The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0083 Tuesday, 13 January 2004
Date: Tuesday, 13 Jan 2004 09:42:00 -0000
Subject: 15.0069 Stylometrics
Comment: RE: SHK 15.0069 Stylometrics
Though I enjoy the kind of work Hugh Craig is doing and he is a cautious
man I have a few things to say to this: (from experience of such things)
(1) For the examples linking two authors to be more convincing, one
would need a complete database of early modern drama and poetry. What is
it in the Harbage - 866 texts or more... So far this has yet to be used
in any study I've seen (even mine alas).
(2) Matching 'rare pairs' is actually about the oldest trick in the
book. Virtually all old Shakespeare scholars interested in the
attribution of early Shakespeare texts (etc) used matching examples of
rare vocabulary - including the proximity of certain pairs or clusters
of words with others. But as can be seen in Craig's example from Kyd
and 'Rape of Lucrece', the vagueness of the connection is worrying - it
is uncertain in a singular example whether one author is merely copying
another or being influenced unconsciously by a neat pairing. In the
example from Kyd, since it is quite likely that the Spanish Tragedy was
performed before Lucrece was written, the example from Lucrece (superior
in my view) could in fact be a reworked memory of the Kyd. In other
words, external factors must mark how we determine the origins of the
internal evidence. A problem if ever there was one.
(3) My favourite work in the field of rare vocab chasing is in H.C
Hart's Arden introductions to the Henry Sixth plays. Hart traces dozens
of interesting parallels between the HVI texts and the works of other
early modern contemporaries and near contemporaries of Shakespeare - in
what proves ultimately to be an enjoyable but inconclusive search for
the origins of their authorship. There are very many parallels between
the HVI sequence and Spenser, Peele, Nashe, Greene, Marlowe and Kyd.
There are also very many between the HVI sequence and other Shakespeare
texts. The trick is in finding which examples necessitate the same
author as opposed to one author (re)using or developing certain literary
/ oral / theatrical devices. Though Hart has his own beliefs on the
matter, I do not believe that many modern critics would share them.
(4) All this is not say that we shouldn't all look very carefully at
Craig's work and consider how such empirical examples of internal
evidence could be used to help us determine the authorship of plays /
poems of uncertain origin. Once the database of electronic texts of the
early modern period is as complete as possible, such work will take on a
whole new power and level of conviction.
All the best,
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