The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0458  Monday, 9 July 2007

[Editor's Note: I have been uncomfortable with submissions about a 
Lover's Complaint from the beginning of this round of them. And as soon 
as I see a submission whose purpose is to argue overtly for a topic that 
is out-of-bounds on SHAKSPER, I will shut down the thread. -HMC]

From: 		Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Sunday, 8 Jul 2007 21:04:19 EDT
Subject: 	Brian Vickers and A Lover's Complaint

In the 2002 _Oxford Complete Sonnets and Poems_, Editor Colin Burrow 
stated that "convincing work in the sixties by Kenneth Muir and 
MacDonald P. Jackson . . . definitely ended discussion about the poem's 
attribution" (139). Before the next year was out, Brian Vickers had 
definitely reopened discussion with a TLS proposal of another candidate 
for the poem's authorship. Vickers's follow-up, _Shakespeare, A Lover's 
Complaint, and John Davies of Hereford_ (CUP, 2007, 329p.), should be 
widely read (and discussed).

I believe Professor Vickers's case for attributing ALC to Davies will 
stand the test of time. His coverage of the entire topic is an object 
lesson in methodology; his history of the controversy is complete, as 
usual. What he contributes to the study is in many respects a simple 
concept: a much more viable candidate. Vickers repeatedly underscores a 
related point while criticizing earlier studies:

    It may well be 'nearly impossible [to consider] that anyone but
    Shakespeare could have written' this poem, if you have only
    looked at Shakespeare (145).

Vickers's extensive case culminates in "ALC in John Davies's Canon", a 
convincing demonstration of parallels. Again, the thoroughness of 
Vickers's discussion is instructive. In the past, reliance on parallels 
has proved risky, but they can nevertheless convince. In this case, 
doubt of the possibility of Davies's ALC authorship is quickly 
dispelled. But as one reads through the 90 comparative examples adduced 
from Davies's poems, possibility grows to a probability that can be 
diminished only by finding the unlikely stronger candidate, who will 
still not be Shakespeare.

Taking Davies's life and sources (including Shakespeare) into account, 
one sees in the various categories of usage common to Davies and ALC a 
consistency not easily denied. I will quote a few instances of Vickers's 
evidence for a glimpse of the case, but its force will be appreciated 
only by a full reading.

         Thus meerely with the garment of  a grace
         The naked and concealed fiend he  coverd,
         That th' unexperient gave the  tempter place,
         Which like a Cherubin above them  hoverd
         Who young and simple would not  be so loverd.
                                                       (LC, 317-20)

Vickers notes the un-Shakespearian literal allusion to the devil in the 
'fiend . . . tempter . . . like a Cherubin' combination in his parallel 
*58, where in Microcosmos 11, "An Extasie", Vickers sees exactly the 
same idea (p. 251-52):

         I am (quoth shee) no  Soule-confounding Fiend,
         Assuming Angell's forme for  wicked end;
         But come to grace thee, graceless forlorne Man,
         With divine favors.              (115-118)

This concurrence is backed by others; to move on, one may wonder whether 
the single word 'grace' has any bearing on the attribution: here 
"garment of a grace" signifies an actual spirit, usage not readily 
comparable to "grace thee . . . graceless"; but Davies "used the noun 
'grace' nearly 800 times, sometimes repeating it three times in one 
line" (222). He used an "abstract noun plus 'grace' over forty times, as 
in Vickers's example *12, "life and grace" (LC, 114). Vickers notes that 
Davies uses these phrases and the single word, where "its meaning is 
often rather vague, a nice sounding metrical filler." A quick check of 
Schmidt leads me to think that neither the vagueness or the abstract 
noun plus 'grace' are common to Shakespeare.

The rhyme 'hoverd' / 'coverd'  (*77) is matched, according to  Vickers's 
citation of 'Literature Online', only by Davies's 'Colloqui', (/ 

Vickers also shows that forming past-participles from nouns was not 
peculiar to Shakespeare: Davies invented 'cultur'd' much as 'lover'd' is 
formed in ALC, among many other Davies transformations (139). 
Constructions like these do not disqualify Davies, but his candidacy is 
supported by the numerous repetitions making up his style, which is to 
recycle numerous conceits padded by commonplace phrases.  The instances 
I've repeated are a drop in the docket.

We may anticipate attempts to downplay the conclusion that Davies is the 
author of A Lover's Complaint, but as students come to grips with the 
force of the argument a number of lessens will be apparent. First, the 
authority that earlier scholars traded for conclusions will be 
diminished. Anyone can be wrong. Second, stories building on the 
supposition that the 1609 Sonnets publication was authorized by 
Shakespeare will seem less credible. And Shakespearian themes in ALC 
will be rendered imaginary.

Gerald E. Downs

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