The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.146  Sunday, 24 March 2019


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

     Date:         March 22, 2019 at 6:09:32 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: NOS 


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

     Date:         March 23, 2019 at 2:53:08 AM EDT

     Subj:         RE: NOS Spanish Tragedy 


[3] From:        Mac Jackson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 23, 2019 at 4:04:30 AM EDT

     Subj:         Palgiarism Software 


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

     Date:         March 23, 2019 at 1:11:38 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: NOS 




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

Date:         March 22, 2019 at 6:09:32 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: NOS


John Briggs writes that ‘John Marston is the one playwright whose style is most likely to be confused with that of Shakespeare’. I must confess that having devoted a couple of solid years to examining Marston’s style, this is news to me. 


Here are the references for anyone interested in reading my co-authored articles on Marston’s canon:


Freebury-Jones, Darren, Marina Tarlinskaja, and Marcus Dahl. "Attributing John Marston’s Marginal Plays." Studia Metrica et Poetica 5.1 (2018): 28-51.


Freebury-Jones, Darren, Marina Tarlinskaja, and Marcus Dahl. "The Boundaries of John Marston's Dramatic Canon." Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 31 (2018): 43-11.


Jim Carroll dismisses links between Marston passages and The Spanish Tragedy Additions as ‘coincidence’. But the passages Carroll cites are not those that scholars have determined provide the strongest evidence of allusion or parody. A cursory reading of the secondary literature would reveal the passages in question. Indeed, in an earlier posting Gabriel Egan was perfectly clear in directing readers to the correct Additions as well as the pertinent page numbers in Brian Vickers’s essay, which remains an exemplary example of qualitative research methods for the purposes of authorship attribution. 


In my view, it is obvious that Marston is indeed referring to the Additions in his Antonio plays. I must also respectfully disagree with Pervez Rizvi and Gerald Downs, for parts of these Additions ‘scream’ Shakespeare to me.



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

Date:         March 23, 2019 at 2:53:08 AM EDT

Subject:    RE: NOS Spanish Tragedy 


Brian Vickers responded to my Spanish Tragedy opinions:


Jerry Downs (SHK 30.128) disputes Shakespeare’s authorship of the Spanish Tragedy Additions by selecting a few of the matches . . . taken as reliable evidence. He quotes from an earlier posting (2013), in which he mocked my use of anti-plagiarism software: “Vickers employs a program called ‘Pl@giarism’: how do we know plagiarism isn’t what it found?”


I selected from Brian’s selection; I don’t recall if any were left from which to choose. All instances are subject to analysis. All textual evidence is reliable, if reliably interpreted. I’m not sure how my question can be interpreted as mocking. Attribution study may underestimate those writers for whom writer’s block was less of an issue than it is today. I mentioned John Webster; others remain nameless because we can’t know their names. Studies of writers’ small blocks (additions, for example) omit the nameless. Borrowers and lenders were. It’s easy to tell when I’m joking—if you laugh, I am; if not, I’m not. 


His attempt to dismiss the matches as having been “borrowed” included the parallel I cited between mad Hieronimo’s listing the inconvenience of begetting a son (a form of self-consolation for having lost one):


 Being borne, it poutes, cryes, and breeds teeth. (Add. 3.11)


which finds a strange echo in Macbeth’s fear of the boy Fleance:


There the grown serpent lies: the worm that's fled

Hath nature that in time will venom breed,

No teeth for th'present. (Mac. 3.4.29–30)


Downs commented that “The greater probability . . . is that ‘breeds teeth’ is the strange echo”. But the Additions, published in 1602, antedate Macbeth by several years.


I’m not one to trust the dating of Shakespeare’s Folio-only plays for purposes of argument. I’m talking alternatives, not dismissal.


Downs cited the match between mad Hieronimo, desperately searching for his son:


  I prie through every crevice of each wall,

Looke on each tree, and search through every brake,

Beat at the bushes, stampe our grandam earth       (Add. 4.17)


and Aaron’s reminiscence:


I pried me through the Crevice of a Wall (Tit. 5.1.114)


Downs objected: “Does Shakespeare resort to senseless dialogue, even in madness? No one squeezes through every crevice of each wall.” As I glossed this speech in my 2012 essay, here Aaron recalls how he “gloatingly spied on the misfortunes of Titus”. Downs seems to have misunderstood “to pry”, which means “to look”, not to “squeeze through”.


I did misunderstand pry, misled I suppose by me, as usual. I hesitated over squeeze but since that was my take in 2013, I didn’t give it more thought. Nevertheless, the parallel can be borrowed, as any. The matter will be decided cumulatively, with some along for the ride.


Downs disputed the parallel cited by Stevenson between Hieronimo asking the painter to make a portrait of his family, with 


My wife Isabella standing by me, with a speaking looke to my sonne

Horatio … and my hand leaning upon his head, thus. (Add. 4.121–4)


and the painting or tapestry in The Rape of Lucrece, depicting the Fall of Troy, in which around Nestor “were a presse of gaping faces” (1408), all jumbled together: 


Here one mans hand leand on anothers head. (1415)


Downs objected: “Since 1594 anyone could recall or read Shakespeare’s representation”.


Had he read my essay more carefully he would have noticed my comment: “No similar collocation of thought and language has been found anywhere else in the period from 1580 to 1642”.


I don’t recall how carefully I read. However, Brian raises an issue that I’ve pondered quite a bit over the years, which applies also below: Rarity of a possibly borrowed parallel is irrelevant unless it’s oddly used.


One of the oddest matches between the Additions and Shakespeare’s canon comes in passage where Hieronimo, not yet considering taking personal revenge, affirms his faith in heavenly justice:


Well, heaven is heaven still.

And there is Nemesis and Furies,

And things called whippes,

And they sometimes doe meete with murderers,

They do not always scape, that's some comfort. (Add. 3.40–4)


That optimistic appeal to heavenly justice echoes the occurrence of justice fulfilled in 2 Henry VI, where Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester sends the rogue Saunder Simpcox off for punishment:


My masters of St Albons

Have you not Beadles in your Towne,

And Things called whippes? (2.1.132–4; Contention 663-5))


. . . . Downs seems to have misunderstood Hieronimo’s line “And they sometimes doe meete with murderers”, commenting “Further, in those days murderers were hung.” The word “they” refers to “Nemesis and Furies” meeting with murderers, who would certainly not be hanged.


I’ll concede Nemesis and Furies may not stoop to hanging. The ‘whippes’ line is not very effective, seems to me, for meeting murderers.


Finally, Downs quoted this match:


Gird in my wast of griefe with thy large darknesse (Add. 150)


And girdle with embracing flames the wast | of Collatine's fair loue (Lucr. 6–7)


and objected: “what is a ‘wast of grief’? The words seem borrowed.” There is surely no need to explain Shakespeare’s metaphors.


Why not? Some may have tried. Besides, the question is whether this metaphor is Shakespeare’s, or not.


My general point is that, as Downs shows, it is all too easy to pick out individual matches and subject them to ridicule. Readers need to consider the cumulative weight of the evidence. Even that didn’t satisfy Downs, who objected that the “Additions are loaded with Shakespeare collocations: to repeat my final observation [from 2013], they’re too many.” There’s no pleasing some people!


Again, I wasn’t ridiculing the matches; I’m questioning their handling in the Additions. Just what is a ‘wast of grief’? Neither do I question the parallels (that Brian picked out); I left that to the Pl@giarism software, and accept the total count as measurable against random passages from the canon. Wouldn’t it be easy to compare results? If there are more collocations in the Additions, as Brian implies, borrowed phrasing may explain the anomaly.


Some people are easily pleased, some not. Long ago I noticed a tendency to absolve those suspected of literary shenanigans (e.g., Collier) because their source material wouldn’t be well known or easily come by. But the forger has a world of information for his hunting ground; he’s the quizzer, not the quizzed. Similarly, a Webster-like pawer through Shakespeare’s phrasing would be the only judge of his choices. If a collocation is both distinctive and rare, that doesn’t constitute evidence of authorship any more than it does evidence of plagiarism, unless other considerations apply—in either direction.


Gerald E. Downs



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

Date:         March 23, 2019 at 4:04:30 AM EDT

Subject:    Palgiarism Software


Brian Vickers writes:


When MacDonald Jackson published an essay in RORD in 2008 disputing my attribution to Kyd of three anonymously-published plays he praised my innovation: “Vickers … had the excellent idea of using plagiarism software to search pairs of plays for shared three-word phrases”. However, since my method attributed Arden of Faversham to Kyd, Jackson contested both the method and the attribution, with some very dubious arguments, as will be seen when my long-delayed reply appears in what is now ROMARD. However, Jackson subsequently referred to my “pioneering use of anti-plagiarism software” and used it himself in connection with Cardenio.


Vickers is of course right that I praised his innovative idea of using plagiarism software to search pairs of plays for shared three-word phrases. He went on to test these for uniqueness within his database of early modern plays 1580-1596. The fault in his methodology that I pointed out in my RORD 2008 critique was that his searches of links to plays of the accepted Kyd canon were limited to the anonymous plays that he wished to attribute to Kyd. This meant that the anonymous plays’ uniquely shared phrases could be with work by no known author except Kyd. 


So I experimented with giving one of the anonymous plays the chance it had been denied. Replacing canonical Kyd plays with two plays not by Kyd, I showed that, when Vickers’s procedures were followed, Arden of Faversham yielded many more unique matches both with 2 Henry VI and with The Taming of the Shrew than with any of Kyd’s three canonical plays. This was the central argument against the reliability of Vickers’s method, as he practiced it, and I can’t see anything ‘dubious’ about it. But I look forward to reading Vickers’s ‘long delayed reply’. Whether in making my criticism I was motivated, as Vickers divines, by the fact that his method had ‘attributed Arden of Faversham to Kyd’ is irrelevant. As I explained in the RORD article, the methodological points at issue applied to all Vickers’s attributions.


My own use of plagiarism software in connection with Cardenio was as one means of testing the suggestion that Beaumont, rather than Shakespeare, may have been Fletcher’s collaborator in the lost play, upon which Lewis Theobald’s Double Falsehood was thought to have been based. Those portions of Double Falsehood in which E. H. C. Oliphant had detected signs of Shakespeare were searched for trigrams shared with Beaumont’s only extant sole-authored play, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, but not with Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and vice versa. Either playwright might have emerged with the larger number of matches to the Double Falsehood scenes, but Shakespeare did, which was among reasons for doubting that Beaumont was more likely to have been their original author. The point here is that rival candidates were, so to speak, competing on equal terms. Vickers’s use of plagiarism software to support his claims for Kyd’s authorship of Arden, Fair Em, and King Leir had left Kyd as the sole contestant.


MacDonald P. Jackson    



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

Date:         March 23, 2019 at 1:11:38 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: NOS




I claim that Brian Vickers’s method of authorship attribution used in his essay “Identifying Shakespeare’s Additions to The Spanish Tragedy (1602): A New(er) Approach” (‘Shakespeare’ 8 (2012): 13-43) “doesn’t work”. As Vickers rightly quotes, I gave the result of my EEBO-TCP searching for the phrase “run to the” as “2,016 examples from 1,415 books published before 1700” in my YWES review published in 2014, and he remarks that “In the ‘Authorship Companion’ 65, this total had increased to ‘2,269 occurrences from 1,586 books published before 1700’”. I think Vickers means to imply that one of these pairs of numbers must be wrong, but in fact he has stated exactly what happened: the total really did increase.  The reason is that EEBO-TCP is a growing collection of searchable files, and the totals are probably even higher now.


Vickers maintains that these large numbers are irrelevant because in the article he was confining his attention to plays of Shakespeare’s time. His article claims that “run to the” is found only in the Additions to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’. As I pointed out in my review, that claim is untrue: “run to the” occurs in Anonymous’s play ‘Look About You’, Marlowe’s ‘The Jew of Malta’, Marston’s ‘Antonio and Mellida’, and Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, and others, all of which Vickers ought to have found if his method for finding matches worked.


My claim is not that looking for matching phrases is a method of authorship attribution that does not work. My claim is that Vickers’s way of doing it, his particular method, demonstrably overlooks matches that meet the criteria he sets himself. That is the sense in which it doesn’t work.


And yet I agree with Vickers that Shakespeare had a hand in the Additions to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’. “If Egan agrees with the attribution”, he asks, “why did he go to such lengths in attempting to discredit my method?” The obvious answer is that to advance knowledge we have to discard methods that do not work reliably even if they sometimes give us the correct answer. It seems odd to have to state this explicitly, but Vickers really does seem to not accept that.



Gabriel Egan





The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.145  Sunday, 24 March 2019


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

Date:         March 22, 2019 at 7:24:19 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnets


New Critics believed that they could find the universal meaning of a work, but what they found was a reflection of their own privileged, white maleness 


This is Hardy’s list, and he has his own (white, male) privilege with it, of course; but I remember the words I once heard ascribed to Benjamin Jowett: “when a friend is censured in your presence, put out a flag of dissent.” I think this is a high-handed and ungrateful way to refer to some of the greatest critics of the 20th century, who taught one generation directly and later ones indirectly how to read with more appreciation and enjoyment.


Julia Griffin




What Shakespeare Left Out

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.144  Sunday, 24 March 2019


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

Date:         March 24, 2019 at 8:39:05 AM EDT

Subject:    What Shakespeare Left Out


What Shakespeare Left Out

by Katharine Duckett | 2:22 pm, March 22nd, 2019 


I’ve got a lot of love for Shakespeare: as a theater nerd and a bookish kid, I discovered the pleasures of his poems and plays young, and once showed up to an eighth-grade “literary hero” day as Lady Macbeth, complete with bloody spot on my palm. (You may be reassured to hear I’ve found healthier role models since then.)


But if you, like me, are an avid lover of the Bard, you might have noticed some glaring omissions in his texts. Some of these lacks may come from writing mostly for the stage: Shakespeare missed out on what’s usually regarded as the first English novel, Robinson Crusoe, by a mere hundred years, and the fascination with what he might have done with the novella or novel is undoubtedly part of why so many authors have penned their own stories in the extended Shakespearean universe.


With a pressing need to stay out of prison and attract a paying audience, Shakespeare stuck fairly close to the status quo, reinforcing certain concepts of social order and gender relations that almost always win out of the close of his plays. Though his oeuvre explores the depths and heights of human existence, here are a few of the major elements curiously absent from the canon of one of the world’s greatest writers.


Successful rebellion

One of the biggest developments in recent Shakespeare scholarship has been the discovery of an unpublished manuscript that may have directly contributed to some of the playwright’s greatest works, including King Lear, Macbeth, and Henry VI. A Brief Discourse on Rebels and Rebellions, written by George North in 1576, lays out the pitfalls of rebellion and makes a strong case against the very concept.


While Shakespeare paints a more complex portrait of rebellion, implying in some cases it may be a necessary evil for long-term good, his rebels and rabble-rousers are always ethically compromised if not straight-out villainous. Would-be usurpers and underminers like Iago, Claudius, and Macbeth meet bloody, bitter ends, and the murder of Julius Caesar doesn’t end up particularly well for anyone, resulting in civil war and Marc Antony, still Caesar’s ally, coming out on top.


Shakespeare had contemporary political reasons for glorifying certain notions of royalty: after all, James I was his patron. Macbeth was in part a gift glorifying the monarch and his ordained rule, since Banquo was said to be James’ ancestor, making the witches’ prophecy that he would “get kings, though thou be none” a destiny already fulfilled. The history plays also enshrine the rightful place of the Tudor line, taking immense historical liberties in order to turn Richard III, the last king of the House of York, into a monstrous caricature. Always the plays end in the restoration of the Elizabethan world order, with unity triumphing over chaos. Rebellion doesn’t pay, and kings divinely reign.


Independent women (who stay that way)

If things go poorly for men who seek to upend the social order, the outlook is even grimmer for women who push back against the establishment. There’s of course an entire Shakespeare play built around “taming” an unruly, outspoken woman, and countless passages commenting on the various ways women should behave and their unfortunate foibles. The sharp-tongued Beatrice repents of her “maiden pride” in Much Ado About Nothing when she realizes her quick wit has apparently turned off Benedick. (She also talks in pretty gross terms better reserved for the barnyard, declaring of Benedick, “I will requite thee/Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.”)


When women get involved in politics, things get even messier. Lady Macbeth commits suicide, as does Cleopatra; Cordelia is hanged; Goneril and Regan destroy each other. Willfulness in love, too, can damn a woman: Juliet dies for it, and Desdemona ends up strangled. In the relatively carefree comedies, all the adventuresome women still get married off, the standard happy ending for Renaissance fare but a disappointing one when you consider the far more exciting lives Rosalind and Viola (or for that matter Portia, whose star turn as a wise lawyer’s apprentice in The Merchant of Venice made me wonder why she didn’t just stay in the garb) could have led.



There are a score of notably absent mothers in Shakespeare’s work. Katherine and Bianca are without a maternal caretaker; so are Miranda, Jessica, Desdemona, and the Lear sisters. In Much Ado About Nothing, an early stage direction references Immogen, Hero’s mother, yet she never speaks, and is never mentioned again. And As You Like It lacks a single mother, despite all the offspring and fathers running around.

When mothers do appear, they tend to be insignificant or utterly villainous. There’s Tamora in Titus Andronicus, who commands the execution of abominable acts of rape and torture; Gertrude, betrayer of Hamlet’s father and core of his Oedipus complex; and the Queen in Cymbeline, a wicked stepmother who seeks to poison her adopted daughter. Lady Macbeth is of course the great anti-mother, talking of the babe she’s suckled at her breast (a baby to be found nowhere in the play) whose brains she’d eagerly dash out if necessary.


Healthy relationships

Shakespeare’s characters demonstrate passion, profound feeling, the most poetic passages of flirtation ever set down on the page—and an extreme lack of foresight. Romeo and Juliet end up dead, Jessica renounces her father and her religion for Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, Helena tricks Bertram (who is the literal worst anyway) into finally marrying her in All’s Well That Ends Well. Mariana does the same to Angelo in Measure for Measure. And that’s before we get to the even more tragically dysfunctional pairings of the Macbeths, Antony and Cleopatra, Othello and Desdemona, and good ol’ Hamlet and Ophelia.


Even if the downfall isn’t shown on the stage, the foundations of all the unions we witness seem shaky. It appears that pretty much any relationship can be ruined, at least temporarily, by the insinuation of infidelity: Troilus and Cressida fall apart this way, and it leads to the death of Desdemona in Othello and Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. Cymbeline ends with Posthumus Leonatus reuniting happily with Imogen after he realizes she’s alive and never cheated on him, yet he literally instructed her servant to murder her when he thought she was unfaithful. 


It’s also telling that all the love stories involving characters of colors are tragedies: the implication is that chaste white Christian marriages are the only way to go, except in the case of the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who presumably get a pass cavorting around before Christianity was a thing.


[ . . . ]


While many of his words are indelible in the mind, I’d like to see artists treat Shakespeare’s works the way he approached his many source stories, with a sense of play and transformation. We continue to perform these plays again and again, rehearsing and reiterating this language, even though our strict adherence to what’s set down on the page (even if it appears in several versions) is a fairly recent development. New works in the Shakespearean sphere can take the basics of what the Bard gave us and transform those elements into something that better speaks to our world, giving back some of what he left out.


Katharine Duckett is the author of Miranda in Milan and the guest fiction editor for Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue. She lives in Brooklyn with her wife. 




Original Mortgage Deed of William Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.143  Sunday, 24 March 2019


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

Date:         March 23, 2019 at 9:30:20 AM EDT

Subject:    Original Mortgage Deed of William Shakespeare


From The British Library




Original mortgage deed of William Shakespeare with a verified signature


The signature ‘Wm Shakspē’ appears on the first of four labels attached to this mortgage deed. It is one of six of William Shakespeare's signatures known to exist, the others appearing on the purchase-deed for the same house in Blackfriars dated 10 March 1612; a deposition as a witness dated 11 May 1612, and three more, one on each page of his will, executed in March 1615.


This mortgage for £60 is a joint agreement between 'William Shakespeare, of Stratford upon Avon in the countie of Warwick, gentleman', and others, to Henry Walker, 'citizein and Minstrell of London' for a dwelling-house in the precinct of 'the late Black Fryers'. This property, the Blackfriars Gate-House, was well known in the latter part of the 16th century as a centre of Catholic intrigue, and lay beside, and partly over, the great gate of what had been before the Dissolution the lodging of the Prior of Blackfriars; it probably stood to the north of, and over, the entrance to the present Ireland Yard, St. Andrew's Hill, EC4. Shakespeare and his associates had acquired the property from Walker the day before for £140, and this mortgage no doubt secured the balance of the purchase money. Of the original conveyance, one indenture is now in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, USA, while the other (the counterpart, signed by Shakespeare) is in the Guildhall Library, London.


The four labels bear seals with the initials H.L., doubtless the initials of Henry Lawrence who, according to the endorsement, was the servant to the scrivener, or scribe, who prepared the deed.




From TLS - 'Floats and ebbs'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.142  Sunday, 24 March 2019


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

Date:         March 23, 2019 at 8:01:59 AM EDT

Subject:    From TLS - 'Floats and ebbs'


From TLS: Troubles of a glorious breath


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in the March 19, 2019, TLS. I will provide excepts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]



Troubles of a glorious breath:

The issue of authorship in constructing John Ford’s complete works

By Bart van Es


Gilles Monsarrat, Brian Vickers and R. J. C. Watt, editors


Volume I

720pp. Oxford University Press. £202.50.


Brian Vickers, editor


Volumes II and III

1,104pp. Oxford University Press. £200.


The career of John Ford falls into three unequal phases. First, from his birth to a prosperous Devonshire family in 1586 to the publication of his stoical prose pamphlet, A Line of Life, in 1620, Ford lived the life of an occasional poet, prose moralist and wayward scholar. He attended Exeter College, Oxford, without taking a degree, and then lodged at the Middle Temple in London without, it seems, practising law. Like many young men, he courted mild controversy: rusticated for non-payment of bills, disciplined for involvement in a student protest about the wearing of caps in hall, he also associated with nobles tainted by the Essex rebellion. In this first phase of his life – which lasted until his mid-thirties – Ford wrote poetry for a joust, a few elegies and commendatory verses, a religious poem, two moral tracts and the now lost politically scandalous account of a murder at court, Sir Thomas Overbury’s Ghost (1615). He also watched a lot of plays.


Phase Two, which involved a significant change in direction, was probably the result of financial hardship following poor treatment in his father’s will. From the beginning of the 1620s, he began to co-author plays, joining teams of professional writers made up of men like Thomas Dekker, William Rowley and John Webster, working rapidly to tight deadlines, often on generic potboilers or newsworthy dramas based on trial accounts such as The Witch of Edmonton (1621) and The Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother (1624). Many of these plays have been lost. Others were printed only decades later, usually without mention of Ford on the title page.


Phase Three began when Ford was already into his forties, but without it no one today would have contemplated editing his collected works. In 1629 he published his first single-authored play, The Lover’s Melancholy, which had been a success at the Globe and Blackfriars the previous year. This tragicomedy has its source in Robert Burton’s psychological compendium The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). It was the first of the stark dramas of obsession for which Ford is known today: notably The Broken Heart (1629), ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (c.1631) and Perkin Warbeck (c.1632).


The Collected Works of John Ford, under its Editor-in-Chief Sir Brian Vickers, aims to bring these three phases together, an objective not achieved since Alexander Dyce’s edition of 1869, although individual editions exist of the canonical plays and the non-dramatic work. Volume I, published in 2012, contains the prose and verse, which is mostly early. Volume II (2017) is effectively a monograph in which Vickers sets out his case for attributing specific parts of the co-written plays to his author. Its companion piece, Volume III, contains the six surviving collaborative plays where Vickers believes that Ford can be detected as a contributor. Volumes IV and V are still forthcoming. The plan for the edition has changed from that set out in Volume I seven years ago, but these final volumes are set to contain the sole-authored plays, concluding with The Lady’s Trial of 1638.


Although these volumes stop short of Phase Three, it is inevitable that their significance will be judged in relation to the late single-author drama, which William Hazlitt called “exercises of style and effusions of wire-drawn sentiment” and that Ronald Huebert characterized as the work of the quintessential “baroque” English dramatist. These are plays dominated by almost heroically transgressive individualists, the most memorable being the incestuous lovers Giovanni and Annabella of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Characteristically, Ford fixes his characters as absolute in their desire from the first instant. “It were more ease to stop the ocean / From floats and ebbs, than to dissuade my vows”, Giovanni insists in Act 1 scene 1 of ’Tis Pity, where he already confesses his determination to be “one soul, one flesh, one love, one heart” with his sister. By scene 2 the siblings are kissing and on their way to bed. What drives the play and constitutes its fascination, is not so much the question of the eventual outcome for the lovers (who exude a sense of fatalism from the beginning) as Ford’s relentless probing of extreme fixation. In the end, when Giovanni presents his sister’s heart on a dagger at a banquet and boasts to his own father of killing their unborn love child, his desire to become “one flesh” and “one heart” has become bathetically literal. In lush but somehow also restrained diction he glories in his description of how “this dagger’s point ploughed up / Her fruitful womb”. Nothing here is strictly original: incest, mutilation, forced marriage and the suggestion of cannibalism are common in Revenge Tragedy and the words “dagger”, “plough” and “womb”, or “flesh”, “love” and “heart” are frequently found in close combination on the early modern stage. What is fresh is Ford’s paradoxical rearrangement of the familiar elements and the strange unmoving placidity of his hero-villains.


Ford’s single-authored dramas are not all as outrageous as ’Tis Pity, but they do share this rivalrous invocation of earlier drama and a concentration on fatalistic extremity. Perhaps his greatest play, Perkin Warbeck, tells the story of a deluded pretender to the throne of Henry VII. Perkin is a man who believes himself to be King Richard IV of England, having supposedly survived imprisonment as one of the Princes in the Tower. He is a “mushroom”, a pawn taken up and then quickly abandoned by the King of Scotland, left leading a doomed Cornish rebellion and ending his life as a nonentity on the common scaffold. But Ford’s Perkin is no low-grade social climber. Instead, his fierce sincerity in the face of almost universal scorn has something in common with the “glorious” Giovanni of ’Tis Pity. As with that play, which is full of the starkly rearranged elements of earlier dramas such as Middleton and Rowley’s tragicomedy The Changeling, Ford in Perkin Warbeck is unafraid of invoking and then bending his literary models. Specifically, Perkin Warbeck is a kind of distorted mirror image of Shakespeare’s Richard II. Like Shakespeare’s Richard, Perkin has a lyrical faith in the sanctity of his office and is crushed by an efficiently Machiavellian rival, but in Ford’s case the language is doubly absurd because it is made hackneyed by repetition and also spoken by a pretender:


[ . . . ]


The plot and also the language here are “Fordian”, but the matter is not so simple. Although Cyrus Hoy concluded (on the basis of features such as repeated phrases and the use of auxiliary verbs) that the play was wholly Ford’s, Vickers tells us that more systematic computer analysis gives “overwhelming proof that Massinger was the major contributor to the play”. What then of all the matches with Ford that Hoy spotted? As Vickers admits, “the re-appearance of so many words and phrases from The Laws of Candy in plays written by Ford over the next two decades raises a question that cannot be avoided: did he write these lines first for The Laws of Candy or did he imitate them?” In the end Vickers concludes that “it is hard to imagine that Ford would have plagiarized so many phrases from his co-author, since they were colleagues in the theatre world for perhaps twenty years”. He thus assigns around half a dozen scenes principally to Ford.


[ . . . ]


The inclusion of works such as The Fair Maid of the Inn make Ford look less distinctive as a writer. The collaborative works do contain their fair share of doomed and fatalistic lovers, but these are as often the creation of Massinger, Webster, or Middleton as they are the creation of Ford himself. In the light of such work one is also driven to question the distinctiveness of the single-authored verse and prose. Some of this work (most notoriously “A Funerall Elegye for William Peter”, which Donald Foster ascribed to Shakespeare) is also of disputed authorship. The introduction to the “Elegye” tells us that the “W. S.” of the title page may be the “initials of the person who commissioned the poem, having asked Ford to write it on their behalf”. If so, then Ford, as the true author, was quite happy to masquerade as “W. S.”.


All of this raises wider questions about the purpose of single-author editions. In the case of The Spanish Gipsy (included in this edition), the same play has quite recently been published by Oxford University Press as part of Middleton’s Complete Works. According to Vickers, Middleton’s contribution was minimal, amounting to no more than “touch[ing] up an already-written script”. Yet it was Middleton’s name that appeared (with Rowley’s) on the title page. Attribution, at these moments, becomes a matter of status not only for the early modern playwright but also for the modern editor. The tension between Vickers and Gary Taylor (lead editor of the controversial Oxford Middleton and the Oxford Shakespeare) is evident in these volumes. Vickers complains that “an Oxford D.Phil thesis supervised by Gary Taylor” has “consistently disparaged Ford’s status as a co-author”. Of The Spanish Gipsy he writes that this thesis’s “attempt to reduce Ford’s involvement in this play included denying that the expression ‘’Deede la’ (5.1.96) is ‘a Ford characteristic,’ even though [it] recorded its occurrence in two of his sole- authored plays and in two of his collaborations with Dekker”. At these moments one feels the presence of larger forces: teams of scholars defending their methods with the identity of numerous playwrights (not just Ford but also Shakespeare and Middleton) at stake.


The Collected Works of John Ford is shaping up to be a magnificent achievement. Its annotation is outstanding, the introductions are comprehensive, and the computer-aided corpus linguistics used for attribution is state of the art. At times, however, one wonders whether the drive to assign individual words “conclusively” to individual authors is the right approach. The one surviving playhouse manuscript that shows co-authorship in action (the book of Sir Thomas More) is an immensely complex palimpsest of composition, scribal transcription, rewriting, censorship and further additions that features multiple hands. Just as in modern Hollywood movies (where stylometric tests would surely struggle to isolate authors), co-authorship in early modern drama tends to flatten identity: imitation, parody and plagiarism abound. One wonders whether the approach of Harold Love’s Oxford edition of Rochester would not be more suited. Love drew a line of gradual differentiation between “poems probably by Rochester”, “disputed works”, and poems that “cannot be shown not to be his work”. In the case of The Witch of Edmonton, included in this edition, the play was put together in weeks from multiple sources hot on the heels of a notorious court case in 1621, but not printed until 1658 as a work “By diverse well-esteemed Poets: William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, &c.”. There is much virtue in that “&c.”.




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