Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0269. Tuesday, 9 April 1996.
(1) From: Leo Daugherty <
Date: Wednesday, 3 Apr 1996 23:42:34 GMT
Subj: Funeral Elegy (and Sonnets)
(2) From: Richard J. Kennedy <
Date: Monday, 8 Apr 1996 08:36:35 -0700
Subj: Funeral Elegy
From: Leo Daugherty <
Date: Wednesday, 3 Apr 1996 23:42:34 GMT
Subject: Funeral Elegy (and Sonnets)
I've been following the FUNERAL ELEGY discussion on SHAKSPER for the past three
months with a particularly high level of interest -- for reasons I'll make
In deciding to join the discussion now, I'm mindful of the fact that I have too
much to say -- especially about my own history of working with the poem, but
also about the the response to the Shakespeare attribution since the mainstream
media got interested -- to say all of it in one long posting. Boring people
blind with such a posting -- both figuratively and (because of the
discomfort/tediousness of reading long texts on computer screens) LITERALLY as
well, would be discourteous and unhelpful to my purposes.
Instead, I'm going to make three or four separate responsive postings in the
next few days, of which this is the first. What I'll include today is (a.)
this preface, and (b.) the text of my brief Respondent's paper, given this past
December at the MLA session ("Another Shakespeare") at which Shakespeare's
authorship of the poem was first "officially" claimed. I'll then follow up with
more FE-related postings on some other topics recently dealt with here:
Stylometry/Shaxicon, other possible authors (Ford, Strode, Wastell, and so
forth), the "aesthetic quality" of the poem, the funeral elegy genre, etc.).
I first read FUNERAL ELEGY in 1978 at the Bodleian, and suspected that
Shakespeare was its poet, while on sabbatical leave to Oxford, where I had gone
with the main intent of studying British statistical methods of authorship
determination -- e.g., the methods of Andrew Morton, the late Sidney
Michaelson, Anthony Kenny, Tom Merriam, and so on, some "Stylometric" and some
not. (Like many SHAKSPEReans, I teach Shakespeare and related topics in
college. My main research/critical interest is the nondramatic poetry.) I
subsequently examined and researched the poem further while there again on
sabbatical in 1983, and then once more in 1989 (this time just on vacation).
Knowing of my long involvement with the poem (because we'd been corresponding
for years), Don Foster asked me in early 1995 to serve as Respondent for the
then-upcoming MLA session on FUNERAL ELEGY. Our Moderator was Stephen Booth,
and the paper-presenters were Don, Lars Engle, and Rick Abrams. As of now,
these papers await publication; and, as SHAKSPEReans know, Don has sworn off
further participation in the Hyperspace Tilts until his new work on the
attribution gets into print. (A little of it has indirectely gone into print
already, however, via Rick Abrams' letters-to-the-editor exchanges in the TLS
with Stanley Wells and Brian Vickers in the past couple of months -- exchanges
which Abrams has decidedly "won," having the evidence on his side and being
able to argue from it clearly and cogently. But there is a good bit more to
On the day of the MLA session, a longish front-page feature story appeared on
it in the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. About two weeks later, another story on it
appeared in the LA TIMES. Then came the front-page coverage in the NEW YORK
TIMES, which in turn seems to have generated all the subsequent stories -- AP,
Reuters, the major TV network and cable news programs, the PBS "News Hour,"
NPR, AP Network News (radio), PEOPLE magazine, and so on. Today, three months
after the panel, "mainstream" interest has of course subsided, and the
scholars/critics are beginning to go to work seriously on the evidence
underlying the authorship claim. We have seen the beginnings of this here on
SHAKSPER, and I hope the discussion continues and stays lively. (This is
something I'll say more about in another posting -- as it relates to the
FUNERAL ELEGY discussion's connection to the question of "splitting the list,"
which I oppose.)
Meanwhile, I frankly see myself as being in the enviable position of having
already done that work -- having already spent 18 years with the poem off and
on (including the now-familiar questions of statistical methodology, John Ford,
the poem's "aesthetic quality," and so on -- and thus of not being forced to
play catch-up now. As those of you now seriously engaged in that catch-up work
will understand all too well (because the issues are tough and some of the
prerequisite backgrounding unspeakably tedious), I am very glad of this.
Anyway, as a radical skeptic (and a "Schoenbaumian" one, in terms of
Shakespeare studies), I strongly believe the following three things to be true:
1. The evidence that Shakespeare wrote FUNERAL ELEGY is overwhelming.
2. Good evidence that anyone else wrote it (John Ford, Simon Wastell, or
whoever) is nonexistent. (It once seemed that William Strachey might be a fair
long shot bet -- a possibility Don dealt with in great detail in his late-'80s
book ELEGY BY W.S., itself a revised version of his doctoral dissertation --
but subsequent work has strengthened the Shakespeare claim and weakened the
Strachey claim, itself already weak to begin with.)
3. Those who have thus far written in opposition to Don's claim --
including the (few) reviewers of his book, the British TLS letter writers, and
the energetic folk here on SHAKSPER -- have simply not engaged the evidence.
(This includes the most recent entrant into the lists, the estimable K.
Duncan-Jones.) When they do -- and it will admittedly take them a lot of time
and labor, not all of it pleasurable (see above) -- my best guess is that
they'll come to support the attribution. (This will of course not be the case
for those whose ideological investments -- e.g., Oxfordianism, Baconianism,
Marlovianism, or whatever, just to use the example of "rival-claimantism" --
prevent them from seeing, in Schoenbaum's always timely words, "what is
I'm appending the text of my MLA Respondent's paper.
Thanks for reading,
"Another Shakespeare": Respondent's Paper
1. My response to what we have heard will be short -- and, as it happens,
sweet. I'm guessing that you would rather have some time yourselves, here at
theend, to respond to the presenters -- and to this extraordinary claim itself
-- than listen to me say in words bound to be redundant (albeit "varying to
other words," in the language of Sonnet 105) why I think they're right.
2. I have been interested in the possible attribution of this poem to
Shakespeare since first coming upon it in the Bodleian in 1978, now over
seventeen years ago. When Don Foster's book appeared in the late '80s, with its
massive presentation of the evidence to date, I became nearly convinced and
told him so. His later three conference papers, one at the annual meeting of
the Shakespeare Association of America and two (including this one) at MLA,
along with his pieces in THE SHAKESPEARE NEWSLETTER, have only strengthened my
conviction that Shakespeare wrote this funeral elegy for his recently murdered
young friend Will Peter.
3. Don's work on this poem -- his book and subsequent papers -- appeared at a
particularly inopportune time. The 1980s and early '90s saw several other
whole-work attributions to Shakespeare -- by Merriam, Levi, Sams, Charles
Hamilton, and (most infamously) Taylor -- none of which seemed convincing on
the basis of the evidence produced. And Don's work suffered because of its
inevitable association with those other claims.
But the case of this elegy by one W.S. is an altogether different and that is
because of the extremely high quality of the evidence brought forth for its
attribution -- and, in a lesser but still compelling way, by the absence of any
good evidence at all to the contrary. In fact, the evidence I speak of,
including what we have heard here today, is by now overwhelming. I think I have
examined all of it, and I think I have done so skeptically -- and, to use an
old-fashioned and justifiably suspicious-sounding word, "disinterestedly." You
will of course not want to take my word for this, and I thus make a point of
inviting you to read Don's book, to seek out the few papers presented and
published since on this attribution by Don and others, and to think hard about
what you've heard here.
3. As to the papers themselves: I agree with Stephen Booth about the tough
issues which this poem, when taken as by Shakespeare, presents to us; but I
disagree with him, and side rather with Rick Abrams, about the poem's quality.
It has been argued by Mac Jackson that the poem's language is
"un-Shakespearean," particularly in its lack of "poetic imagery"; and I think
Steven Booth, although he does not quarrel with the attribution, agrees that
this is not poetic language of the kind we expect from Shakespeare. But W.S.is
here constrained not only by the funeral elegy conventions of his day (the
linguistic effects of which do not much please us now), but also by the
(typically flattening) attempt at High Seriousness itself.
In fact, what we see here is the very language of another poem few people today
like much, itself constrained by just such presently unfashionable conventions
and just such High Seriousness -- THE RAPE OF LUCRECE.
Lars Engle is certainly right in making his linkage between this elegy and the
Sonnets. And he usefully brings the perceptual problems posed by Wittgenstein's
duck-rabbit to bear on the experience of reading the elegy at this moment as
Shakespeare's -- noting that the poem flickers back and forth as
Shakespearean/non-Shakespearean before our eyes as we read it. But so do
LUCRECE and and A Lover's Complaint -- or would, rather, if we were not so sure
that Shakespeare wrote them. (And bear in mind, too, that most of the faith we
now place in Shakespeare's authorship of A Lover's Complaint comes from a
source to which many of us have been for too long averse -- quantitative
methods, i.e., counting.)
4. In the end, the shocking and amazing fact is that Shakespeare, in early
1612, soon to turn 48, wrote this very conventional, yet very personal, poem --
and that he had it published soon afterward in London by Thomas Thorpe, the man
who had published his Sonnets three years earlier -- and that we are just now
finding out that he did so as we near the year 2000.
This is a fact which, to say the least, will take some getting used to.
But get used to it we eventually will.
From: Richard J. Kennedy <
Date: Monday, 8 Apr 1996 08:36:35 -0700
Subject: Funeral Elegy
Possibly there will never be any proof of who wrote the Funeral Elegy, but it
seems nearly impossible that Shakespeare wrote it, and a close certainty that
John Ford did. The proofs that SHAXICON offers for Shakespeare is disputed by
the Claremont McKenna College program commanded by Ward Elliott to search the
Elegy for those certain wordprints that would lead us to suspect Shakespeare as
the author. It doesn't.
But aside from that, there is no connection at all between Shakespeare and
Devonshire and the William Peter family, and we have full knowlege that John
Ford was a Devonshire man and a friend of the William Peter family. More than
that, he was an aspiring poet who was adept and eager for the writing of
memorials, such as those for the Earle of Devonshire and Sir Thomas Overbury,
those poems offering nearly identical lines to the Funeral Elegy.
More than that, the psychological profile of the author that Don Foster and
Richard Abrams draw up fits very well with what is known of John Ford's life,
his deep strain of melancholy, his piety, and his singular life. His poems
also mirror that almost obsessive touchiness about Honor and Name that we find
in the Elegy, his guard and warding off of spite, slander, and malice suffered
by the deceased, bequeathing his poetry in defense of the utterless dead, who
were in fact innocent of all fault or blame, closer to saints than to common
John Ford, like the writer of the Funeral Elegy, was a moralistic owl and
something of a preacher, thumping his text like he's in the pulpit, bad poetry
all of it, giving out his dozing and godawful long sermons, self-serving
himself in the company of deceased Earls and Knights, basking under the halo he
patches up for the misused dead, taking their abuse to illustrate his own
abuse. But God will at last sort it all out, and put all right, and at last it
will be prov'd that anyone John Ford touches with his pen died belov'd --
although greviously misunderstood. That's the theme of John Ford and the writer
of the Funeral Elegy.
The excitement in the first place was the finding of the initials W.S. on the
title page of the Elegy, which initials were no doubt noticed many times before
and tested with a reading of the. Elegy to discover if Shakespeare had anything
to do with it. As Katherine Duncan-Jones says, it would need but a "few
minutes' perusal" of the Elegy to set aside all doubt that Shakespeare was not
in the neighborhood. But who was W.S.? Possibly the man for whom John Ford
wrote the elegy. Or possibly, as has been suggested, it was a deception to
cash in on Shakespeare's name. That would have been nothing new.
John Taylor (1580-1653), the "Water Poet", was a Thames boatman, who must many
times have ferried Shakespeare across the river. As a poet, he was of the
second water, but was popular and wrote a good amount of verse and satire. In
his "Taylor's Pastorall", 1624, he writes an "Epistle to the Reader", and
amongst other notes for the record, he also says this, (understanding that "I"
and "J" were interchangeable):
"And this Advertisement more I give the Reader, that
there are many things Imprinted under the name of two
Letters, I.T. for some of which I have beene taxed to be
the Author: I assure the world that I had never any
thing imprinted of my writing, that I was either afraid
or ashamed to set my name at large to it; and therefore
if you see any Authors name I.T. I utterly disclaime it: for
I am as I have bin, both I. and T. which with additions of
Letters, is yours to be commanded in any laudable
The shame of the Funeral Elegy is that the marketplace may have been glanced at
when putting William Peter to rest. And the greater shame is that Shakespeare
will not be let to rest, but must be tumbling in his grave to know that some
reasonable people otherwise, and lovers of his poetry, are willing to let a
machine direct their judgement in this matter.
And so it seems that John Ford wrote the Funeral Elegy. I say let him have
full credit. He deserves it. His reputation will not be harmed by it, in fact
somewhat boosted. It's his kind of thing, and it is no kind of thing that
Shakespeare would have written. When it happens that some poets throw away
their ears, cut their own noses, and embrace SHAXICON, then we might truely
worry that the Elegy could invade the canon, but I have searched the landscape,
and it is as barren and empty of poets bringing their reputations to support
Don Foster and Richard Abrams as the Elegy is barren of poetry.