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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Funeral Elegy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0172.  Wednesday, 6 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Don Foster <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Mar 1996 09:00:49 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Funeral Elegy

(2)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Mar 1996 20:34:07 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0159  Re: Funeral Elegy

From:           Don Foster <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Mar 1996 09:00:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Funeral Elegy

I have thought it best to stay out of SHAKSPER discussion of the Funeral Elegy
(hereafter "FE"), but perhaps I'll jump in here to offer a few thoughts.  As
will be clear to everyone, various ideological issues have come into play in
recent discussion.  Richard J. Kennedy and his fellow anti-Stratfordians have a
huge stake in dismissing the Elegy: the earl of Oxford in Feb. 1612 was too
dead to have written it.  In England, a couple of prominent Shakespeareans have
dismissed the attribution as an American thing: if Shakespeare had penned a
funeral elegy in his latter years, even a lame one, it wouldn't have been
sitting unnoticed in an Oxford library for nearly 400 years. Then, too, what
are we to *say* about such a strange text?  Sparing in its imagery, lacking in
the verbal flourishes that we usually find in Shakespeare, focused almost
entirely on biographical matters, the text does not lend much fuel to our
critical enterprise, whether formalist, feminist, materialist, or
poststructuralist.  Actors have been among the first to embrace the Elegy
because its highly enjambed verse does, after all, roll off the tongue rather
nicely, affording considerable range to a talented actor--from its fairly
conventional opening, to the unexpected talk of personal shame in 137 ff., to
the angry denunciation of lines 399-412, and on to the poet's weary sorrow in
the close. At least two widely acclaimed actors--Harry Hill and F. Murray
Abraham--have recorded the Elegy; and though I have not yet heard either
performance, I've got a hunch that their oral readings will do more for me than
the words on the printed page. These considerations, both for and against the
Elegy's value as *poetry*, are not unimportant; but they have no direct bearing
upon the question of authorship.

I would rather not quarrel with Mr. Kennedy. That he has gotten his hands on
some of my unpublished work, a conference handout, and used it without my
permission--without, indeed having been present at the talk and without having
understood the first thing about John Ford's relations with Will Peter and
William Shakespeare--cannot in the long run do any harm either to me or to
Shakespeare studies.  Having already studied the Ford-Peter-Shakespeare
connection, I can happily give Mr. Kennedy extra ammunition, which he may then
shoot in my direction at his leisure.  For example: here are a dozen words from
the Elegy that appear at least once in John Ford's verse but *nowhere* (not
once--zilch!-zippo!) in Shakespearean texts: desertful (ad.), ensnaring (ad.),
ignorantly (adv.), invitement (n.), irrefragable (ad.), partage (n.), rarely
(adv., meaning infrequently), superlative (ad.), unremembered (ad.), ever-empty
(ad.), and sour-bitter (ad.). But Mr. Kennedy is mistaken: John Ford cannot
have written "A Funeral Elegy."  The mere suggestion that the death of John
Peter's brother provided Ford with the occasion for a quick money-making hoax
is foolish:  whom does Kennedy think Ford is fooling with the initials "W.S."?
John Peter, to whom the poem is dedicated? and who, then, is the WS, the
speaking "I" of this poem, implied to be--if not William Shakespeare?  --and if
not only John Peter but the uninformed reader is supposed to think that W.S. is
Shakespeare, we're back at square one:  why should readers in 1612 think that
the speaking "I" in this largely autobiographical poem is Shakespeare?  But
even if we had cause to hunt for a conspiracy, Mr. Kennedy's attribution has
nothing to sustain it.  Ford never comes close to FE's high rate of enjambment;
Ford's rate of feminine endings is too high for FE; WS's use of you/ye matches
Shakespeare, not Ford; Shakespearean nondramatic texts have a hugely higher
lexical correlation with FE than do Ford's nondramatic texts, even though Ford
*borrows* in 1613-16 from FE; and Ford himself in 1613 makes pretty clear that
he thinks FE is by Shakespeare.

Mr. Kennedy writes me to say, "I keep waiting for new proofs to turn up that
would support the Stratford man...and since your studies touch on such
discoveries, I am, as you say, vigorous in response as my understanding directs
me....For those who have EARS, let them read, and the Funeral Elegy will be
seen as a bag of bones, wasted of any poetic flesh, and will at last be
shrouded from our care, enjambed in the grave with poor William Peter."

But then, ears (as Bottom reminds us) come in various sizes. We will all hear
better, and more clearly, when the shrill tone of Mr. Kennedy subsides long
enough for intelligent and thoughtful skepticism to weigh the evidence for
Shakespeare's hand in this odd poem.

Don Foster

From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Mar 1996 20:34:07 +0100
Subject: 7.0159  Re: Funeral Elegy
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0159  Re: Funeral Elegy

A couple of replies on the Elegy.

To Bill Godshalk:

>>        Venus and Adonis    15.7 (1592-93)
>>        Lucrece             10.7 (1593-94)
>>        Phoenix & Turtle     9.0 (1601)
>>        Sonnets              7.7 (1593-1603)
>>        Lover's Complaint    8.8 (1603-4)
>I've added some dates (from the Oxford Textual Companion and Bevington) to Dave
>Kathman's list of poems. The first two long poems have to be early because they
>were printed and published early.  We can argue about the dating of the sonnets
>-- and why not?  But the sonnets seem to have a direct relationship to the
>early plays. *The Phoenix and Turtle* had to have been written before it was
>published in 1601, and that leaves the *Lover's Complaint.*  The Oxford editors
>obviously want to place Shakespeare's non-dramatic poetry in a ten year period
>(1593-1603).  If Shakespeare's career is divided into two parts with 1600 as
>the dividing line, then, if we accept the Oxford dating, the poems are
>basically early.

If we accept the Oxford dating.  I don't really have time to get into an
extended discussion of this point, but I'm inclined to date the sonnets later
than is generally supposed.

>But my major point is that we should not mix our criteria of judgment in
>ascribing FE to Shakespeare or anyone else.

Ideally, yes, but we should also use the best criteria we can under the
circumstances.  The point I was trying to make was that it makes more sense to
compare the feminine endings in FE with Shakespeare's (rhymed) nondramatic
verse than with the blank verse of his later plays.  In this particular case,
the differences between rhymed and blank verse in feminine endings are more
important than any possible time differences within rhymed verse, which for
reasons I gave I wouldn't expect to be significant.

Gabriel Egan finds that I have shifted my ground significantly.  I don't think
I've changed my actual views, just the way I expressed them, and I'm sorry if
that caused any confusion.  The point I was trying to make was simply that
there tend to be sigificantly fewer feminine endings in Elizabethan rhymed
verse than in Elizabethan blank verse, and that we should take this into
account when evaluating the Elegy.  I gave some examples of playwrights who
wrote Elegies the same year as W.S.'s with few feminine endings, yet who wrote
plays a few years earlier, primarily in blank verse, which had far more
feminine endings.  I don't know why this is; I have no particular attachment to
the speculative explanation I gave in my first post on the subject.  There may
or may not be a causal relationship involved, and I'm certainly not going to
deny that there may be other forces at work besides rhyme.  The type of poem
may well be a factor, but that's why I specifically used elegies vs. plays in
my examples, to make the context as similar as possible.  I honestly don't see
why rejecting a causal relationship between rhyme and feminine endings would
make my averages "invalid", as Egan claims.  Whatever the ultimate reason may
be, the fact remains that there are many fewer feminine endings in rhymed
elegiac verse written around the time of W.S.'s Elegy than there are in blank
verse plays written around the same time by the same authors.  That seems like
a relevant thing to know in this discussion.

>I do not understand why Kathman considers the 12 line song of Juno and Ceres in
>The Tempest (4.1.106) to have "every line...deliberately feminine". It is
>trochaic tetrameter throughout, with no extra-metrical lines.

Yeah, you're right.  I got those numbers for The Tempest from Don Foster's book
(p.246, note 7), and I misinterpreted a badly worded note without checking
carefully enough and then expressed myself poorly.  It's true that the song in
question is in regular trochaic tetrameter, and thus that it has no feminine
endings according to the usual use of the term (i.e. an extrametrical syllable
at line's end, usually unstressed).  What I should have said was that you can't
really compare trochaic verse with iambic verse when you're discussing feminine
endings, and so that song should not be included in an average with the rhymed
iambic verse in The Tempest. The end of a regular line of trochaic verse looks
like a feminine ending of a line of iambic verse (a stressed syllable followed
by an unstressed one, as in "blessing" or "empty"), and the same words can be
used in both contexts. To get a "feminine" ending for a line of trochaic verse,
you'd have to use a dactylic word or phrase (e.g. "Pericles"), which are rare
at the end of a line, much rarer than iambic words or phrases.

Dave Kathman

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