The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1521 Friday, 14 June 2002
Date: Thursday, 13 Jun 2002 13:28:46 -0700
Subject: 13.1514 Abrams and Foster on "A Funeral Elegy"
Comment: RE: SHK 13.1514 Abrams and Foster on "A Funeral Elegy"
Donald Foster's and Rick Abrams' concession (SHK 13.1514) that Elegy by
W.S. is more likely by Ford than by Shakespeare makes a timely and
fitting conclusion to an often-contentious debate. Gilles Monsarrat and
Brian Vickers, in the works cited, have found pages and pages of
"smoking-gun" evidence of strong, frequent parallels between the Elegy
and Ford's verse. Last year, in "Smoking Guns and Silver Bullets,"
Literary and Linguistic Computing, 16: 205-232 (2001) we took a
different tack, looking for "silver-bullet" evidence rejecting common
authorship -- but we arrived at the same conclusion. The Elegy had 16
firm Shakespeare rejections in 33 validated Shakespeare tests, and only
one in 29 Ford tests. By the reckoning we used then, that means the
odds of such an outcome arising by chance were about 3,000 times better
for Ford than for Shakespeare.
Since the LLC article appeared, we have devised a better, more
comprehensive methodology for measuring comparative odds of common
authorship. It says that the Elegy is astronomically -- that is, 790
trillion times -- more likely to have arisen by chance from Ford than
from Shakespeare. Particulars are available to SHAKSPERians on
request. We hope in the fullness of time to attach some qualifiers to
this hard-to-digest reckoning, especially in a dispute like this where
certitude has often been overdone. But for now it's a giant millstone
around the case for Shakespeare, and no more than a feather for Ford.
We also looked at several supposedly reliable Shakespeare indicators in
the Elegy -- incongruent who's, redundant comparatives and superlatives,
noun-plus-noun doublets, and hendiadys -- and found all of them
abundantly present in Ford's work and, hence, useless or worse for
distinguishing him from Shakespeare.
Note that we are silver-bullet, negative-evidence people and do not
claim to have proved Ford's authorship of the Elegy. If anyone has done
that, it's Monsarrat and Vickers. Our only claim is that he is 790
trillion times more likely than Shakespeare.
We can hardly claim to belong to the fold by training (one of us is a
political scientist, the other a mathematician), but we certainly belong
in the old fold by results when it comes to the Elegy's ascription.
From that perspective, we would like to be among the first to welcome
Donald and Rick back to the fold after their many years in the
wilderness. Surely there shall be more rejoicing over these two lost
sheep than over than over the ninety and nine that never went astray.
Ward E. Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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