The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0258  Monday, 3 October 2011

From:         Michael Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         September 30, 2011 4:05:46 PM EDT

Subject:      Woodstock


Gerald Downs’ comments about my case for Shakespeare’s authorship of 1 Richard II are wrong at almost every turn. But then he admits he hasn’t actually read my book, though this apparently is no bar to disagreeing with it. He knows my case is wrong before he reads it—that’s why he doesn’t have to read it. Nor (as he unashamedly admits) has he read the articles by Mac Jackson and myself battling over the MSS’s details—he is still willing to declare me wrong and Mr Jackson right, sight unseen. Bravo!


Downs’ 9/29 email is a classic example of how the case against The Tragedy of Richard II Part One (Woodstock) is being mounted—dishonestly, unfairly, and above all ignorantly. I do not expect Mr Downs to respond with any kind of apology or correction to what follows.


That is not in the way of this listserv. I’m still waiting for Gabriel Egan (primus inter pares) to apologize for his straight-out lie that my case includes the claim that “dede as a dore nayle” is  “a marker of authorship, as Egan believes."


I pointed out in reply that if readers look at what I actually say they’ll see that I SPECIFICALLY DO NOT ARGUE that the use of the simile proves Shakespeare's hand. What matters is the actual form in which it appears:


La Poole: What, is he dead?
Murderer As a door-nail, my lord. 1 Richard II, V.i.242-3


Falstaff: What, is the old king dead?
Pistol: As nail in door. 2 Henry IV, V.iii.120-1


This is quite significant—a whole snatch of dialogue, but not exact in interesting ways. Note too that both moments communicate critical information, though the contexts are quite distinct. Nor are these disconcerting overlaps unique among the parallels between 1 R 2 and the rest of Shakespeare. There’s a whole bunch of them—hundreds. Let’s say I’m wrong about HALF the 1500-1600 I have identified. That still leaves 700-800—much too high a number to be lightly dismissed.


Sure, we can argue about this one and that one, but overwhelmingly the parallels with Shakespeare are established. You cannot not do this between 1 Richard II and any other Elizabethan author, Marlowe included. Despite these facts, not only does Gabriel Egan not apologize, not a single reader wrote in to say “Gosh, that’s really very close! There’s obviously something going on here!”


Here are some factual corrections to Mr Downs’ letter:


1. The Tragedy of Richard II, Part One is not self-published. Edwin Mellen Press is a distinguished and long-established book company with a fine catalog of beautifully produced scholarly works, sold mostly to libraries. Its Shakespeare list is especially excellent. Nor is it a vanity press. Nor is it true that peer reviewers of submitted MSS are nominated by their authors. I know this because I have personally peer-reviewed several MSS for EMP and in no case did I know the authors, nor even know of them.

However, the intent of these slurs is it to deligitimize my argument by impugning my publishers and/or to literally shut me up (“put a lid on it”).  So simply correcting these canards will not make them go away,


2. Because Mr Downs is ignorant he completely mistakes the textual argument between Jackson and myself: He writes: “If Egan reports aright, Mac Jackson accepts the ms. as holograph . . . ” So Downs is taking sides without even checking Jackson’s own essay and—amazingly enough—agreeing with what he hasn’t seen.


However, this is what he hasn’t seen: Jackson completely contradicts himself on the matter of whether the MS of 1 Richard II is in the author’s own hand or that of scribe/copyist. At one point he says it’s a scribal copy. At another he claims the MS hand is Samuel Rowley’s. The details may be found in my essay in The Oxfordian 2010.


So it’s impossible to know what Jackson really thinks about this important matter. Unfortunately, Jackson hasn’t examined the actual manuscript, and is completely dependent on Frijlinck’s transcript. Her work, however, is flawed and I have often had to correct her readings. My corrections are listed under Frijlinck in “A Short History of the Text,” (Vol III) which Mr Downs also hasn’t read, though once again this proves no hindrance to his expressing an opinion about it.


Thus concerning the critical editing out in the 1 Richard II MS of the word “pelting” in “pelting farm,”  Downs blandly says “Unless the MSR editor [i.e., Frijlinck) is mistaken, it seems the correction to the word (originally peltry, she thinks) is in the same ink as the text...” etc. But Frijlinck is mistaken and I’m frankly in a position to say so since I am the only participant in this whole debate who has actually examined the original MS, and in great detail too aided by computer softwares.


Jackson hasn’t and Downs doubly hasn’t. My examination leads me to a quite different conclusion: that the original phrase was “pelting farm,” and that someone tried various alternatives to “pelting,” e.g., “petty” and “peltry” and then decided to delete the whole passage. My hypothesis is that Shakespeare decided to keep the phrase for 2 Richard II, which he had of course already written by the time he came to edit 1 Richard II, ca. 1605. 


By the way—another point about which Downs is uncertainly certain—we can also say with complete confidence that the MS is an early 17th century copy of a late 16th century play—the evidence is in the work of A. C. Partridge whose unanswerable analysis has still to be confronted by Mac Jackson.


Finally, Downs supports Jackson’s strained effort to make 1 Richard II fit stylistically with Ants Oras’ fake patterns in Pause Patterns in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. However, he hasn’t even considered Jackson’s unfounded assertion that certain multisyllabic words were intended by their author to be “slurred” so as to make up a decasyllabic line. There’s just no evidence for the claim that the word apparel below should be contracted in to two syllables, as Mac Jackson asserts:


Woodstock:  In my apparel, you’ll say.

Lancaster: Good faith, in all. —1 Richard II, I.i.160-1. 


just so that Jackson can claim the two lines make up an iambic pentameter. I pointed out that slurring apparel is likely to make it sound ridiculously like apple, when some perfectly serviceable di-syllabic words for clothing were on hand: raiment, garment, clothing etc. Downs nonetheless mocks me and tries to pretend that phonically there’s a noticeable difference between apple and apparl. Well, unfortunately that’s the level of debate here.




Scroop: Excellent Tresilian!
Bushy: Noble Lord Chief Justice!


is slurred by Jackson into an iambic pentameter, and then defended by the ignorant Downs: “Exint Tresin noble Lord Chief Justice!” This claim is advanced even tho the stresses are all wrong (noBILL lord CHIEF jusTICE). It makes no sense except in the context of a starined analysis bent on making the play into what it is not.


And so on. The rest of Downs’ comments are equally unreliable and inaccurate.


Kierkegaard says somewhere that all truths go through three stages: first they’re mocked, then they’re violently opposed and finally they’re recognized as self-evident. Clearly, we’re still in the violent opposition phase.


Michael Egan


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