The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.04406  Friday, 14 December 2018


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

Date:         December 13, 2018 at 1:39:16 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: NOS




Pervez Rizvi reckons that “the [microattribution] method probably is what Egan tells us it is, but Taylor described it wrongly in his SQ article”.  I’m glad to hear this, since it means that whatever other merits Rizvi’s article possesses it cannot stand as a demonstration (by replication) that the microattribution method doesn’t work. By definition, refutation-by-replication requires one to replicate the method. Rizvi has shown that the method he used, which led to 759 matches, doesn’t work; but refuting that method is not a comment on the microattribution method that led to 18 matches. In his article, Rizvi could have claimed that Taylor’s phrasing should have been clearer about just what he did, and I’d agree to that. But then I’m always saying to people in this field that they need to be clearer about exactly what they did.


I agree with one aspect of Rizvi’s critique of Taylor’s actual method, when he complains that Taylor switched from counting tokens to counting types upon finding that a single validation run showed that counting tokens gives the wrong result. I made exactly that point—that I would want more validation runs before drawing such a conclusion about method—when I reviewed Taylor’s article in The Year’s Work in English Studies 95 (2016): 402-405. (This review is available in Open Access form on my website.) I also made other criticisms of Taylor’s article, which I won’t mention here because I’d like those who are interested to go to the review and see for themselves that I did. I point this out because it has been claimed on this list that I never criticize what my fellow New Oxford Shakespeare editors have published. I do make such criticisms and I welcome the same in return. That’s how we progress.


I’ll end with a point of substance rather than commentary on how we argue. Rizvi writes that he “used exactly the attributions I state in the files he [Egan] downloaded from my website, i.e. the attributions I got from S[hakespeare H[is] C[ontemporaries]” (that is, Martin Mueller’s moribund project of that name). Since these attributions are, by common agreement, wrong in claiming Shakespeare’s sole-authorship of 1, 2, 3 Henry VI, Henry VIII, Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Timon of Athens, and Titus Andronicus, how did Rizvi avoid giving (in his tables of whose canons are being hit by his 759 matches) Shakespeare the credit for what other men wrote? I’m not asking about his calculations of overall canon size—I accept of course that even when we factor in co-authorship Shakespeare’s is still the largest canon—but rather I’m asking about the counts that underpin his tables. Surely the counts of whose canons are being matched will be wrong if they are based on attributing to Shakespeare substantial chunks of writing that we all agree aren’t his.



Gabriel Egan




MM Ending Query

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0445  Friday, 14 December 2018


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

     Date:         December 13, 2018 at 12:55:08 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: MM Ending 


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

     Date:         December 14, 2018 at 10:30:56 AM EST

     Subj:         MM Ending 




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

Date:         December 13, 2018 at 12:55:08 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MM Ending


I notice the lengths that many commentators go to try to preserve the view that Shakespeare always attempts deep psychological and spiritual efforts to draw characters in his plays.


Can’t we see that Shakespeare has in Measure for Measure given a tour de force in order to be able to spin a narrative in which the judgments that characters make are later visited on them, giving them a taste of what it’s like to be in the other person’s predicament. In this, the character and the play’s audience learn humility in their intensely seeing and feeling the other person’s challenges as their own. This is a viewpoint actually drawn in Shakespeare’s, 2henryIV, in which the Chief Justice urges Henry V in his making a judgement to consider the following: “Question your royal thoughts, make the case yours.”


This I think is a worthy goal of a dramatist, which I think succeeds in MM in that it is not so obvious that Duke Vencentio is actually tampered with to become the dramatist’s pawn to create this dramatic world in which all these reversals can happen.



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

Date:         December 14, 2018 at 10:30:56 AM EST

Subject:    MM Ending


Thanks to all who responded to my questions about MM. Though I have seen many productions (the most recent being last weekend’s production of MM at FDU), I cannot comment usefully on the various performance choices listed by Alan Dessen. Nor can I illuminate contemporary references in the plays, such as Thomas Krause proposes. As to Brian Bixley’s quotes from MM and the Odyssey on the discomforts of death, I can only say that I am old enough to feel their force.


I especially appreciate Robert Projansky’s thoughtful reading, particularly as he traces the difficulty of Isabella’s final act of mercy after the violence of her initial reaction: 


When she is first told in IV iii that Angelo has betrayed the bargain and has had Claudio executed, her natural reaction is to exclaim


Oh, I wil to him, and plucke out his eies.


By contrast with this reaction, reminiscent of Beatrice’s violent desire to eat Claudio’s heart out in the marketplace in MAdo, Isabella’s final act of mercy clearly signals her transformation. But Robert Projansky does not credit the Duke with a similar change or any change at all:


the Duke doesn’t show much in the way of growth and change over the play


This assumption lies behind readings of the Duke as a mere plot device or an omniscient manipulator. I would suggest that it also flies in the face of the rest of the canon. In no other mature play that I can recall does a major character remain static from beginning to end. In order to maintain that view we must discount the Duke’s “Be absolute for death” speech, as Projansky suggests. But there is plenty of other evidence that the Duke is a human, flawed character, (“an advocate for death”), before encountering Isabella. 


Among the ironies of the Duke’s monk’s disguise is his ignorance of Catholic doctrine, specifically in confusing a “sin” with the “sinner.” Even the novice Isabella knows better and makes the distinction the basis of her argument with Angelo. In their first encounter she pleads:


I have a brother is condemn’d to die;

I do beseech you, let it be his fault,

And not my brother.


Angelo responds with the necessary secular view:


Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?

Why, every fault’s condemn’d ere it be done:

Mine were the very cipher of a function 

To fine the faults …

And let go by the actor. (2.2.34-41)


At this refusal, Isabella accedes to the “law” and turns to go. Her only prepared petition was to advance the Church’s spiritual view that sinners should be punished for their sins but must not be identified with them.  Like Angelo—even going him one better—the Duke not only condemns the sinner but also condemns the innocent fruit of fornication. “Repent you, fair one,” he asks Juliet, “of the sin you carry?” The metaphor is telling. (See too his curious mentions of children and youth in 1.3.) Might not this confusion explain the Duke’s reluctance to impose order on Vienna, for to eradicate the “sins” would require “gelding and splaying all the youths of the city” and ultimately to impose the precise sentence levied on Claudio?


And the Duke’s badgering interview with Juliet also exposes his callousness. After she reiterates her repentance, he parts from her with this speech: 


                                    There rest.

Your partner, as I hear, must die tomorrow,

And I am going with instruction to him.

Grace go with you. Benedicite!  Exit.


Must die tomorrow! O injurious love,

That respites me a life, whose very comfort

Is still a dying horror!


Is this the consolation that a friar brings, the “charity” that the Duke told the Provost motivated his visit? To drop the news of Claudio’s impending death and then walk out?


Finally, there is the parallel between the Duke and Angelo to be considered. For both, their “substitute selves” protect them from slander, as the Duke explains in 1.3 (40-43) and Angelo echoes in 4.4: 


For my authority bears so credent bulk

That no particular scandal once can touch

But it confounds the breather (24-26).


In addition to their reclusive natures, the Duke and Angelo have in common, for different reasons and to different degrees, the need for a disguise. I find the Duke’s reiterated fear of slander to be an important aspect of his character. Given the importance of forgiveness in other Shakespeare plays, from the deft hints in KJ through the mutual forgiveness of Hamlet and Laertes to Prospero’s sweeping pardons, the forgiveness the Duke extends to Lucio for his slanders signals a significant change. For one obvious thing, it confirms that the Duke has disentangled his personal feelings from his governing responsibilities; Lucio’s slanders are forgiven, but his treatment of Kate Keepdown is not. Publicly and in his own person, the Duke brings to each of the couples a just, if often painful, resolution in the generically comic ending.


There is another less immediate reason that I locate the Duke’s change in 3.1. Folio MM has seventeen scenes; the Duke introduces the bed trick in the scene immediately following the central scene, the position in which the narrative turn and psychological changes occur in most other mature plays: Falconbridge’s “thousand businesses,” Othello’s “seduction,” the initiation of the bed trick in AWW, Imogen’s male disguise, etc. I realize that mere assertion does not make this claim convincing and that even to isolate the “central scene” of most plays is to invite dispute. But I have defended the claim at length elsewhere, and I mention it here only to point out a seldom remarked but pervasive feature of Shakespeare’s construction.


These observations do not, of course, exhaust the Duke’s character. But I hope they encourage a closer look at its interiority, perhaps along the lines remarked by Robert Polansky and by Harry Keyeshian’s acute observation on the similarity of MM and WT.




Boycott International Journal of English and Cultural Studies

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0444  Friday, 14 December 2018


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

Date:         December 13, 2018 at 1:08:43 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Boycott


Good of John Cox to bring this up. I get multiple solicitations a month from the likes of (making this up) The Journal of Interdisciplinary Humanities Research. This pay-to-play faux academic journal thing is a big industry. 


I’m thinking older scholars, who haven’t grown up steeped in and savvy to the internet culture and techniques of fraud and deception, might be particularly susceptible. But youngsters should watch out too. Publishing in these journals won’t do much, or anything, for your tenure track, will they?




CFP: Authorship Studies in Early Modern Drama and Literature

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0443  Friday, 14 December 2018


From:        Darren Freebury-Jones <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 14, 2018 at 10:01:48 AM EST

Subject:    Call for Papers: ‘Authorship Studies in Early Modern Drama and Literature’ 


Dear SHAKSPERians,


Please see the CFP below. All interested SHAKSPERians are encouraged to submit abstracts.


CALL FOR PAPERS: ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews (2020)


I am pleased to announce that I will be guest editor for a special issue of American Notes and Queries (scheduled to be published in 2020) titled: ‘Authorship Studies in Early Modern Drama and Literature’. 


The issue will address authorship during the early modern period, including, but not limited to, the works of Shakespeare and his Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporary writers; canonicity; attribution studies; evaluating and/or introducing methodologies for discriminating writers; the current state of authorship studies; digital innovations and textual analyses of plays, poems, and other genres; corpus linguistics; co-authorship; as well as reviews of books concerning authorship, attribution, canonicity, and textual studies written within the last five years. 



Main deadlines:


1 April 2019:

Please send an abstract of up to 250 words and a working title to the guest editor (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). 


31 May 2019:

Notification of acceptance.


1 August 2019:

Submission of articles and reviews for the special issue to the journal:


Please note that articles must comply with the editorial norms and must not exceed 7,000 words. Book reviews must not exceed 1000 words. All articles are published in English. Please be so kind as to have your paper revised by a native speaker. 


Darren Freebury-Jones

Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies (International – USA)


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Henley Street




The Shakespeare Box

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0442  Friday, 14 December 2018


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

Date:         December 13, 2018 at 11:38:11 AM EST

Subject:    'The Shakespeare Box'


The current issue of The Ben Jonson Journal has, as its featured article, my piece on “Mr Shuckspr’se Box” ( which has been kindly reviewed here ( and by several other panjandrums, including Neil MacGregor (‘fascinating’) and Stephen Greenblatt (‘marvellous’). The doyen (I believe) of Italian Shakespearians, Fausto Cercignani, has been kind enough to weigh in - although he thinks it reads ‘Mr Shackspr’ rather than ‘Mr Shuckspr’ - which may well appeal to you, in particular, given the name of your site!


[Editor’s Note: SHAKSPER is spelled the way it is because when it was founded only eight characters were allowed in a name. It has remained that way for the past close to thirty years. -Hardy]


It’s an interesting Tudor artefact, to say the least, and I’m (slowly) putting together a blog ( password: palimpsest - all lower case) to fill out various other aspects of the story of the box and its ‘interrogation’ (there’s lots, and many more high resolution photographs, even unto microphotography).


I’m very much of the view that ‘the wisdom of the crowd’ might have some useful things to add to the enquiry - my own thoughts have been somewhat haphazard and fitful: for instance, I only realised after the last time I saw the box (with Eve McLaughlin) that the reverse of the lockplate is caked in (centuries of?) grime, and wondered whether, if either of these theatrical giants did have a hand in it, there might be a further ‘reveal’? 


Anyway, I do hope you enjoy the piece, and attach some (slightly higher) resolution photos for your amusement. I find the ‘W’ rather evocative, and somehow slightly festive, as I imagine the son of a glover and whittiwer personally punching the metal and send it in that spirit!


Attached Photo 1: 



Attached Photo 2:


Attached Photo 3:


Attached Photo 4:



Links to Additional Photos:


High resolution photos of the box and its inscriptions here as well as infra-red of the “Shuckspr” writing inside and some rather beautiful microphotography That’s before one gets on to Ben Jonson signature comparison! 


With best regards,





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