The texts of Shakespeare; Co-Author

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.082  Friday, 15 February 2017


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

Date:         February 16, 2017 at 4:00:11 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: The texts of Shakespeare; Co-Author


Pervez Rizvi writes of Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest' that:


> A conflated version may not be one that ever passed

> under Wilde's nose, but it is a wholly fair

> representation of his art.


Even were this true of Wilde’s play (which I do not concede), if an editor is sure that Shakespeare did not merely add to or take away from ‘King Lear’ to create two versions but actually substituted something in one version for something in the other, then logically a conflation cannot be a fair representation of his art since he did not intend both to be present. To use the memorable image employed by Stanley Wells in this regard, the discovery that an artist has altered a portrait by redrawing the eyes in a different position would not justify a modern reproduction of that portrait conflating the versions to give the sitter four eyes instead of two.


One might argue that the ‘King Lear’ editor is wrong to believe in revision, but that is a different matter. Rizvi writes “So I am happy to trust in the judgement and labour of the professional Wilde editor and let him create a version for me to enjoy”. The same trust in the ‘King Lear’ editor’s judgement leads inexorably to accepting that if she is sure about authorial revision, she cannot conflate.  Any reasonable objection to the ‘King Lear’ two-text hypothesis must attack the revision premise, not its inevitable editorial consequences.


I’ll confine my response to Jim Carroll to remarking that no authorship-attribution method is reliable at the level of a single line, so counting how often words and phrases in 2 Henry 6 4.2.82 occur in the canons of Shakespeare and Marlowe does not construct a persuasive argument about its author. If Carroll is willing to expand his purview to include more of the play, he will find that his counts start to agree with those of other investigators who disagree with him about Shakespeare’s sole-authorship of that play.


Gabriel Egan




Jews & Muslims in Shakespeare’s World

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.081  Friday, 15 February 2017


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

Date:         February 16, 2017 at 3:38:23 PM EST

Subject:    "Jews & Muslims in Shakespeare’s World" (February 22, Rhodes College)


The Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College is pleased to host Jerry Brotton and James Shapiro for a symposium on "Jews & Muslims in Shakespeare’s World" oWednesday, February 22 (6pm Hardie Auditorium; reception 5:30pm):


This event is free and open to the public, thanks to the co-sponsorship of Communities in ConversationEnglishTheatreUrban Studies, and the Rhodes Lecture Board. The discussion will be recorded and later posted online. 


Please feel free to contact me for more information.


Yours sincerely,

Scott Newstok <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Director, Pearce Shakespeare Endowment

Professor of English

Rhodes College





The Pearce Shakespeare Endowment was established in 2007 to enrich courses in Shakespeare and support events for the entire campus as well as the greater Memphis community. Dr. Iris Annette Pearce attended Rhodes College in the 1940s, when it was named Southwestern at Memphis, before graduating from Vanderbilt University. During World War II, she joined the women’s corps of the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES). As a medical student, she followed a long-established path in her family, where four generations of physicians preceded her. Yet she was also breaking new ground as a woman: she was one of only two female students in her University of Tennessee class; she served as the first female internal medicine resident at John Gaston Hospital (The Med); and she eventually became the director of the City of Memphis Hospitals while serving as a professor at the University of Tennessee. Her bequest generously continues to support her lifelong enthusiasm for Shakespeare. The late professor of Shakespeare studies at Rhodes, Dr. Cynthia Marshall, was instrumental in establishing preliminary planning for this bequest.




The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.080  Thursday, 14 February 2017


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

     Date:         February 14, 2017 at 2:53:32 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: Co-Author


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

     Date:         February 14, 2017 at 8:25:58 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: Co-Author




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

Date:         February 14, 2017 at 2:53:32 PM EST

Subject:    Re: Co-Author


It is understandable that the discussion of the utility vel non of word frequency in attributing authorship would lead Tony Burton to think of clusters of images of the sort identified by Caroline Spurgeon and others.  That phenomenon might or might not have been a deliberate device to evoke a particular “atmosphere” peculiar to the plays in which they appear; or it could have resulted from Shakespeare’s free association.  The word frequency methodologies used in statistical stylometry are entirely different.  For those features to be helpful in ascribing authorship they must be entirely subconscious mannerisms consistently appearing in an author’s entire oeuvre, so that word frequencies are stylistic fingerprints justifying an inference that works in which the same frequencies appear are by the same person.



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

Date:         February 14, 2017 at 8:25:58 PM EST

Subject:    Re: Co-Author


To Anthony Burton: It’s not a “Carroll-Downs” catfight, since I haven’t addressed a single word to Downs. Your mention of image clusters is yet another way to address authorship, but it can’t be the only way because many images are not repeated more than once, and the ones that are repeated involve only a relatively small portion of the text. Convincing evidence for me involves the habitual use of particular collocations, and the use of the same words in the same or similar contexts (which would include image clusters). 


Gabriel Egan complains that he didn’t use the phrase “literal strings”. But if we were supposed to interpret “strings” otherwise, what was the point of complaining about WordCruncher? Obviously, finding the words is the first step. Then you have to read the context for other clues.


I know Gabriel Egan doesn’t want to deal with real evidence. He, and many others, simply want to spin a fantasy concerning Shakespeare’s authorship by ignoring Shakespeare and looking for likenesses in other authors. I’m reading now about another bad attribution (Middleton in Measure for Measure) in the Jowett/Taylor book “Shakespeare Reshaped”, where the same lack of logic and doubtful opinions (such as: the song that begins 4.1 in MfM doesn’t fit the context - ?? and that somehow is used as evidence that the play was revised) are considered evidence. Then the book is cited in a later paper by the same authors as “proof” (their words) that Middleton wrote parts of MfM. The self-citing is a great game, but it doesn’t make it true. Middleton in MfM isn’t any more likely than Marlowe’s involvement in 2H6. For example:


Consider just a single line from the passage I quoted earlier that includes “Let’s kill all the lawyers”. Last time, I compared 15 lines to half a dozen or so early plays, this time I will compare just a single line from that passage to all of Shakespeare in the Riverside (excluding Pericles and H8):


Some say the bee stings, but I say, ‘tis the bee’s wax; for I did but seal

once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.      2H6 4.2.82


While “I did” appears several times in Marlowe, especially in Jew of Malta, “I did but” does not appear at all. Shakespeare used it 7 times (excluding instances of “...I did, but...”), mostly in early works: twice in Venus and Adonis, once in 1H6, once in R3, once in Shrew and twice in MfM, the only later play. Most readers will recall “Soft! I did but dream....” from R3.


While “some say” appears in Marlowe’s Hero & Leander, “some say the” does not appear anywhere. Some readers may recall “Some say the lark makes sweet division” from R&J, and it appears again two lines later. “Some say the....” also appears in Troilus & Cressida and Macbeth (the comma after “say” in Macbeth doesn’t change the meaning in this case).


Even “the bee” doesn’t appear in Marlowe, only “bee’s” in Hero and Leander. Shakespeare famously use it in the Tempest (“Where the bee sucks, there suck I”) and two more times in 2H4.


There are many more Shakespeareanisms in this one line, but these examples should be sufficient to make the point. Consider the function words in that line. Both Marlowe and Shakespeare use them all, so how could anything definitive be determined from them? Certainly you could observe broad trends, such as Shakespeare’s decreasing use of them over his career (which is another way of saying his grade level increases over time) or that there are similarities or dissimilarities with other writers, but there is no way to use function words, no matter how the statistics are dressed up, to make a definitive attribution. And no matter how many papers Egan wants me to read, they can’t make the likenesses to Shakespeare and the dissimilarities to Marlowe go away. Quantity does not beat quality.


Jim Carroll




New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.079  Thursday, 14 February 2017


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

Date:         February 16, 2017 at 11:02:55 AM EST

Subject:    New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion


In the NEW OXFORD SHAKESPEARE’s AUTHORSHIP COMPANION (Oxford, 2017)), Gary Taylor and Rory Loughnane observe:


“T.B. Horton (1987) proposed John Fletcher as author [of The London Prodigal], and Thomas Merriam (1992) supported this attribution. Building on Horton’s work, Robert A. J. Matthews and Merriam (1993) proposed that Shakespeare wrote Act I. But their attribution studies focused on only the works of Shakespeare and Fletcher, a two-horse race in which someone had to win.” The New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion, 599.


T. B. Horton did not propose John Fletcher as the author of The London Prodigal. This fact can be confirmed by consulting his 1987 dissertation at is no mention of The London Prodigal. The attribution to Fletcher was mine in 1992. As to the ‘two-horse race in which someone had to win”, I wrote at the time: “Unless all plays of the period are examined, there must remain the prospect that a best-fit hypothesis for Fletcher’s authorship is incorrect. Another author, either known or unknown, might produce a better all-round stylistic fit.” (Merriam, 1992, 296).


Earlier in the Authorship Companion Taylor and Loughnane observe:


Thomas Merriam (2006), though making an ill-founded case elsewhere for Shakespeare’s authorship of the original text [of Sir Thomas More], identifies eight collocations that occur in IIc in other works by Shakespeare but nowhere else in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Authorship Companion, 550.


As the main reference in the Companion’s Works Cited linking my name with the Original Text of More is the doctoral thesis of 1992, I would claim my “ill-founded case” for Shakespeare’s authorship of the Original Text of Sir Thomas More there was ringed with the same proviso as for Fletcher with The London Prodigal. Using a set of 44 stylometric habits previously employed by others as criteria, I found that the Original Text of More showed a greater affinity to a 22-play Shakespeare core canon than 31 other machine readable non-Shakespearean plays in modern spelling.  The sums of chi squares ranged from 60.0 for the Original Text, and 61.5 for Pericles at the lower end of the table to the two Tamburlaines at 358.4 and 392.9 at the other.


 I consequently wrote, “The table neatly conveys the nature of the best-fit hypothesis of Shakespeare’s authorship of More. The hypothesis exists partly as a heuristic device to invite a deeper and broader analysis, in order to confirm or refute, - and partly as something more, a proto-truth, capable of replacement and change. The best-fit hypothesis of Shakespearean authorship can be replaced by a better hypothesis on discovery of a single non-Shakespearean play with a test result of less than 60.0.”


On the other hand, the “ill-founded” case for the authorship of the Original Text of Sir Thomas More could refer to the other Original Text of More citation under my name in the Companion’s Works Cited - “Six-word Collocations in Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More (2009). Here I concluded that there were three conclusions to be drawn from the evidence evinced in the note: (a) the shared collocations were formulaic, stock phrases in common use and thus not indicative of authorship; (b) that the reputed authors Munday and Chettle copied the collocations from Shakespeare; (c) Shakespeare was repeating himself in the Original Text of More. I concluded in connection with (c) that “This view can be refined by further study of the replication of six-word collocations in English literature, and especially in suspected memorial reconstruction.  It cannot be ruled out without consideration.”  Which is what the Authorship Companion has done in using the blanket dismissal “ill-founded case”.


I conclude that the authors of “The Canon and Chronology of Shakespeare’s Works” were “economical with the truth” in reading two of my cited writings.




de Grazia on Vickers

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.077  Thursday, 14 February 2017


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

Date:         February 15, 2017 at 8:36:35 AM EST

Subject:    Re: From TLS - The texts of Shakespear


We don’t usually comment on the TLS reviews Hardy posts for us but I felt I had to speak up about Margreta de Grazia’s review of Vickers’ book on Lear, although I have been rather vocal lately, because the points de Grazia makes too often go unchallenged.


She writes: “But the claim that Lear was always one is misleading. For the century after Shakespeare’s death, two Lears (at least) were in circulation...” If anything, it is de Grazia rather than Vickers who is misleading here. From the fact that two versions of Lear were in circulation we cannot say that there were two Lears by Shakespeare, any more than we could say that de Grazia had written two versions of her review if I made a copy of the TLS version and introduced some variants of my own into it. The most we can say is that the greater the number of variants between two versions of a work, the stronger the presumption that the author wrote two versions. Even then, it is only a presumption and might be wrong, for example if one version was corrupt. For that reason, de Grazia is wrong when she goes on to write that “But it [the conflated text] cannot be Shakespeare’s original Lear...” We will never know what Shakespeare actually wrote but if we are willing to accept in principle that emendations by editors might bring us closer to what he wrote than the original printed texts with their warts ‘n all, then I do not see why conflation might not do the same.


De Grazia goes on to say: “Scholars can study the two in facsimile, but non-specialists should have access to both in modern editions, as well as to the other plays of the canon that exist in more than one early text...” Why? To say that most readers are better off with a conflated text because they do not worry their heads about the Q/F variants is not to suggest that they are less intelligent than the specialists; rather, it is a recognition and a consequence of the fact that we all specialise in different things. I love The Importance of Being Earnest. I know Wilde wrote two versions of it, the 4-act version and the 3-act version. But I am not a Wilde specialist and have neither time nor desire to be one. So I am happy to trust in the judgement and labour of the professional Wilde editor and let him create a version for me to enjoy. And what he creates is sometimes a conflated version (I have one such at home and used to have a different one). A conflated version may not be one that ever passed under Wilde’s nose, but it is a wholly fair representation of his art.


Editors exist partly to transmit the culture, through editions that the rest of us read. In my opinion, modern Shakespeare editing has taken a huge wrong turn, the worst examples being its two-text editions of Lear, and still more the one-text (quarto) edition that Oxford gave us in 2000 and the New Oxford has just given us again.




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