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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
A Lover's Complaint
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1106  Friday, 6 June 2003

From:           Bill Lloyd <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Jun 2003 13:45:01 EDT
Subject:        A Lover's Complaint

I've been thinking about A Lover's Complaint since it's been mentioned
several times in the Titus-Peele rhubarb and some other recent posts,
and it's led me to reflect on the place of [for lack of a better term]
"stylometry" in attribution studies. But first, why Attribution Studies
at all? Schoenbaum, in _Internal Evidence_, says "Those who study plays
want to know who wrote them."  This is not necessarily so anymore,
depending on which theoretical approach one is taking, but it is still
often true. When we watch a play on stage, it either works or doesn't
and it shouldn't matter who wrote what. But if we want to study, say,
Shakespeare's romances/late tragicomedies as a group it would seem to
matter a lot which parts of Pericles and Two Noble Kinsmen might have
been composed by a writer other than Shakespeare. It would muddy the
waters to quote Pericles 1.2 or TNK 2.2 as representing Shakespeare's
thought, etc.  The Admiral's play Patient Grissel [1600] is often
written about as if it were Thomas Dekker's play and used to examine his
use of folk motifs, his attitudes towards women, etc etc.  However, as
Hoy & Halstead agree [and my own study bears out] Dekker probably
composed a little less than a third of this play, and William Haughton
seems to have written more of it than either Dekker or Chettle [about
2/5]. This is why attribution studies are important-- not so we can add
to or detract from Shakespeare's reputation, or chop up plays into
little bits as a mock-scientific exercise, but rather to gain more
insight into how scripts were generated in early modern theatre and have
a better idea just what it is we are studying. The recent study by Gary
Taylor showing that Middleton & Rowley's co-author on The Old Law was
not Philip Massinger but Thomas Heywood is not without implications for
study. To oversimplify, the presence of Massinger [King's co-dramatist,
friend to Fletcher] would raise the assumed social level of the play,
whereas the presence of Heywood [generator of Red Bull pot-boilers]
would tend to lower it.

If these plays were written now there would be some kind of paper trail
and we could talk to agents, studio people, etc in order to find out
which scenes were play-doctored by Abe Burrows, or which film dialogue
was written by Chandler or Faulkner. But as is well known this kind of
information for the 15th-17th centuries has often perished, and wasn't
that carefully recorded to begin with. What if Henslowe's Diary had not
survived? We would probably have no doubt that the anonymously published
1st and 2nd parts of Robert Earl of Huntington were written by Thomas
Heywood, for the mid-17th century play catalogs tell us so. The
conservatives [what shall we call them? Bentleyites? Condellists?] would
insist that the external evidence for Heywood could not be ignored and
would dismiss those whose close study of these plays seemed to show that
they were written by Anthony Munday and the anonymous [as he would be
without Henslowe] author of Hoffman. And while the external evidence
[bless its heart] can certainly not be dismissed, it is often incomplete
or contradictory, as we know from the examples of 1 Honest Whore, Late
Murther, Cure for a Cuckold, Noble Spanish Soldier, Fedelio & Fortunio
and many others.

What's this got to do with A Lover's Complaint? The external evidence
for its Shakespearean authorship is pretty strong. It was published at
the end of _Shakespeares Sonnets_. The Sonnets themselves have been
widely regarded as an unauthorized publication, but more recent studies
have suggested that the manuscript was supplied by Shakespeare and the
order of the Sonnets is his own. This, and the example of 'complaints'
being a part of other sonnet sequences, tends to strengthen the
once-questioned bona fides of the Sonnets title page with regard to A
Lover's Complaint. "But," you say, "Elliott & Valenza's stylometric
analysis puts A Lover's Complaint outside the range of Shakespeare's
attested usage-- 5 rejections, etc etc. What's up, Lloyd, we thought you
were an apologist for the attributionists and the statistical analysis
of style?" Well, as I like to say, yes and no.

I think the statistical analyses of Elliott & Valenza, Donald Foster,
and others provides valuable information. Information, not proof. This
information must then be used as PART of an argument for or against a
hypothesis.  I am more comfortable with the kind of
statistico-linguistic analyses of several decades ago, before computer
technology made possible the massive analysis of function words,
relative position, phrase length, etc. [Good examples would be David J.
Lake's The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays and Macd. P. Jackson's
Studies in Attribution: Middleton and Shakespeare, both from the
1970s.]  The pages and pages of tables and charts and tests and odds now
offered us makes it too easy to think that the results we have come up
with are Proof, when they are really just evidence. [This is not to say
that I don't love the potential for testing that Chadwyck-Healey and
other tools make available to us-- just that we need to keep our faith
in the results in proportion.]

What do A Lover's Complaint's five rejections out of fifteen tests
[Elliott & Valenza] tell us?  That in significant ways it is not very
much like the other works of Shakespeare. But we already knew that.
Although it SEEMS Shakespearean enough not to be completely incredible
as one of his works, it also SEEMS [even to its defenders I would think]
different enough from his other works that it is an ill fit. The E&V
stylometic analyses confirms that, quantifies what we were perceiving.
Now come the questions-- why?  how? who? Why would Shakespeare write
like that? Or if not Shakespeare, who? Or why would Thorpe have affixed
someone else's poem to Shakespeare's sonnet sequence? Or if it was part
of the manuscript and Thorpe was ignorant/innocent, how did it get
there?

I have several comments and suggestions. I suspect that Thorpe's copy
for the Sonnets already included A Lover's Complaint and that they are
connected works. Is it possible that it was written by William Herbert
in imitation of Shakespeare or under his influence?  Is there any extant
verse or other extensive writing by Herbert available for analysis?
[Substitute your Mr WH candidate of choice.]  Or, what would be the
effect of Shakespeare taking a piece of juvenilia he had written c1585
and revising it c1605? How might that haywire the linguistic analysis?
Or, what if Shakespeare deliberately set about to write in a style
radically different from his usual one? Stylometrics are supposed to be
able to detect the unconscious sub-style of a writer and to a useful
extent this is true. But when we analyse the substyle of Shakespeare or
Middleton, we are almost always analysing works where the writer was
certainly conscious of his characters, the plot, the genre, the highness
or lowness of his style, in other words whatever he wanted to accomplish
with the play or poem he was writing, but not I think very conscious of
his style as a STYLE.  But he could be if he wanted to be. John Fletcher
consciously or unconsciously made feminine endings and certain
colloquialisms [ye, 'em] characteristic of his style when writing plays.
But not all plays-- his The Faithful Shepherdess, written in a different
genre and with a different aim than his other plays, does not display
these 'Fletcherian' traits. He must have done it on purpose. {I wonder
what function word and relative position and other such tests would show
about Faithful Shepherdess.]  The Priam & Hecuba speech in Hamlet is an
example of Shakespeare deliberately writing in another style. Of course
being only a few dozen lines the speech is too short to really supply a
good sample for testing. But what if those lines didn't appear in
Hamlet, but we found them written out on a single sheet in some archive
would we be able to make a substylistic connection with the usual works
of Shakespeare? Or would he have been able to disguise his style by
purposely trying to write like Marlowe or Peele [!] or Watson?  What if
A Lover's Complaint is Shakespeare purposely trying to write like
Chapman or Breton or Rankins? Would that produce five E&V rejections?
but not fifteen?

Of course people didn't usually try to write in a foreign style. I
suppose I might be opening a can of worms. Did Cyril Tourneur decide, as
an experiment, to write a play in the style of his friend Middleton? Did
Shakespeare think, "Hmmm...I'll write my new Henry VI play in the style
of that satirical Tom Nashe fellow," and then change his mind after the
first act was done? The speculative scenarios are endless,
unfortunately. Most such speculations will not stand up on examination.
But what about A Lover's Compaint?

Trepidatiously,
Bill Lloyd

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