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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Lions and Tigers and Wagers...oh my...
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1964  Tuesday, 29 November 2005

From: 		William Davis <
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Date: 		Monday, 28 Nov 2005 10:56:25 -0500
Subject: 16.1933 Lions and Tigers and Wagers...oh my...
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1933 Lions and Tigers and Wagers...oh my...

I wanted to thank Dr. Elliott for his detailed and thoughtful response, 
and follow up with some brief questions and clarifications.  He begins 
by saying, "It seems that the dust hasn't settled on the Woodstock 
controversy after all."  Actually, I was hoping it had.  Even though I 
did reference the earlier exchange with Dr. Egan, my questions were not 
specific to Woodstock.  My apologies for leading Dr. Elliott down the 
wrong path.

The central interest of my post was an attempt to question whether or 
not the current set of criteria used to identify a Shakespeare play 
might be completely accurate in all cases, specifically with regard to 
works written in the dawn of his career and earlier (I would have 
attempted to provide specific dates, but most scholars do not agree on 
the exact time when Shakespeare entered the London scene, and I didn't 
want to set up an arbitrary timeline).  Regardless of dates, however, 
when I consider Shakespeare's entrance into London, the first immediate 
thought that comes to mind is what it must have meant for a young 
provincial man to enter the big city.  How did that affect his writing 
style, particularly when he was suddenly surrounded---and, perhaps more 
importantly, competing with---many other writers (including those who 
looked down on young upstarts from the country with no university 
training, which would have provided its own form of motivation).  I 
doubt he had previously experienced anything like that, which would have 
placed him into an extreme state of transformation, a period unlike any 
other time in his life.  In biology/paleontology, they have the concept 
  of punctuated equilibrium which, among other things, explains how the 
fairly slow and constant rate of evolution is suddenly and abruptly 
accelerated (usually due to a gene mutation, or even a possible drastic 
change in environment, which would occur in the space of a single 
generation), and the offspring that follow are markedly different from 
the predecessors, virtually forming a new species.  I believe that 
Shakespeare's entrance into the London scene would have triggered a 
similar episode of punctuated equilibrium in Shakespeare's style.  While 
debates may rage about the range and rate of change Shakespeare might 
have experienced during that critical time period (something that may 
never be proved, unless an authentic, early and pure Shakespearean work 
can be identified and contrasted with his later work), I think it's 
still safe to say that the rate of change in his style must have been 
significantly accelerated when compared to how his style would have 
developed if he had stayed home in Stratford during the same period of 
time (this is one reason why I mentioned Marlowe's influence, among 
other writers, which according to several scholars was significant in 
Shakespeare's development, and which I believe was due to Shakespeare's 
exposure to those works in London).  The questions that then follow are, 
how much and how fast did his style evolve under those conditions, and 
is it not possible that some of those changes were significant enough 
that Dr. Elliott's current measuring stick would place an early 
Shakespeare work outside the acceptable range---particularly when the 
core measurements come from plays written several years later, in a 
period experiencing less significant change, and where the style would 
be more consistent and constant across a broader range of years?

Dr. Elliott, if I may borrow your example of Cinderella's glass slipper, 
you mentioned how the differences between the texts are the strongest 
indicators to disqualify potential candidates.  And according to the 
approach you outlined, no match means we have the wrong princess.  But I 
can't help thinking that if we assume the slipper had been fitted to 
Cinderella's eighteen-year-old foot, then wouldn't Cinderella herself be 
disqualified if we attempted to put the exact same slipper on her 
ten-year-old toes?

Finally, please know that I do not have an agenda to discredit 
stylometry---as I mentioned before, I'm in favor of it (particularly 
when it is used in combination with other historical and textual 
methodologies).  But my burning question is still basically this:  is it 
not possible that the current stylometric measuring stick could 
potentially disqualify some of Shakespeare's earliest work?  (And if I 
need to pick dates, I would refer to anything he wrote prior to 1589.)

Thanks in advance,
William Davis

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