The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1716  Monday, 29 July 2002

From:           Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 26 Jul 2002 11:28:23 -0700
Subject: 13.1706 Re: Attributing Masterworks
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1706 Re: Attributing Masterworks

A propos of Martin Stewart's comments (sorry if I haven't learned the
conventional way of handling quotes):

I had said:

"The other thing that sounds far-fetched is the implicit notion that, if
Shakespeare did want to parody Ford, he would have done it with modern
stylometric measurements in mind. Can you imagine Shakespeare counting
Ford's enclitic and proclitic microphrases, or even knowing what the
words meant?  Or that he figured out in advance the 33 tests we would
use with our computers hundreds of years later, and find a way of making
it look 790 trillion times more like Ford than Shakespeare?"

He commented:

[1] What a peculiar thing to say. Isn't that like maintaining that Ford
would not have been able to write like Ford unless he knew the
stylometric criteria? How does Shakespeare's writing manage to come out
of the computers as "Shakespeare"? It makes no sense! He cannot possibly
have known the stylometric values we use to identify "Shakespeare"!

[2] On Francis Bacon: it seems that the stylometrists could learn
something about how we arrive at empirical truths from De Augmentis...
The data comes first; the values we ascribe to the data are determined
by the data, not vice versa. Until now, I had no idea there were still
such rigid Aristotelians working away in our universities!

Answer to [1]: Most of what we measure in someone's writing style is
uncalculated, and many aspects of it are as regular and predictable as,
say, blood pressure.  You don't have to know your blood pressure to have
a blood-pressure profile.  But imitation is calculated, and you do have
to know the other guy's profile if you want to imitate it.  Shakespeare
would have had to know Ford's blood pressure if he were trying to
imitate him in a way that would fool a modern manometer. But nobody knew
what blood pressure was then, or had manometers, so it seems unlikely
that he would or could have done so. By the same token, he would have
had to have read Marina Tarlinskaja, Shakespeare's Verse (1987) to know
what enclitic and proclitic microphrases are now to have succeeded in
imitating them then. That does not seem likely to me either.

[2] Our rigid Aristotelianism.  Don't you have it backward?  We are the
ones who started with observed data, as Bacon would have, and drew our
conclusions from it in the form of fact-based test profiles which could
include Shakespeare and exclude others.  That's rigid Aristotelianism?
Not in my book.

Ward Elliott

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