The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1157 Monday, 31 May 2004
Date: Friday, 28 May 2004 13:04:15 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Shakespeare Apocrypha and Stylometry
Despite all the fine work that is being done in Stylometry (and, on the
one hand, there is no one who has derived more emotional satisfaction
than myself by the overwhelming majority of the affirmative attributions
thus far published by Elliot and Vickers) certain very troubling basic
problems remain. But, on the other hand, may I cite two of the best
known examples of this technique? One of these (Henry VIII) is almost
universally accepted. The other (the attribution of the complete
Groatsworth to Henry Chettle), despite what appears to be an equally
cogent application of the techniques involved, continues to be rejected
by huge number of both professional academics and dedicated lay readers.
The acceptance of the Henry VIII attribution is readily explicable. The
mechanical technique confirmed almost precisely the previous literary
analysis made by academics, but likewise (and this is much better in my
experience) practicing poets and writers over a number of generations.
The "Shakespeare -wrote -it- everything- else -in - the- Folio- and
-much more" group (which I have for many years now dubbed as
neo-Stratfordian) were always (regardless of their academic rank) an
embarrassment in the case of Henry VIII.
There was ,of course, one glaring problem. The "Farewell, a long
farewell" scene is (outside of the "Katherine, Queen of England, you are
called into the court" sequence) head and shoulders above anything else
in the show and equally above at least ninety some per cent of anything
else Fletcher ever wrote. But, in view of the double coincidence of the
mechanical and the aesthetic, most of us accept the Fletcher
attribution. Still (is there something within us which rebels against
the common sense attribution?) when the speech is quoted it is still
almost invariably referred to as Shakespeare's (though Spedding
published his epoch making piece of historical revisionism well over a
The parallel situation with The Groatsworth raises the identical, but
also many further, problems. The prose is charged beyond anything else
Chettle ever wrote, as the very best of Henry VIII is above fine
Fletcher; but Fletcher was still one of the most capable writers of his
Chettle was otherwise a hack. And when he concocted this he would have
had under a week or ten day's leeway to produce the only quotable thing
he would ever write. Orson Welles (the creator of "F, as in Fake)might
have improvised on equally short notice, but plodding Chettle?
The obvious (but not necessarily correct) solution, i.e., that Chettle
was a much better editor than he was an original writer, and,
accordingly, must have had substantial Robert Greene fragments on which
to proceed, is (apparently) not demanded by the current exigencies of
In short there is something in the creative factor which the
non-creative computer is not taking into account?
Last year I had occasion, during the discussion of Brian Vickers and
"Shakespeare Co-Author" to propose a very simple elementary test which
has thus far not been taken up. I will again call it to the attention of
Messrs. Vickers, Old, and Elliott. Perhaps we are starting at the wrong
end of the problem.
The only single Shakespearean play (I am excluding the Chronicles
because they mingle large chunks from several separate historians)
which by complete consensus contains a large amount of alien matter,
matter which cannot possibly be there as the result of collaboration or
revision is Coriolanus. It massively incorporates from North's Plutarch
within a succinct space computer is not taking into account?
I very simply suggested that we are starting at the wrong end of the
problem. The only single (I am excluding the Chronicles because they
mingle large chunks from several separate historians) Shakespearean play
which by complete consensus contains a large amount of alien matter
which cannot possibly be there as the result of collaboration or
revision is Coriolanus with its massive incorporation from North's
Plutarch within a sharply limited space.
Coriolanus therefore furnishes the best uncontaminated (or least
contaminated) text which could establish the author's rewrite pattern on
demonstrably alien material within the First Folio. If a pattern emerges
it should then be applied to the next best candidates with large
consecutive chunks of incorporated materials. i.e. the chronicle plays.
Henry VI, Part I, is again the obvious place to start -as virtually
everybody before Peter Alexander agreed that it was of multiple
authorship; and so does Vickers. He comes up with Thomas Nashe as
certain author.(I did the same ,with Kyd and Greene thrown in many
years ago for my own satisfaction.)
However, I would first suggest that Coriolanus be used provide a
demonstrable example of how the author worked on a single prior text and
also whether such a type of text could be differentiated from imputed
cases of collaboration, or instances where such writers as Fletcher and
Middleton may have overwritten texts abandoned, for whatever reason , by
the original author.
Roger Nyle Parisious
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