The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1953  Tuesday, 7 October 2003

From:           Michael Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 6 Oct 2003 07:39:11 -1000
Subject: 14.1948 King John and The Troublesome Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1948 King John and The Troublesome Play

I notice that Bob Grumman is signed up with an email outfit called
nut-n-but, which seems appropriate. How he manages to leap from 'Peele
hand a hand in...' to 'Peele wrote' is beyond me, as is his willingness
to express doubt about an essay he certainly has not read. He must be an
English professor.

To the extent that anything in Shakespeare studies can be 'proved'--did
Shakespeare go to school? did he read Holinshed?  what did he mean by
'To be or not to be' ?--Vickers shows conclusively that the author of
Edward I, The Battle of Alcazar, etc., composed a great number of lines
in The Troublesome Raigne. His techniques include verbal parallels and
echoes, and several metrical and vocabulary tests. He also identifies
stylistic habits such as a preference for multiple alliteration and the
proclivity of characters to self-address, both of which are common
Peelean habits.  This brief summary hardly does justice to a
scrupulously argued case. As in all attribution work, its conclusion
rests on the accumulation of data, a level of proof acceptable in
criminal trials when all the evidence is circumstantial.

Grumman is demanding eye-witnesses and a signed confession, but as
Stalin showed even these are not reliable. The literary equivalent, the
testimony of title pages, is notoriously untrustworthy. Will Grumman
claim Shakespeare's authorship of The Troublesome Raigne because his
name appears on the 1611 and 1622 quartos? What about Sir John Oldcastle
(1600), The London Prodigal (1605) and A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608), all
of which do the same? The answer is that the internal evidence--style,
vocabulary, metrical measures and the like--don't confirm it, leading to
the conclusion that these are probably forgeries. Note the word
probably. As for eye-witness testimony, what about Francis Meres' claim
in Palladis Tamia (1598) that Shakespeare wrote a play called Love
Labours Won? What significance are we to attach to the fact that he
fails to list his Henry VI histories?

Attribution studies are certainly fraught with complex philosophical and
theoretical difficulties. In many cases the best we can do is to try to
make a case. This doesn't mean that the tentative conclusions are
necessarily wrong.


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