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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
A Lover's Complaint & John Davies of Hereford
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2467  Monday, 5 January 2004

From:           Bill Lloyd <
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Date:           Saturday, 3 Jan 2004 07:56:23 EST
Subject:        A Lover's Complaint & John Davies of Hereford

To those who may not have seen it I'd like to point out an interesting
article by Brian Vickers in the Times Literary Supplement for December
5, 2003. The article is entitled "Who Wrote 'A Lover's Complaint'?" and
in it evidence is presented arguing that this poem, affixed to the 1609
quarto of Shakespeare's Sonnets is the work of the poet and
writing-master John Davies of Hereford [not to be confused with the
near-contemporary poet Sir John Davies].

Vickers presents several kinds of evidence: analyses of rhymes, rates of
favorite words, rare words, collocations, coinage habits, etc., and
shows that many of the characteristics of this poem which have seemed to
scholars foreign to Shakespeare's style can be found in regular use in
the poems of Davies; also that some features that have been found to be
Shakespearean are even more favored by Davies.

I have been skeptical of the skeptics who have doubted the Shakespearean
authorship of A Lover's Complaint, feeling that it was an instance of
Shakespeare altering his style for a special purpose and that there was
sufficient similarity to his accepted work that, taken with the external
evidence of its publication with the Sonnets, arguments for its removal
from the Canon did not carry the day.

However, it seems that the correct candidate may simply not yet have
been found. Studies of A Lover's Complaint have tended to focus on its
similarity or lack thereof to Shakespeare's works, and in a few studies
to the works of other dramatists. Persuasive arguments for and against
were ultimately inconclusive and we [not inappropriately] fell back on
the external evidence of its published attribution. The style of the
poems was not so extremely unlike Shakespeare's as to make his
authorship absolutely incredible, nor was it sufficiently similar to the
work of other candidates to force reattribution. As Vickers points out,
candidates for its authorship tended to be confined to Shakespeare
himself and other dramatists, neglecting the many non-dramatic poets who
were active at the time. If one could be found whose habits and
characteristics-- whose style-- was a *positive* match for those found
in A Lover's Complaint then reattribution might successfully be argued.

As Vickers admits, more work remains to be on the subject, but I find
the arguments presented so far to be pretty persuasive. If I were his
editor I might counsel that he temper such statements as "This proves
that the author was not Shakespeare" to something like "This makes it
highly unlikely that the author was Shakespeare". But his enthusiasm
might be forgiven in the excitement of this apparent breakthrough and
the potential solution to a problem that has vexed scholars and critics
for centuries.

Bill Lloyd

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