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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Funeral Elegy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0127.  Monday, 19 February 1996.

(1)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Feb 1996 09:05:50 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0120  Re: Funeral Elegy

(2)     From:   Richard J Kennedy <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Feb 1996 10:16:52 -0800
        Subj:   Funeral Elegy

(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Feb 1996 18:28:04 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0120  Re: Funeral Elegy


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Feb 1996 09:05:50 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0120  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0120  Re: Funeral Elegy

David Kathman;

I think we all know places in the plays where Shakespeare isn't at his best;
the interminable and flowery speeches of lords, comic passages that no longer
mean anything, and so forth, but there is an electrical energy that never goes
long without surfacing, a verve, a sense of life, that marks his works as his,
beyond any measurable indices of style or language. To explain the lifelessness
and dullness of this piece by the fact that elegies in general were dull just
won't do. What it does explain perhaps is that although he wrote in just about
every  poetic form, at least once, he never wrote an elegy. The man that did
write this poem no doubt had read a great deal of Shakespeare and did his best
to imitate him, but the magic in poetry doesn't come from using certain words,
syntax, or forms, but from passion. Ultimately it may be passion that makes the
difference between what is merely good and what is great. This poem isn't even
good. Many lines don't scan. Show me one thing we know to be Shakespeare's that
doesn't scan. I see a poor fool wearing his master's clothes. We may take him
for his master at a distance, but on closer view the only ones who are fooled
are those who see, not the man, but the clothes.

Stephanie Hughes

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Feb 1996 10:16:52 -0800
Subject:        Funeral Elegy

David Kathman asks us to consider that snatch of Chapman's elegy for Prince
Henry, which is almost as bad as the Elegy by W.S.  But I would guess that it
was bought and paid for. I haven't heard that Chapman was a chum of Prince
Henry, or even knew the man. The lack of heart and plodding verse of Elegies
for hire is more likely to come from indifference than grief.

On the other hand, W.S. had in John Peter a "fast friend, soon lost".  The poet
confesses to the deceased that "I was thine", and that "my love was too remiss/
That had not made thee know how much I prized thee."  W.S. was not merely
employed for the job, "not hired, as heaven can witness in my soul," but was
calling this Elegy from his heart, and in his verse he says, "I offer up to
memory/ The value of my talent."  In other words, he did the best he could,
which is third-rate.

I think that other poems might be called up to prove Foster's case that the
Elegy is by Shakespeare, and the poem itself has certain turns of phrase that
suggest Shakespeare, but that can be said of many other poems of the early 17th
century, as Sir Edmund Chambers "The Shakspere Allusion Book" can witness.
Those scholars who are lining up behind Foster and Shaxicon must somehow get it
past their good sense that the man himself, Shakespeare, could write such bad
stuff even in a daze, even to comply with some tradition of dreary elegies, and
that he would willingly bind his imagination and tie his tongue to please the
mourners and condone bad poetry out of respect for the dead.

Shakespearean scholars are not expected to be judges of poetry, of course.
They may be, but it is not required.  Those who agree with a computer that the
Elegy is by Shakespeare will be at some risk.  The much-touted Shaxicon program
is a thin branch to crawl upon, no matter how stout and strong Foster et al may
praise it to be.  Another computer program will say differently, and then where
do you jump?  For those who have but a slight poetic ear, let them ask someone
who knows better of these things.  Shaxicon hasn't the foggiest.

The case seems to be this:  W.S. loved his friend, John Peter, but because of
the tradition that elegiac poetry must be dreary and without life, he took to
metaphore and gave us a choice example of a poem in rigormortis.  Other than
the Shaxicon program, this seems to be Foster's argument.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Feb 1996 18:28:04 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0120  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0120  Re: Funeral Elegy

David Schalkwyk suggests an interesting answer to the problem of FE, one that
has also been suggested by Richard Abrams in several (as yet unpublished)
essays. FE is written in the plain style, and so we shouldn't search for a
certain kind of imagery in its lines. So, in brief, the argument goes.

But what about the "style" of FE? The "style" that we are talking about in FE
is, if you will, micro-style, e.g., the way W.S. uses enjambement; the way W.S.
uses "who" and "whom"; the way W.S. uses certain words; the way W.S. uses
hendiadys.  We aren't (necessarily) talking about "image clusters" or
similarity to *Hamlet.*

From the observation that FE (apparently) exhibits Shakespeare's micro-style
comes a further question:  May a poet uses this micro-style and yet write a not
very interesting poem? The answer seems to be "yes." A great poem depends on
something more than "style."  (Use any definition you want of "great poem.")

If Don Foster, using style analysis, has correctly identified the author of
*Pimary Colors* (Joe Klein?), his identification of W.S. as William Shakespeare
will receive a boost. I can't wait to see who steps forward as the author!
Perhaps we will have to kidnap the literary agent to find out!

To some of Dave Kathman's questions, I have already indicated answers. About
Thorpe's relationship to Shakespeare, we can only speculate, but we should make
sure that our speculations are supported by as much evidence as possible. From
the evidence of the STC and Arber's transcript of the Stationers Register,
Thorpe was not a major player -- not as active as Eld was.  Thorpe seems to
have been connected to several other stationers (e.g., William Aspley), and
it's possible that he owned shares in several book stores. At one point early
in his career (1604-1610), he seems to have been interested in publishing plays
-- and entered plays by Chapman, Jonson, et al.  But we do not know who he was
representing when he entered these plays: the authors?  the players?  himself?

When Thorpe entered FE provisionally -- waiting for authorization to print --
who was he representing?  Let me suggest this scenario. Thorpe somehow got a
copy of FE. Perhaps he bought the copy because he decided that he could make
some money publishing it.  He entered it provisionally because he felt that,
for some reason, he needed "further" authorization. We will probably never know
why he felt he had to wait, but he found that he could not obtain the
authorization needed.  He sold his rights in the book to Eld (in a deal not
recorded in SR -- which isn't unusual), and Eld printed and published the poem
-- with or without authorization. Eld wasn't afraid of paying fines; he had
paid them before for printing what he should not have printed. (In this, Eld
was not unusual; most of the better known printers were fined now and again for
such things as illegally printing ballads.)

It has been argued that no publisher or printer could have expected to make
money from selling FE. But a cruise through the STC and the SR convinces me
that publishers, booksellers, and printers seemed, in the late 16th century and
early 17th century, to have expected to make money from the most unlikely
printing ventures. Why not FE?

Yours,
Bill Godshalk
University of Cincinnati
 

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