The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0128 Wednesday, 11 February 1998.
From: Don Foster <
Date: Monday, 09 Feb 1998 09:09:32 -0500
Subject: Foster on Shaxicon (Part Six of Six)
SHAXICON, PART 6, progress report
Note: this message is intended for SHAKSPEReans, and for the SHAKSPER
List archive; not for unauthorized circulation. Don Foster
When Kent Hieatt complains of Shaxicon taking so long to reach the
press, I can only say in my own defense that I share his impatience. I
did not seek the publicity for "A Funeral Elegy" in January '96 ff., or
for _Primary Colors_ in February 96 ff., but that attention has made my
professional life quite difficult, generating a greater workload than I
can handle. In 1996 alone, Vassar processed some 17,000 email messages
to my account, including students, scholars, journalists, lawyers,
anti-Stratfordians, and general trash-mail. The snailmail situation has
been nearly as bad. I have milkcrates full of unanswered
correspondence, and the telephone rings, it seems, nonstop. I often
spend an hour a day just sending out the "sorry I can't help you"
notes. I have not enjoyed my time in the sun and will be glad when it's
over so that I can continue my work without distractions.
The two projects that I had most dearly wished to finish in
1996--Shaxicon and an anthology of early women writers-have languished.
I have therefore requested, and received, an unpaid leave from Vassar
for the 1998-99 academic year, during which time I hope to see Shaxicon
through to the press.
Most of you who have written to me about Shaxicon have been patient and
supportive. Many thanks. I appreciate it.
At present, Shaxicon is still not very user-friendly. To search for all
rare-words in Q2 Hamlet, for example, one must enter the terms "HAM"
(words appearing in Q2 and F1), "HAM-q2" (Q2-only variants), "HAM-q2z"
(Q2-words appearing in lines having no counterpart in F1), "HAM-q1q2"
(Q2 words appearing also in Q1 but not in F1), "HAM-qxf" (Q2 words
appearing also in F1, but assigned to a different character). The user
is met with a bewildering array of author, title, and character
abbreviations as well. To construct a full text-profile for HAM (e.g.,
for an inquiry into Shakespeare's non-narrative sources for the play, or
to inquire which Jacobean poets were most strongly by HAM), one must
invest hours, sometimes days, of keyboard work. Shaxicon needs to be
more fully automated. I recognize that this is a problem, and I'm
working on it-but it's a huge undertaking. Perren Walker, a Vassar
student, is currently exploring strategies for reformatting Shaxicon as
a more fully automated system.
Kent Hieatt is right: I ought never to have supposed that Shaxicon
would be ready for licensing and publication in 1996. If I can make it
by the summer of 1999, I will count myself lucky. This is a project
that ought to have been undertaken by a consortium of scholars, not by
an individual. But having already invested some 10,000 man-hours into
its development, I cannot afford to abandon the project at the eleventh
hour. I believe that Shaxicon will be viewed, when complete, as a
valuable research tool for literary scholars. In the meantime, I have
come to regret that word of Shaxicon ever appeared in my own published
work prior to Shaxicon's publication. That was a huge mistake. I
further regret the Funeral Elegy ever came to be associated with
Shaxicon. Shaxicon's value as a research tool hardly depends on a
single funeral poem, nor does the Shakespeare attribution for the elegy
depend on Shaxicon.
These matters promise to turn out quite happily, by and by. In the
meantime, I will respond no further to Kent Hieatt's nipping criticism,
not even when he makes misstatements. When Shaxicon is packaged for
distribution, I will be sure that he receives a copy, with instructions
for its judicious use; and I will urge all interested scholars to give
the Hieatts a fair hearing for whatever it is they wish to say about the
Thanks for listening.