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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0251  Thursday, 29 January 2004

[1]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 2004 12:54:40 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0231 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jan 2004 12:56:13 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0231 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 2004 12:54:40 -0000
Subject: 15.0231 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0231 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

Dear All,

The best one I've heard on an 'expert' getting caught out in the
identification of poetry was Andrew Motion, the 'Poet Laureate' (not
exactly hot on the heels of Dryden) who was asked live on BBC Radio 4's
'Today' program to identify, which out of three poems - ostensibly all
by Sylvia Plath - was written by a teenager imitating the Plath style.
Inevitably he floundered (the poems were early juvenalia, so quite hard
even for someone familiar with Plath's poetry). Inevitably Motion gave a
quite well reasoned but nonetheless *wrong* answer to the question.
Embarrassing? Just a bit.

I often wonder how well most modern academics would fare given these
kind of tests. The University of Bristol English exam (following
Oxbridge) always used to have several sight-unseen questions in which
the candidate had to identify the authorship of unidentified sections of
poetry or prose. The only way to study for the exam was hours of reading
and in depth familiarity with the course texts. Nowdays students merely
write essays (usually on some faux serious modern 'philosopher of
language' such as Derrida etal - and I dare say would fare terribly
under such examination. I'd like to bring the test in for all tutors of
Literature at University. I reckon there'd be quite a few frightened
looking 'Professors'.

Of course, in the time of Pope and Dryden (and their classical
forebears) the idea of imitating the works of well regarded authors was
an essential part of the poet's 'craft' in which they learnt both to
understand what made their predecessor's works valuable and unique and
what could make their own 'voice' different. I think most modern poets
(and critics) would be unable to either imitate or discriminate between
most core canonical texts if the authorship was not provided.

Perhaps we should have a little competition Hardy? Let's see who can
write a poem *by* Marvell, Donne, Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe and then
see how much Shaksper readers believe them... Or one of Ward's tests to
see who can identify correctly un-assigned poems / plays by the Bard or
better still Jonson etc.

I know I would flounder. In my first year at University I tried writing
an imitation of Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd for my then tutor Dr.
Peter McDonald (a legend incidentally and one of the few men alive who
can write a decent sonnet - or for that matter a double sestina with
crown and dizain...) - he handed it back to me ringed solidly with red -
"this bit sounds like Yeats, this bit like Eliot, this bit is slightly
reminiscent of Marlowe but wouldn't get you more than 50% in a poet's
exam...". To me what was noticeable in his accurate dispatch of my
efforts was how modern poetry had skewed my ear / writing to sound quite
un-like anything an early modern poet (let alone Marlowe) would have
written - and how insufficiently I had paid attention to what made
Marlowe "Marlowe" and not another poet.

Yours bewailing the loss of the great tradition to crass modernity etc,

Marcus

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jan 2004 12:56:13 -0800
Subject: 15.0231 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0231 Shakespeare et al. and the New "Science"

Ward Elliott makes efforts to reduce the effect of memory on expert
recall of Shakespeare passages:

 >But this, too, is testable and reducible. We've tried our
 >test out on a few experts, weeded out as many memorable passages as we
 >could, and added a button for "I know the passage already," so, in
 >principle, and probably in practice, we could calculate percentages of
 >correct guesses from the passages not known.

What if the effect is subconscious?  What if I recognize a passage as
Shakespeare without realizing that I'm working from a dim memory?

Plagiarists usually make an excuse based upon similar presumptions about
how memory works.

Yours,
Sean.

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