The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0338  Monday, 2 August 2010

[1]  From:      Bob Grumman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:      July 28, 2010 7:43:59 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0322  FYI: ShakesPalin

[2]  From:      Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:      July 29, 2010 10:24:11 PM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0313  FYI: ShakesPalin

From:         Bob Grumman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         July 28, 2010 7:43:59 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0322  FYI: ShakesPalin
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0322  FYI: ShakesPalin

"Refudiate" is a great Joycean word even if not intended as such. 


From:         Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         July 29, 2010 10:24:11 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0313  FYI: ShakesPalin
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0313  FYI: ShakesPalin

David Evett properly asks for metric context to explain Shakespeare's coinages that 
seemed to us not all that different from Bushisms: "insultment," " omittance," 
"opulency," " revengive," " thoughten," and "casted." ("More better," though not as 
unique to Shakespeare as Donald Foster once believed, is a true Shakespeare tic 
which seems to us independent of meter or speaker.) We picked them off a word list 
with no attention to context, but would expect most of them to fit metric needs, if 
only because 70% of Shakespeare's lines (unlike Bush's) are in verse. And, on closer 
inspection, most of them are. They are, respectively, from Cym 5.05.141, AYL 
5.05.133, Tim 5.01.37, Lr 2.01.45, Per 5.06.108, and H5 4.01.23. Only the first, 
"insultment," has no verse context. One could think of more orthodox, equally 
metrically-compliant near-equivalents, such as "insulting," "omission," "revenging," 
or "cast-off," but it's not at all clear that any of these should be regarded as 
improvements on Shakespeare, especially where the words are spoken by someone whom 
Shakespeare plainly did not intend to present as a model of correct usage: Cloten in 
Cym; Phebe in AYL; the Poet in Tim. For these, as Aaron Azlant properly points out, 
"intent matters."  

So it does. But, if it does, and Shakespeare himself intended the strange words to 
be understood as oddities, not lasting additions to the language, what are they 
doing on the list of Shakespeare's brilliant coinages? It's one thing to say, as Mr. 
Azlant does, that it's perfectly legitimate to hold politicians and playwrights to 
differing tolerances for word-coinages, though it seems odd that it's politicians 
who are expected to meet the higher standards. It's another, as Giles Goodland 
points out, to treat one favored playwright's intended nonce-word as if it were a 
real, hard-money coinage, but not comparable words by less-favored playwrights of 
the same era.

Three of the commentators seem to interpret our posting, not as a discussion of 
Shakespeare, but as a "quasi-defense" of Bush and Palin. John W. Kennedy dismisses 
Bush as "merely a fool," and Palin even worse. Mario di Cesare describes our 
discussion as "politically-charged" and us as carried away by our political zeal to 
defend Bush and Palin. He declares that "nothing in [our] piece argues by any 
stretch of the imagination that Shakespeare's vocabulary and coinages are not 

We're academics and understand that, among bien pensants, no opportunity to lambaste 
Bush and Palin is to be wasted. But we were surprised and saddened at the extent 
that annoyance with our insufficient zeal in doing so has blotted out an important 
point about Shakespeare. We say saddened because both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. di Cesare 
are former benefactors of our Shakespeare Clinic, Kennedy for being the first to 
identify John Ford as the author of the Funeral Elegy, later confirmed by us and 
others, and di Cesare for giving us valuable texts from his collection, then hard to 
get, in the earliest days of the Shakespeare Clinic. We remain grateful to our old 
benefactors and are sorry that our little faux pas has gotten two of them riled. Or 
is it three faux pas, not just insufficient zeal in lambasting of Bush and Palin, 
but also excessive doubt that Shakespeare was the greatest of all word possessors 
and coiners? If so, these would certainly not have been first taboos we have 
violated, nor Messrs. Kennedy and di Cesare the first people we have offended. But 
there would never had been a Shakespeare Clinic if we had been more respectful of 
Lit Department no-trespassing signs, for example, studying Shakespeare authorship, 
using computers to do it, or supporting or not supporting someone's favorite 
authorship theory. Could it be that questioning Shakespeare's coinages and 
vocabulary are two more such taboos? We're sorry if we have given fresh offense, but 
we would have nothing to offer our Lit Department friends today had we been more 
respectful of their taboos (We're also aware that Mr. Kennedy is not a Lit 
Department person, nor one who embraces their taboos and mitzvoth - except for the 
one about bashing Bush and Palin.)

If it's any comfort to them, our study, first written and mentioned on SHAKSPER in 
2004, was 99% about Shakespeare, 1% about Bush, 0% about Palin, who was unknown to 
us and most others at the time. Bush had the same advantage over other contemporary 
word-coiners that Shakespeare has had over his contemporaries; he had a well-known, 
recognizable data set of new words. His "Bushisms" have been more thoroughly 
remarked and catalogued than those of his perhaps equally-inventive contemporaries; 
they are more recognizable and accessible than, say, Palin's or Joe Biden's. But 
let's not let source trump substance, nor mince words over what our 99% had to say 
about Shakespeare: Despite the well-entrenched myth to the contrary, he did not have 
an other-dwarfing vocabulary, and his coinages, though remarkable, have been, and 
still are, grossly overstated. Some of his coinages did not seem to us all that 
different from Bush's, nor, on closer inspection, were they all even intended as 
true coinages. It won't do to say, as Mr. di Cesare sweepingly does, that we haven't 
argued against Shakespeare's overcounted inventory of words and coinages by any 
stretch of the imagination. We have.  

Of course, it is possible that our arguments are wrong. We certainly did not back 
them up as fully in our one-page SHAKSPER posting as we have in our 33-page chapter 
forthcoming in the Ravassat-Culpeper collection, or as Hugh Craig has in his 38-page 
manuscript forthcoming in the Shakespeare Quarterly, which has much to say about 
Shakespeare's vocabulary, but little about his coinages, and nothing about Bush's or 
Palin's. But, as far as we know, Mr. di Cesare hasn't read either of these. We hope 
he will, when they become available in a few months, and we look forward to any 
refudiations he may offer at the time. In the meantime, it still seems to us, as Mr. 
Azlant seems to concede, that you have to use a blatant double standard to preserve 
the myth of Shakespeare's outsized vocabulary and coinage rates. We're not sure that 
everyone will agree with Mr. Azlant that that's a good idea.

Ward E.Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza 

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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