The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0366  Tuesday, 25 February 2003

From:           Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 24 Feb 2003 15:21:04 -0800
Subject:        A Lover's Complaint

>I've heard that Brian Vickers, in his new book on the funeral elegy,
>shows or believes that "A Lover's Complaint" is not by Shakespeare. If
>so, this seems to me to be bigger news than anything you could say about
>the elegy at this point.  Is this true? Every major edition, with a few
>quibbles in the various editorial sections, includes that poem.
>Jim Carroll

The Funeral Elegy has gotten a hundred times more attention than A
Lover's Complaint in recent years, but Jim Carroll is right: whether LC
is Shakespeare's has always seemed to us a much more interesting and
important question than whether the Funeral Elegy is Shakespeare's.  In
Counterfeiting Shakespeare p. 118, Brian Vickers does entertain some
doubts as to whether A Lover's Complaint is by Shakespeare, despite the
contrary judgment of highly respected scholars, such as Macdonald
Jackson and A. K. Hieatt.  "It has always seemed to me [Vickers] to have
too many oddities in vocabulary and rhetoric to be easily acceptable,
and some of the counter-evidence cited by Jurgen Schafer and Elliott and
Valenza weaken the case significantly."

Scholarly consensus on the authorship of LC seems to shift in spurts,
followed by long periods of quiescence or downright neglect.  Though LC
was published under Shakespeare's name in Thomas Thorpe's 1609 Quarto,
which also contained the Sonnets, it was long considered an "awkward
little pastoral," too clumsy to be Shakespeare's mature work, and
probably too clumsy, too ill-matched with the Sonnets, and too full of
"non-Shakespearean" language to be Shakespeare's at all.  In 1964 and
1965, Kenneth Muir and Macdonald Jackson published exemplary, pioneering
studies so persuasive that the old doubts were shattered for decades.
Both authors argued cogently and correctly that "new (to Shakespeare)
words," far from being a Shakespeare anomaly, are a Shakespeare
hallmark. Their work created the current consensus is that LC was not
only the work of Shakespeare, but of Shakespeare at the peak of his

In 1997, using data developed by student researchers of the Claremont
Shakespeare Clinic, Robert Valenza and I published studies in Computers
and the Humanities and The Shakespeare Quarterly casting new doubt upon
the Shakespeare ascription.  We used 15 tests based on Shakespeare poem
profiles from text blocks about the size of LC.  In 210 test runs on 14
Shakespeare poem blocks, we found only one score outside of
Shakespeare's profile; but in 15 test runs on LC we found five such
rejections:  too few enclitic and proclitic microphrases to be
Shakespeare, too few with's as second-to-last word, and too few no's
relative to the sum of no + not.  There were too many "new words"
otherwise not used by Shakespeare.  Details can be found in SQ, Summer
1997,  pp. 177-207. LC is an ongoing interest of ours as we seek to
refine our analysis.  A summary of our current Shakespeare profiles and
LC scores, slightly changed from those in SQ, appears below.

Enclitics/1000  Proclitics/1000 lines   With(2lw) No/no+ not    NewWords
                                                             (Expected -
Sh.range43 to 87  316 to 476            4 to 34  167 to 536  -32 to 21
LC      12              267             0               111     -33

"New words" are a perennial and important issue worth separate comment.
New words are indeed a Shakespeare hallmark, exactly as Muir and Jackson
said, but, if there are too many of them, the hallmark becomes an
anomaly.  Our computer, guided by Shakespeare's normal patterns of
introducing new words, expected LC to have 55 Shakespeare-new words. It
actually had 88, giving it a score of -33 (that is 55 expected new
words, minus 88 actual new words = minus 33).  None of Shakespeare's 14
other 3,000-word poem blocks, and only 5% of his 244 play blocks have so
many Shakespeare-new words, with corresponding New-word scores lower
than minus 32.  None of our 527 blocks (=1.6 million words of text) had
too *few* new words to be Shakespeare's.  But almost two-thirds of our
84 other-authored poem blocks had too many new words, and corresponding
scores lower than -32. This is not because the other poets had richer
vocabularies than Shakespeare, but more likely because their
vocabularies differed significantly from Shakespeare's.

As with the Elegy, too many such anomalies make a doubtful ascription.
Valenza has figured out a way to calculate the relative odds of LC's
discrepancies from Shakespeare arising by chance.  By his current
calculations, they are a thousand times worse than those for the most
discrepant block in Shakespeare's other poems.  This kind of internal
evidence contributed to Brian Vickers' doubts about Shakespeare's
authorship of LC.  To our internal evidence Vickers has added some
consideration of external evidence casting doubt on the reliability of
Thomas Thorpe's Shakespeare ascription  (Counterfeiting Shakespeare, pp.
76-78).  We normally leave external evidence to Shakespeare regulars,
who know it better than we do, and even our internal evidence is based
on novel methods which may have flaws we have not yet discovered.  But
our methods are more settled and less novel today than they were in
1997, and the results still so far from our normal expectations of
Shakespeare, that it seems to us that LC's Shakespeare ascription needs
serious reconsideration.

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.