.

Dave Kathman

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Feb 1996 13:42:01 SAST-2
Subject: 7.0112  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0112  Re: Funeral Elegy

In the light of the unfavourable comparison between FE and similar poems by
Chapman and Davies, could it be that, in contrast to the stirring rhetoric of
the Chapmamn, the poem by "WS" enacts the disparagement of such rhetoric by the
poet of the Sonnets?  If the latter laments the enfeeblement of his own style
-- the "poverty" that his "muse brings forth" -- by "proud full sail" of the
rival poet's "great verse", then is it not possible that the style and tone of
FE puts into practice the revulsion from rhetorical show expressed, but
paradoxically not enacted, in the Sonnets?

It may be for the intriguing light that FE might cast on the Sonnets, as Lars
Engle has suggested, that we might like to believe that `WS' is William
Shakespeare.  But what the controversy has certainly shown is how powerful a
symbol of aesthetic perfection Shakespeare remains: how readily we will refuse
even to entertain the possibility of the attribution purely on the grounds that
it is, to some of us, a very bad poem.  It's bad, so it can't possibly be
Shakespeare's.  But why not?  That refusal tells us a lot about the
`discipline' and its deepest assumptions.

Could the debate about FE not reveal more fully the irony of the following
lines:

Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?

Why, indeed?

David Schalkwyk
University of Cape Town
 

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