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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Funeral Elegy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0152.  Saturday, 2 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Moray McConnachie <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Mar 1996 11:31:15 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0147 Re: Funeral Elegy

(2)     From:   Richard J Kennedy <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Mar 1996 07:15:04 -0800
        Subj:   Funeral Elegy

(3)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 2 Mar 1996 02:59:57 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0142  Re: Funeral Elegy


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moray McConnachie <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Mar 1996 11:31:15 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 7.0147 Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0147 Re: Funeral Elegy

> There is no such thing as an elegaic poem.
>
>  Judy Kennedy
>  St.Thomas University

Why ever not?

It is a tautology, but elegaic has a distinct meaning now.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Mar 1996 07:15:04 -0800
Subject:        Funeral Elegy

Don Foster compares John Ford's CHRIST'S BLOODY SWEAT (1613) to the W.S.
FUNERAL ELEGY of 1612.  He says that the SWEAT "is the first of many texts in
which John Ford borrows from both Shakespeare and W.S., and the most
insistant."  Foster gives a score of examples of this "extensive borrowing,"
but never questions that John Ford might himself have written the ELEGY. Why is
that, for it's certainly not a farfetched theory?

John Ford was an acquaintance of William Peter, both Don Foster and Richard
Abrams say it is difficult to doubt that.  They had mutual friends in the
theater, and Abrams tells us that Ford was a Devonshire neighbor of the Peter
family, and that Ford's cousin ("and virtual stepbrother") attended Oxford with
William Peter, the deceased.  And yet Don Foster does not tumble.  Why not
consider Ford as the author of the ELEGY.  He was in the right place at the
right time and had the right sort of talent for it.  He also wrote FAMES
MEMORIAL, on the Earle of Devonshire deceased. 1606.  So he was active in the
Devonshire elegy trade. What's to prevent him being the author of the ELEGY?
The initials, W.S.?  If that is all, that's not much.  Ford was a dramatist as
well, which fits in well with Foster's line, "In his role as elegist, W.S.
invites us to believe that his usual mode is that of writing for the public
theater."

Don Foster says that "only three writers can be shown to have read W.S.'s
ELEGY:  William Shakespeare, John Ford, and Simon Wastrell."  As to
Shakespeare, that's to be proved or disproved. As to Ford, being a family
friend, I grant that he read the thing. As to Simon Wastrell, I've not yet read
anything by the man, but Foster says he stole lines from the ELEGY.  Of these
three, John Ford seems an obvious suspect as the author of the ELEGY.

Don Foster gives the proof himself:  here are some comparisons, the ELEGY with
John Ford's CHRIST'S BLOODY SWEAT.

Elegy: by seeming reason underpropped
CBS: which life, death underprops

Elegy:  Now runs the method of this doleful song
CBS:  Set then the tenor of thy doleful song

Elegy:  A rock of friendship figured in his name.
CBS:  A rock of torment, which affliction bears

Elegy:  That lives encompassed in a mortal frame
CBS:  For whiles encompassed in a fleshly frame

Elegy:  Unhappy matter of a mourning style
CBS:  The happy matter of a moving style

Elegy: So in his mischiefs is the world accurs'd:/
          It picks out matter to inform the worst.
CBS:   For so is prone mortality accursed/
         As still it strives to plot and work the worst

Elegy:  But tasted of the sour-bitter scourge/
           Of torture and affliction
CBS:     Drew comfort from the sour-bitter gall/
           Of his afflictions

But I need not afflict ourselves with more of this.  Don Foster gives some
twenty examples, some of them not too well- chosen, but the mediocrity is very
similiar, I agree with him, neither one of the poets had much to say.  Foster
presents these examples to help his case, to explain how John Ford borrowed
from the ELEGY when he wrote CHRIST'S BLOODY SWEAT a year later.  It would seem
to me that John Ford wasn't so much borrowing, but wrote the ELEGY himself, and
was stuck somewhat in the same rut when he wrote CHRIST'S BLOODY SWEAT. I say
it's a very reasonable theory, Ford being a friend of the Peter family.  Has
the Shaxicon program been run against John Ford?  It seems obvious that it must
be done before going any further with theories more removed from Devonshire.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Saturday, 2 Mar 1996 02:59:57 +0100
Subject: 7.0142  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0142  Re: Funeral Elegy

There's been a little crossing of messages in cyberspace, so let me respond to
some of the comments on the Funeral Elegy from a couple of days ago.

Porter Jamison asks:
>What is known of the man who died?  Was he married in 1603?  Did he have
>children?  If the answer to either of these is "no", then the poem wasn't
>written in 1612 about this particular man...

I'm not quite sure what Mr. Jamison is getting at here, but to answer his
questions:  Will Peter was a student at Oxford off and on from 1599 to 1608,
with several extended leaves of absence.  In the fall of 1608 he withdrew from
the University, and on January 9, 1609, he married Margaret Brewton.  They had
two daughters, named Rose and Margaret, before Will was murdered on January 25,
1612.

As for Mr. Jamison's query about the poem's vocabulary, Don Foster has studied
this in great detail, both in his book (pp. 93-105) and in soon-to-be-published
SHAXICON work.  To make a long story short, the Elegy has a very high
correlation with Shakespeare's vocabulary, including numerous words rarely used
by other contemporary writers and unusual uses of more common words.

Now, as to the feminine endings.  Gabriel Egan is skeptical of my explanation
of differences between rhymed and blank verse in this regard, and asks, "What
evidence is there that the decision to use rhyme makes a poet less likely to
use feminine endings?"  Well, for one thing, if you take a bunch of rhymed
verse and a bunch of blank verse by any given Elizabethan poet, you will in
virtually every case find that the rhymed verse has a much lower percentage of
feminine endings than the blank verse. This is especially true of the type of
rather formal rhymed verse typically found in elegies.  Let me give some
concrete examples.  George Chapman, in his (primarily blank verse) play *Bussy
D'Ambois* (1608), had over 20 percent feminine endings; yet his (rhymed)
Funeral Song for Prince Henry (1612) had only 6.3 percent feminine endings.
Francis Beaumont, in *The Knight of the Burning Pestle* (1608) (also blank
verse), also had over 20 percent feminine endings, yet in his (rhymed) elegies
for Lady Rutland and Lady Penelope Clifton (1612), he did not have a single
feminine ending in 180 lines.  All the published English elegaic verse between
1610 and 1613 has a total of 5.4 percent feminine-ending lines, according to
the figures in Foster's book; plays written during the same period typically
had 20-30 percent feminine endings, according to the figures from Ward Elliott
and Robert Valenza's Shakespeare Clinic.

Now, whatever the reason might have been, it's clear that rhymed verse had
significantly fewer feminine endings than blank verse; comparing the two is
like comparing apples and oranges.  Shakespeare's use of rhyme in his plays
declined steadily throughout his career, and so there is little rhymed verse in
the late plays for comparison; what there is, though, is comparable to the
Elegy in terms of feminine endings.  As I noted before, the 11.6 percent
feminine endings in the Elegy fits in fairly well with Shakespeare's
non-dramatic (rhymed) verse, which has a total of 10.5 percent feminine
endings.  This is broken down as follows:

        Venus and Adonis    15.7
        Lucrece             10.7
        Phoenix & Turtle     9.0
        Sonnets              7.7
        Lover's Complaint    8.8

Bill Godshalk asserts that this non-dramatic poetry is all "basically early",
and that we should thus be cautious about using these numbers for comparison
with the Elegy.  Maybe so, but there's much room to doubt the traditional view
that this poetry is all early; in particular, I've become convinced that the
Sonnets were primarily written around the turn of the century or later, and
that *A Lover's Complaint* was mostly written c.1608, right before the
publication of the Sonnets (cf., e.g., John Kerrigan's Penguin edition of the
Sonnets, and the article by Hieatt, Bishop, and Nicholson in Notes & Queries,
June 1987, p.219).  If anything, Shakespeare's use of feminine endings in
rhymed verse seems to have decreased, rather than increased, over time.

But even if you believe that this poetry was all relatively early, I don't see
any reason to think that the Elegy should differ from it in feminine endings.
The use of feminine endings in blank verse increased steadily among English
poets in general between the 1580s and the 1620s, just as the use of enjambment
increased steadily in the same period; Shakespeare followed both of these
trends.  However, there was no corresponding increase in feminine endings in
rhymed verse; recall the figures I cited earlier for elegaic verse between 1610
and 1613, which are generally low.  The rhymed verse in Shakespeare's late
plays has many fewer feminine endings than the blank verse in the same plays,
though in the earlier plays rhymed and blank verse had similar amounts of
feminine endings.  Ideally we would like to have an example of undisputedly
late rhymed verse by Shakespeare to compare with the Elegy; since we don't, we
have to do the best we can with what we have.  For the reasons outlined above,
Shakespeare's nondramatic rhymed verse, though not ideal, is a much better
standard for comparing feminine endings than is the blank verse of his later
plays.

Whew.  I'd better stop now, though more could be said.  Comments welcome.

Dave Kathman

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