The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0030 Tuesday, 6 January 2004
From: Jim Carroll <
Date: Tuesday, 6 Jan 2004 00:04:16 EST
Subject: 14.2467 A Lover's Complaint & John Davies of Hereford
Comment: Re: SHK 14.2467 A Lover's Complaint & John Davies of Hereford
I'm afraid that Brian Vickers has botched another attribution, in much
the same manner that made his Peele attribution for part of Titus
Andronicus fail. For example, he makes much of the similarities between
ALC and the poems of Spenser, a point which Kerrigan and Jackson have
investigated in great detail. Because he finds some likeness to Spenser
in Davies, that for him is evidence that Davies was the writer of ALC.
Here is what Vickers says:
"First, the complaining woman there [in ALC] is shown "often shriking
undistinguisht wo". Shakespeare used the word "shriek(s)" in connection
with ominous and unnatural events, owls and the night, never for a woman
weeping. But Spenser's Verlame, having ended "her piteous plaint/ With
dolefull shrikes she vanished away", while the nine Muses utter "rufull
cries...yelling shrieks...shrieks and cries and dreary yells.""
There are two problems with this. One is that the shrieking done in the
Spenser poem involves magical beings who shriek as they vanish away,
much as angels and witches do in Shakespeare (for the example the angel
that visits Clarence in 1.4 of R3). The second problem is that
Shakespeare _does_ associate shrieking with weeping and with women:
Cassandra: Cry, Troyans, cry.
Priam: What noise, what shriek is this?
Troilus: 'Tis our mad sister; I do know her voice.
Hector: It is Cassandra.
Cassandra: Cry, Troyans, cry. Lend me ten thousand eyes,
And I will fill them with prophetic tears. Troilus 2.2.97-102
Macbeth: What is that noise?
Seyton: It is the cry of women, my good lord.
Macbeth: I have almost forgot the taste of fears:
The time has been, my senses would have cool'd
To hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't. Mac 5.5.7-13
and in the following passage from H5, are we to believe that the women
would shriek, but not weep, as they are being raped and slaughtered?
Henry: ...why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters; H5 3.3.33-35
Vickers goes on to tell us that there are a few words and phrases that
are in ALC and Davies, but not in Shakespeare. Even if this were true,
he does not supply the dates for the words that appear in Davies, so we
can't be sure that Davies hadn't simply read ALC and those words became
part of his vocabulary. In any case, Vickers only provides six examples,
"maund", "forbod", "affectedly", "rocky heart" and "fell rage".
"Forbod" is probably just a fortuitous typo for "forbad" ("forbade" in
modern editions), which appears for example in the Folio edition of 1H4:
(line 549 of that web edition).
Shakespeare does not use "affectedly" elsewhere, but does use "affected"
in the same sense (to do something elaborate for show), for example, "He
is too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd as it were...." LLL
"Rocky heart" itself is not in Shakespeare, but "rocky bosom" is (R3
4.4.235), and the line "Beat at thy rocky and and wrack-threatening
heart" appears in Lucrece, l. 590.
"Fell rage" is not in Shakespeare, but Lucrece has "As life for honour
in fell battle's rage", l. 145, and of course phrases of the form
"fell...." abound in Shakespeare, such as "fell hand", "fell sword",
"fell Alecto's snake", "fell tempest", etc.
In short, these examples are too few, too much like other examples in
Shakespeare, and not dated by Vickers in Davies oeuvre, and so they
can't make a convincing case for Davies authorship. If you examine any
two works by any two authors of the same time period, you will find
_some_ things in common.
Vickers would likewise have us believe that the use of "pleonastic "do""
is somehow a marker for Davies. Vickers points out that Spenser uses
this frequently, citing the lines from "The Visions of Bellay":
"With balmie odours fil'd th' ayre farre and nie.
A Bird all white, well feathered on each wing,
Hereout vp to the throne of Gods did flie,
And all the way most pleasant notes did sing,"
where the "did" is used "for the sake of rhyme" as Vickers puts it (I
think it would be more accurate to say that it is used to make ten
syllables, rhyme or not). But this linguistic feature is so commonplace
that it is essentially useless for attribution, and Vickers fails to
show that the 40% occurrence he finds in ALC and 39% in one of Davies'
poems is unique. He also fails to mention that ALC is such a short poem
that it is just as likely that it would or would not match the frequency
of that linguistic feature in any large poem from _any_ author purely by
I could go on and on about this essay, but there is not enough space
here. Do we really need this analysis in the first place to see that
Davies was not the author of ALC? Davies was a competent versifier, and
his descriptions of the plague years in verse are powerful. But his
purely linguistic and rhythmic imagination were weak, no match for the
complex versification present in ALC. Davies' mind was essentially
city-bound and satirical, not lyrical, and when he turned to romantic
verse the results were like this sonnet from the 1605 "Wittes
Pilgramage" (Grosart edition):
Forbidden hopes? (the comforts of my care),
Yet care that kills all comfort cheering me).
I am no more my self the whiles you are,
And, yet much more then so, the whiles you be.
If ye stay with me, from my self I run,
If you part from me, past my self I fly,
Stay, or part from me, death I cannot shun,
With, or without your help, I needs must die.
I needs must die, for life inspiring you,
And die, if die you do by whom I live.
I do decay when I do ye renew,
I grieve with you, but more without you grieve.
O then what choice remains to wretched me,
But to be nought, or not at all to be.
And the next sonnet begins
Forbidden-hope, the heavens of my hell,
O cease your heavenly hellish regiment.
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