The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0416  Friday, 30 November 2018


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

Date:         November 30, 2018 at 2:07:48 AM EST

Subject:    Re: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS


Larry Weiss on attribution:


I agree with Brian Vickers’s prediction that substantial parts of the NOS editors’ new attributions and dis-attributions will ultimately be shown to be wrong, imprecise or problematical. By the same token, I suspect that at least some of Vickers’s blanket assertions will meet the same fate.


Larry is probably right; yet by a different token, they aren’t the same types—in my view. Vickers seems more concerned with ‘truth’ than is the NOS, though they share misleading assumptions. Gabriel Egan needles the thread:


(If . . . Brian Vickers is the only person who replies . . . I’ll drop out of this thread—I think Hardy’s rule about terminating threads that engage just two people is a good rule.)


[Editor’s Note: I am glad Gabriel brought this up. Should this thread devolve into exchanges just between Gabriel and Brian, I will shut it down. Threads need to be exchanges of ideas and not become simple expressions conflicting positions. -Hardy]


I think a prolonged two-person exchange can be productive, as often historically. If debate is between ranking scholars, so much the better, right or wrong. This is the only Shakespeare forum where readers may follow textual opinion outside expensive, slow, and poorly informed publication—especially when issues are sidestepped, as I believe of NOS advocacy.


I’m skeptical of ‘high-tech’ attribution, for various ‘low-tech’ reasons. Old, personal accounts help me to understand science; not surprisingly, good observations come from those who’ve been there:


The fourth chapter . . . mainly descriptive, may perhaps be read with profit by many who are unable to tackle the mathematical theory comprehensively. It may be also useful to have results of mathematical reasoning expanded into ordinary language for the benefit of mathematicians themselves, who are sometimes too apt to work out results without a sufficient statement of their meaning and effect. . . .


With a data base (texts, authors) chosen by factional analysis or tradition, the meaning and effect of its quantification might not translate well. Thanks to Pervez, we see some math itself isn’t trustworthy.


No matter how eminent they may be in their departments, officials need not be scientific men. It is not expected of them. But should they profess to be, and lay down the law outside their knowledge, and obstruct the spreading of views they cannot understand, their official weight imparts a fictitious importance to their views, and acts most deleteriously in propagating error, especially when their official position is held up as a screen to protect them from criticism. . . .      


Mathematics is reasoning about quantities. Even if qualities are in question, it is their quantities that are subjected to the mathematics. If there be something which cannot be reduced to a quantity . . . then that something cannot be accurately reasoned about, because it is in part unknown. Not unknown in the [algebraic] sense . . . but literally unknown . . . . The unknown is not necessarily unknowable.


As regards [mathematical] limitations . . . refer to the sciences connected with living matter, and to the ologies generally, to see that the facts and their connections are too indistinctly known to render mathematical analysis practicable . . . . (Oliver Heaviside, 1893)


Decades ago, I heard from Elliott & Valenza of an attribution method wherein a test-word list had been tweaked to pass control-plays as Shakespearean—and to verify the method by passing or failing other texts satisfactorily. How it worked, they couldn’t say—yet it worked. Granted, to a point. I’ve not fully accepted that varying word-lists to see what happens is ‘connecting with living matter’ in the indistinct form of textual history. Pervez Rizvi alludes to such methods:


We may distinguish between . . . attribution methods, stable and unstable. A stable method is . . . defined once and is then always the same no matter which texts you use it for. Zeta . . . is largely stable – perhaps we may say semi-stable – but not wholly so. Having chosen the texts, the researcher must still choose which of them are in the base and which in the counter . . . . Nevertheless, there is a high degree of objectivity, and therefore stability, in Zeta. Function word adjacency network . . . is an extreme example of an unstable method. The researcher must choose one from literally trillions of possible sets of function words, and trust that, because it gives the right answer for the training texts, it will also give the right answer for the text of unknown authorship. . . . (‘Which N-grams, pt. 1’)


Chosen texts lead to mathematical objectivity, well-chosen or not. I believe Shakespeare scholarship has not advanced to match ‘sets of function words’ quantitatively to ‘sets of playtexts’ with assurance that quality can be ignored. I suspect Shakespearean diction (‘so to speak’) influenced authors to unappreciated extents. It’s risky to date plays biographically; assume collaboration; deny reporting and non-authorial alteration; overlook plagiarism and copy-catting (whole Hamlets); or to presume that Shakespeare was learning from inferiors. Scholarship may eventually recognize contamination in the very playtexts tested for attribution—and in the control texts. Like us, early theater was a digestion tube reliant on symbiosis to support its complicated life.


After trying shorthand on Tamings (they look ‘bad’), I’ve glanced at other T’s: Titus, Timon, and Troilus. It’s amazing how quickly editors sweep evidence under the ‘foul papers’ carpet-canard—before having their go at problems. NOS demagoguery positing authorial revision of a Lear authorial draft represented by Q1 has long hampered analysis, on “We have spoken” grounds. Now Shakespearians are romanced by *collarboration* (sometimes I let misprints pass for wit; nothing else works) with Marlowe. There’s an ongoing effort to re-inject Thomas Kyd into the debate, based in part on some pretty convincing, old-fashioned analysis. If such arguments are not allowed to be played out, attribution may be confined to quantity, when quality is what brung us here.


Gerald E. Downs




Shakespeare a Bad Role Model in Elizabethan Times?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0415  Friday, 30 November 2018


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

Date:         November 29, 2018 at 5:37:48 PM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare a Bad Role Model in Elizabethan Times?


Buried in all the posts about n-grams and lemmatized text is a real person, Shakespeare, and his plays—however many he wrote or collaborated on. Thankfully, a writer named Ruth Goodman is available to remind us of the humanity of Shakespeare and his world. 


In How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves, and Braggarts (Liveright, 2018), she even suggests that Shakespeare was a bad role model in Elizabethan times. Alida Becker in her NYT review ( relays this judgment:


“Admittedly, he wasn’t the very worst example,” [Goodman] allows, “but taking your words from the playhouse was very bad form. Butchers quoted ‘Hamlet,’ not gentlemen. ... A comprehensive knowledge of something like Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear,’ after all, was indicative of multiple afternoons spent at the playhouse idly enjoying oneself in the company of common citizens, right next door to bearbaiting and brothels.” And that scene in “Hamlet” where the prince faces Ophelia “ungarter’d,” with his doublet “all unbrac’d”? A man’s bare shins “were as far down the actual nudity road as the play could go without censorship, but it was still sufficient to add a frisson of shock to the scene.”


Now, interlude over, let’s get back to Zeta tests and unbrace that text!



Al Magary




Portuguese Richard III Files

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0413  Wednesday, 28 November 2018


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

Date:         Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Subject:    Portuguese Richard III Files


New on the Scholarly Resources: Reference Files section of the SHAKSPER web site:


These files on Richard III are in Portuguese – a volunteer to translate them into English would be welcomed. They were submitted by Edson Tadeu Ortolan of the Conservatorio Carlos Gomes – Campinas/Brasil.



Portuguese Richard 3


Edson Tadeu Ortolan from the Conservatorio Carlos Gomes – Campinas/Brasil submitted the following for understanding the world of Shakespeare’s Richard III. All the PDF texts are in Portuguese and may be translated into English. The informal style of the texts is intended for youth audiences: (1) Ricardo 3º e os Lugares (Geography of Richard 3º), (2) Ricardo 3º e a Politica (Political Context of Richard 3º), (3) Ricardo 3º e a Religiao (Religious Context of Richard 3º), (4) Ricardo 3º no Teatro (Richard 3º at the Theatre), and (5) Ricardo 3º e Trivialidades (Other things in Richard 3º). 



MM Ending Query

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0414  Wednesday, 28 November 2018


[1] From:        Neema Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 27, 2018 at 2:31:53 PM EST

     Subj:         Measure for Measure at The Donmar Warehouse 


[2] From:        Anna Kamaralli <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 27, 2018 at 4:30:46 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: MM Ending 




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

Date:         November 27, 2018 at 2:31:53 PM EST

Subject:    Measure for Measure at The Donmar Warehouse


A few weeks back we discussed Measure for Measure, last night I saw an extremely interesting new performance at the Donmar. Over the past several years, I’ve taken classes to see over 50 Shakespeare productions in London (maybe soon I’ll produce a top 5 or a top 10). Probably the best was Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 at the Globe (starring Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Hal), but last night’s Measure for Measure might be the most interesting. I encourage people who can go to see it. ***SPOILERS BELOW**




This production is fascinating because it is in period dress with Isabella in a plain costume vaguely reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale. The Duke is sufficiently scheming, Angelo sufficiently austere / diabolical, Claudio sufficiently suffering and so on. The scenes between Angelo and Isabella made for uncomfortable viewing as Angelo’s advances, tantamount to assault, left Isabella visibly shaking. There were a number of loud screams at key junctures to bring home the seriousness of the situation.


However, what happened at the end of the play was audacious and unexpected. After the Duke’s proposal, Isabelle let out another scream and the stage went black. When the lights came back up, she was dressed in a modern corporate suit and high heels. All of the characters were no in modern dress, including the Duke who then proceeded with his opening speech. Only this time he transferred his power to Isabelle not Angelo. They proceeded to perform the play AGAIN in its entirety, this time in modern dress, with Isabella in Angelo’s role and Angelo in Isabelle’s. Angelo thus became Claudio’s brother and Maria was switched with “Frederick the Merchant”. I can seldom recall being more intrigued by a production. I have long been sceptical of cross-gender casting which too often ends up saying nothing at all, but in this case – in which we essentially see the same play re-run with roles reversed, and considering the subject matter in the current context – it was extremely thought provoking. If anyone is working on Measure for Measure in performance, this one demands some closer analysis. 


Neema Parvini

Senior Lecturer in English

 University of Surrey



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

Date:         November 27, 2018 at 4:30:46 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MM Ending


The first instance I have been able to find of an Isabella not immediately, automatically accepting the Duke was Estelle Kohler in 1970. According to the artists she was left wondering what to do, but audiences took it as a clear rejection and critics were shocked. Since then, Isabellas have walked away leaving everyone on stage behind, submitted unwillingly to what was clearly a forced marriage, slapped him, spat at him, slapped him and then kissed him, appeared to accept him and then panicked and run, and in a production I saw just last summer, taken the microphone he was using from his hand to deliver portions of the final speech, making it clear that she was accepting him in order to play an active role in the better ruling of the state.


Like many directors, I confess I liked the ending we used in my production best. The actress playing Isabella said, in rehearsal, “I’ll hear what he has to say about why he did this, but don’t ask me for more than that.” So, after his second proposal, our Isabella moved to a downstage corner and turned her back to him, looking out at the audience. The Duke on, “So bring us to our palace where we’ll show / What’s yet behind that’s meet you all should know” gestured to Escalus to see everybody out. Once they had all left he remained behind centre stage and, as the lights went down, Isabella turned to face him, ready to talk..


Anna Kamaralli




The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0412  Tuesday, 27 November 2018


[1] From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         November 27, 2018 at 4:48:07 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS 


[2] From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:        Tuesday, November 27, 2018

     Subj:         Stating the Obvious




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

Date:         November 27, 2018 at 4:48:07 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS


I’m glad Rizvi chanced upon this rare phrase, as it is one that helps to make my case. If I want to run a phrase-matching search through a tool such as EEBO-TCP, using lemmatized text is a good idea...[but]...I certainly advise against using it as evidence of authorship. 


With due thanks to Laurie Johnson for the advice, the question whether lemmatized texts should or should not be used as evidence of authorship is not a matter to be settled by his opinion or anyone else’s. It is an empirical matter, to be settled by testing our theories against the evidence. That is why last time I asked the (rhetorical) question about who has done the study on this.


So just because the phrase “glassy stream/s” appears in three plays that we nominally attribute to Shakespeare does not constitute proof of his authorship...Phrase-matching is not evidence of authorship. 


As to Laurie’s purported correction that finding the phrase in three plays “does not constitute proof of his authorship”, I was not daft enough to say that, nor would anyone else be. “Phrase-matching is not evidence of authorship” is Laurie attempting to assert his authority on a question that can only be answered empirically. If he does insist upon it, then once again he gets much more than he bargains for, since his doctrine consigns to the recycling bin not just the Authorship Companion but countless other studies, and not just in the field of Shakespeare studies but outside it too. 


Rather, I argue, it merely contributes to our understanding of the fields of influence within which early modern playwrights and other writers plied their trade. 


That is so woolly that it could be used as a comment on just about anything out of a text, rather like the Clown’s all-purpose “Oh Lord, sir!” in All’s Well. This kind of comment passes for scholarship in literary criticism but it won’t do in relation to a question of historical fact - who wrote what? That can be settled only by historical records or by an analysis of a sufficient quality and quantity of internal evidence.


It is telling that Rizvi has to ask in what way “walk” is different from “walks”...[grammar lesson follows]


I think Laurie knows that was not the question I asked.


Lemmatized text is useless for this purpose. Tests on multiple verbs using word-based searching will reveal whether or not this is a viable marker of stylistic difference.


Laurie exhibited the other examples of “glassy stream” because he did a search of LION or EEBO-TCP or some such resource. That is the modern form of the traditional method of parallel hunting. It used to be done by scholars who knew not just Shakespeare by heart but other authors too. Nowadays we have the electronic resources, which is better. I like that method and have a lot of respect for it. In the right hands, it can yield valuable insights. But it is categorically different to what I have been doing. I have published phrase matches in industrial quantities. That was the point of doing the work. Even if we consider only ‘unique’ matches (and “glassy stream” is not unique by my definition) we have tens of thousands of matching phrases; looking at non-unique matches takes us into the hundreds of thousands of matches, depending on how many plays or authors we consider. Data on this scale is not amenable to the technique Laurie employed, of manual data gathering and interpretation. It can only be analyzed by quantitative methods. 


Similarly, whether for authorship attribution we should confine our attention to plays, or consider other types of writing too, is an empirical question, not one that Laurie can settle for us with his authority. When he tells us that:


There are, however, many examples provided in the attribution literature of tests performed with word forms where one author does prefer one form over another, and these are forms marked by differences that testing lemmatized text will miss.


My reply is that of course lemmatized testing will miss those differences (at least using the lemmata that I used), just as word-based testing will miss “glassy streams” and thousands of other matches. To what extent that leads to right or wrong attributions is - and there is no way to say this without repeating myself - an empirical question. We need to do the experiments and find out. 


I offered this example in my critique as evidence of how different the results are when searching for one or the other on the n-gram search engine (lemmatized text produces 1290 hits, original spelling produces 68 hits), and Rizvi refuses to comment on the statistical significance of such difference, since stating instead that “I stand by what I wrote”, meaning he stands by the claim made in his article that lemmatized text produces only “slightly different” results. 


Laurie will continue to misrepresent my article, because he did not understand it (to be fair to him, it’s been convincingly suggested to me offline that he is only a proxy here for another (named) scholar who prefers to stay in the shadows. Greater love hath no man...).



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

Date:        Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Subject:    Stating the Obvious


Since it has come up in a private email exchange with me, I would like to point out the obvious that Attribution Studies are far different than the topic banned in 1995 – the so-called “Authorship Question.”


Please give me a break and do not respond to me on this issue.






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