The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.012  Wednesday, 9 January 2019


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

     Date:         Wednesday, January 9, 2019

     Subj:         The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS 


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

     Date:         January 8, 2019 at 6:16:43 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: NOS 


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

     Date:         January 8, 2019 at 7:47:05 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: NOS 


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

     Date:         January 8, 2019 at 9:40:21 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: NOS 


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

     Date:         January 9, 2019 at 3:51:14 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS 


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

     Date:         January 9, 2019 at 6:51:18 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: NOS 


[7] From:        Brian Vickers <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         January 9, 2019 at 10:46:36 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: The Shakespeare Canon 




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

Date:         Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Subject:    The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS


My apologies to Gabriel Egan and Joseph Loewenstein. When I was inserting the hyperlink in the sentence below, I inadvertently including the trailing comma and thus created problems accessing the link:


That makes a lot more sense. The page Loewenstein gives the URL for,, refers to Mueller, Loewenstein and others. But notice that this is a project called “Early Print” and is not the same as the “Early Modern Print” project that Freebury-Jones names and gives the URL for.


I have corrected the link in the archive.





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

Date:         January 8, 2019 at 6:16:43 PM EST

Subject:    Re: NOS


Gabriel Egan’s attempts to explain NOS renaming of early modern editions fall about as flat as the new terminology itself. Anyone can see that 1DANTER is not “more useful than naming the format” e.g., Q1 Romeo and Juliet—except in respect of an engineered NOS bias that’s not so easy to recognize.


Scholarly, scientific terminology needs to respect its continuity and origins. Definition and resolution of specific problems are proper. Discovery of a fragment earlier than Q1 1H4 is not reason to renumber the sequence, other than to explain Q0 as a result peculiar to 1H4. That allows F 1H4 derivation from Q5 to remain clear to all, as with Dering Ms. provenance from the same quarto. Adjustments abound without posing any real difficulty, even when solutions are different.


I agree with any who feel the NOS hodgepodge of printer and publisher names is an unartful power play that will discourage interest in Shakespeare. But the ploy has a purpose beyond those Egan conjures up so ineffectually. The name-game is not as arbitrary as it seems.


I’ve often noted that the NOS foundation is Shakespeare’s supposed revision of Q1 King Lear (1608)—the quarto itself—into the F representation (largely by cutting). That ‘unwise’ proposition depends in turn and entirely on authorial Q1 printer’s copy. To “privilege” the human agent behind the extant text by renaming Q1 “1OKES” induces the uninformed (and kowtowers) to overemphasize the roles of early printers and publishers in alteration not only of authorial, but of non-authorial text. 


Gary Taylor accepted Peter Blayney’s case for authorial Lear copy and asserted that further investigation would be “foolish” (so much for NOS replication). I’ve reported over the decades, and Blayney recently confirmed, that he made no Q1-copy study. Neither has the NOS; but to be fair, they’ve run away from the question. From my Spring, 2017 email to this forum: 


We knew from the outset that . . . [Blayney’s study] concentrates heavily on the Quarto, exhaustively investigating the printing . . . and the great variety of non-literary evidence that points to its having been set up from Shakespeare’s own draft manuscript. It would have been foolish – and unhelpful – to attempt to duplicate Blayney’s research. (Division, 1983 vii)


It has been useful to put memorial reconstruction to one side . . . . The revision theory would be vulnerable without Blayney’s conclusion [of] an unusually poor piece of printing. Once the compositors’ propensity to err is taken into account, no substantial barrier remains to viewing the copy for Q1 as an authorial draft. (John Jowett, “After Oxford” 1999)


[Revisionists] drew on [Blayney, who concluded] that [Lear] was badly set from a manuscript that was likely to be authorial, and so was not ‘a doubtful’ quarto or memorially transmitted text. (Jowett, Shakespeare and Text, 2007, 106)


These citations acknowledged, while Blayney’s authority still held sway, that memorial text precludes authorial revision, and even authorial presence in publication. But rather than to argue Shakespeare’s hand in Q1 Lear copy—a tall order—the NOS has slowly adopted the stance that memorial transmission is of small concern; all it results in is a “poor piece of printing” that F corrects with added printer’s copy and a good piece of printing. That is, the printer’s and publisher’s names are all we need to know.


Gerald Downs asks, Gabriel Egan answers:


> Q1 [King Lear] is mighty corrupt; do they [the

> New Oxford Shakespeare editors] agree with Vickers

> in supposing Q1 derives from Shakespeare's rough draft?


. . . In general, the New Oxford Shakespeare is sceptical about our ability to determine what kind of manuscript copy underlies any particular early edition and avoids relying on such determinations where possible . . .


John Jowett edited King Lear for the New Oxford Shakespeare and his view of the first quarto, expressed in the play’s Textual Introduction . . . is that:


<< . . . the quarto is very poorly printed >>


But . . . conflating the quarto and Folio was never an option for the New Oxford Shakespeare because its editors felt that the case for authorial revision . . . was settled thirty years ago.


The case is far from “settled” outside NOS fantasy, but 35 years ago it was based on authorial Q1 Lear copy. Now, they “can’t determine” kinds of copy—no use trying; Q1 Lear is poorly printed because Okes was a poor printer. Egan lately adds:


It seems to me that one could argue that the quantity and quality of differences between Q and F King Lear are sufficient to warrant a two-text approach, whether or not one accepts (as I do) the argument for authorial revision separating them.


The problem is, Q1 Lear was reprinted in both Q2 and F, mostly word-for-word. The ‘quantity’ difference arises primarily from F cuts. Memorial reporting not only precludes authorial ‘second texts,’ it outweighs the influence of printer or publisher. That isn’t to deny their roles; Okes let his compositors display their copy’s shortcomings, which is a big part of Q1 memorial evidence.


The NOS continues a trend to promote bad quartos (memorial reports) to good quartos (authorial drafts just bad enough—foul papers—to account for corruption printers can’t quite handle). John Jowett does acknowledge memorial transmission in Q1 R3, which he advises to ignore while positing authorial Q1 as a revision of authorial F (in effect). But again, F’s word-for-word reprint can’t escape Q’s contamination.


NOS renaming of early editions primarily aims to remove memorial transmission from the Shakespearian consciousness by “privileging” printers as agents of corruption and its repair. More than all else, the ruse means to protect their false account of King Lear revision. The same may be said of NOS non-traditional attribution studies.


Gerald E. Downs



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

Date:         January 8, 2019 at 7:47:05 PM EST

Subject:    Re: NOS


Will Gabriel Egan please stop using the academic cant of “privilege” and “privileging” to hit the rest of us upside the head? In his post of Jan. 4 about renaming the quartos and folios, he wrote that the new NOS sigla “privileges human agency over book format.” And in his post of Jan. 5 he knocks the Shakespeareans of the qualitative school because “they privilege their sensibility over their reasoning.” This is pulling rank as superior moralists in an academic argument, as I guess the critic caught in such socially unacceptable error is supposed to hit his forehead and exclaim, “OMG, I didn’t realize I was being cruel about the skill level of Elizabethan printers! [Tears fall on the keyboard.] Forgive me, please!” 


Let’s return, if anyone can bear it, to the issue of NOS redesignating the Qs and Fs with the names of printers or publishers because it “privileges human agency over book format.” Pardon, but that is asinine. Book format is not an alien invader or, horrors, something forced on natives by colonials. Book format is exactly the product of human agency while coping with economics (e.g., cost of paper, compositor pay).* Further human agents were the editors of 150-plus years ago who wisely arrayed the Qs and Fs and gave them simple two-character abbreviations that, in variorum style, allow one to see consensus and difference in readings, along with abbreviations for early editors. Like this random bit from the New Variorum R2 (Black, 1955):


Why give up such an elegant, economical system to privilege unknown, unreliable, poorly educated printers, as for instance in renaming the R2 Q1 to “1SIMMES”? If such postmodern thinking about the virtues of numerical order takes hold elsewhere, perhaps New York City should recognize that “Fifth Avenue” privileges number over human agency, and rename it for, say, the first contractor to pave it. 


As for scholars who supposedly “privilege their sensibility over their reasoning,” perhaps they reason from decades of studying Shakespeare and properly filter the products of the quants who set computers loose to “reason” with literary texts and on the basis of the frequency of “from,” “to,” “of,” and other minor bits of functional English begin scattering authorship credits around the kingdom. 



Al Magary

Underprivileged nonspecialist


*I spent decades writing, editing, and designing publications, publishing books, supervising printers. My first acquaintance with all this was in 1963 when I learned to set headlines on a Ludlow machine in a composing room full of clattering Linotypes. For speed in reading galleys of type (upside and backwards), I’ll take on anyone. More recently, in transcribing 1,261 pages of blackletter in Hall’s Chronicle, I got pretty good at coping with poorly printed, orthographically eccentric Early Modern English. I don’t give a damn who the compositors were.



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

Date:         January 8, 2019 at 9:40:21 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: NOS


For decades now, I’ve always taught the Oxford texts, simply because they’re the cheapest single-volume editions, annotated to a variorum level.


It’s beginning to dawn on me, though, that this might be a false economy --- any student who already owns another edition will be effectively excluded from class discussion by the idiosyncrasies of the text and scene divisions. As a result, everyone has to buy the same edition, obviating the price advantage.


And as for why we should particularly favour the Globe Shakespeare’s divisions --- why not? Nobody seriously proposes that Henri Etienne’s sixteenth-century edition of Plato is the ne plus ultra, but classicists still use his pagination as a reference system. It’s handy because it’s consistent and time-honoured, not because it’s perfect, or even preferable to other imaginable schemes.



Sean Lawrence.



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

Date:         January 9, 2019 at 3:51:14 AM EST

Subject:    Re: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS


A few more responses to Gabriel Egan:


The ongoing scholarly debates about what the words of the speeches consist of have the same origins as the ongoing scholarly debates about what the correct titles are, where the act and scene boundaries fall, and where the line breaks should be placed.....We can no more fix for all time the play titles, act and scene boundaries, and line numbering than we can fix for all time the words of the speeches.


That is to suggest a false parity between all those things. The balance between maintaining continuity and correcting what some regard as errors can, and should, be struck in different places for different things. When an editor thinks he has recovered the correct reading to replace a corrupt one in the received texts, then he of course must change it. At the other extreme, act-scene divisions, which are used in the OED and many other places, are of great importance for reference purposes and they should not be changed. If we want the great artefacts of our culture - such as Shakespeare and the OED - to be as useful as possible to all of us all of the time, then we have to show respect for standards. 


Play titles and their abbreviations fall somewhere between those extremes. As for them, I remind people of the wise words of David Bevington who, when reviewing the 1986 Oxford edition in Shakespeare Quarterly, wrote: "I am afraid I don't see that the change [of play titles] is even remotely worth the confusion that would occur if we moved to these new ways of citing the plays."


Rizvi takes as his reference point the act and scene numbers of the Victorian Globe edition.....But why treat the Globe edition as one’s standard? 


Because it was the de facto standard for most of the twentieth century and thousands of books and articles use it. The most important point about a referencing system is that we should all use the same one


150 years of scholarship in theatre history give reasons for editors to depart from the Globe scene divisions.....If this means making changes that disrupt habits of thought that readers have inherited from older editions, that is simply the price we pay for updating our editions to reflect the ongoing changes in our state of knowledge. 


The price is sometimes worth paying, sometimes not; and there are ways to minimize it when it has to be paid. One of the earliest Oxford editions was Kenneth Muir's 1982 edition of Troilus and Cressida. Muir wanted to start a new scene after what the Globe marks as line 5.7.8, and he did so. Had he called the new scene 5.8, he would have had to renumber the remaining scenes in the act, which would have damaged continuity with other scholarship. So here's what he did. He called the new scene 5.7a and - this is the important bit - he did not reset the line number to 1. The first line of the new scene is thus 5.7a.9, and the numbering then continues as normal, until Muir ends scene 5.7a at the same point where the Globe ends 5.7. This means that if a reader picks up a Globe reference in some book or article, say 5.7.10, she does not need to do anything different: she just starts at the beginning of scene 5.7 in Muir and moves her finger down the right margin to the line numbered 10. Conversely, if she picks up a line reference like 5.7a.10 in Muir, she just drops the 'a' and she has a reference that works in all Globe-based editions. That was a good solution, by a wise scholar. I don't have Muir's Arden edition of King Lear to hand, but if he had edited the play for Oxford, he could simply have kept the scene breaks that Egan thinks are wrong. Since scene locations have been removed from editions, the unwanted scene number in the left margin would have had no impact on the experience of the casual reader, but it would have assisted people studying the play by reference to other scholarship.



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

Date:         January 9, 2019 at 6:51:18 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: NOS


Isn’t it about time that we called a halt to this strand on the NOS. It seems to have descended into abuse and insult (again). Egan’s ‘reasoning’ seems to me to combine a self-satisfied arrogance with all the symptoms of childish foot-stamping, and the claims to ‘truth’ and scientific certainty that he makes do not inspire much confidence, since the people he traduces are continually being forced to correct him. His is a nature upon which I am afraid, nurture may never stick; someone has taught him language, and the profit on’t is that he knows how to curse. If the aim of controversy is to draw attention to an important issue, then Egan has failed miserably, and I imagine that very few scholars will want to go near the NOS after looking on at this spectacle. Controversy for controversy’s sake always ends up in onanism, and this is the point that we have, unfortunately, reached in this strand. The obsession with data, and its substitution for knowledge obscures an important issue linked to the concept of ‘authorship’ that might be worth discussing, although it has been discussed before, and at length, on SHAKSPER. What has been exposed is what Egan inputs into the computer, in short, what the late Louis Althusser used to refer to as “the spontaneous philosophy of the scientists”. Perhaps if he were to abandon his project of self-aggrandisement and to engage in a little more serious self-reflection he would perform a useful service of unclogging the airwaves. We should urge him to desist from following the examples of Donald Trump and Dominic Cummings, and, indeed, of trying to convert a branch of English Studies into a STEM subject. At the moment all he is doing is bringing his own institution into disrepute.


A Happy New Year to one and all.


John Drakakis



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

Date:         January 9, 2019 at 10:46:36 AM EST

Subject:    Re: The Shakespeare Canon


Letter to Shaksper 9.1.19


Gentle Shaksperians,


Continuing my survey of critical reactions to the NOS Shakespeare attributions, I come now to a method not used in the Authorship Companion but respectfully cited there as supporting their claim concerning 1 Henry VI, that Marlowe was “one of the play’s co-authors” (514-5). This new method was introduced in an essay by Santiago Segarra, Mark Eisen, Gabriel Egan, and Alejandro Ribeiro, “Attributing the authorship of the Henry VI plays by word adjacency”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 67 (2016): 232−56. According to an interview that Gary Taylor gave to the New Yorker (19 February 2017), “the editorial board was convinced” of Marlowe’s co-authorship by this article. Gabriel Egan’s presence on that board must have helped their deliberations, and he was thanked for “his vast literature knowledge” in the work from which the SQ essay derives, Segarra’s MSc. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania: “Word adjacency networks for authorship attribution: solving Shakespeare controversies” (2014). It is a revealing comment on the course of attribution studies in recent years that studies now appear in such journals as Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Transactions on Signal Processing and Physica B.


I read the essay when it first appeared and was struck by the use it makes of an essay by Claude Shannon, the founder of Information Theory, which discussed ‘the predictability of English: how well can the next letter of a text be predicted when the preceding N letters are known’ (Bell System Technical Journal, 30 (1951)). Shannon recognised “the amount of constraint imposed on a text in the language due to its statistical structure, e.g., in English the high frequency of the letter E, the strong tendency of H to follow T or of U to follow Q”, as Scrabble players know to their cost. The whole focus of Shannon’s essay is on the predictability of letters (or characters) and says nothing about words. It was with some surprise that I found Segarra, Eisen, Egan and Ribiero declaring that Shannon’s method 


works just as well for sequences of words in a sentence as for sequences of letters in a word. Shannon’s work allows us to quantify writers’ preferences for putting particular words in particular orders or, more generally, for placing them in proximity to one another. (232)


But a moment’s reflection tells us that although grammar imposes certain constraints on our utterances—a sentence cannot consist of nouns; the definite article precedes a noun, and so forth – our freedom to choose and arrange words is huge, vastly exceeding that of letters. You might be able to predict the chances of H following T, but you would be hard put to know what word will most likely follow “American”. 


I was shocked by the sloppy scholarship behind the four authors’ casual distortion of Shannon’s theory, as by their nonsensical division of the three Henry VI plays between Shakespeare and Marlowe, achieved purely by data processing. But I was unable to evaluate the methods used, not being a trained mathematician. Fortunately, Pervez Rizvi has published an important, and to my mind decisive essay, “Authorship Attribution for Early Modern Plays Using Function Word Adjacency Networks: A Critical View”, published in ANQ on 5 December 2018


By now, members of this forum will know that the lexicon can be divided into “function words”, such as of, by, about, and so on, which fulfil grammatical functions in the communication of meaning, and the rest, content-bearing words, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on. As Rizvi summarises it, the basic claim of the essay is that “the function words found in a text, the order in which they occur, and how far apart they occur”, constitute a way of identifying and differentiating authors. The method invented by Segarra et al “takes no account of an author’s choice of non-function words, still less their meaning”. Rizvi counters that “an author’s choice of a function word can be influenced by a non-function word he has just used. This is intuitively obvious and should not need examples, but examples can be found”. Rizvi draws on his self-published concordances of n-grams (phrases n words long) found in over 500 early-modern plays (see, and easily finds examples where “the same function word always follows a non-function word”. Upside is always followed by down, looker(s) is followed by on, and devoid is followed by of. The attempt of Segarra et al. to detach function words from their dependence on content words fails utterly. Yet it is on the evidence of such data alone that the four authors claim to identify Marlowe’s hand in the Henry VI plays.


Rizvi comments that, “If this is a sound procedure then one of the most important kinds of evidence must be when one author sometimes follows a given function word by another given function word, but a different author never does.” We might expect that this new method would examine relevant pairs of function words in the authors being evaluated. Remarkably, Segarra et al failed to do so, because of a feature that only a mathematician would have spotted. One of their formulae involves division by numbers calculated from pairs of words, but, as Rizvi points out, “when some function words never follow others in an author’s work, these numbers are zero. Mathematics does not allow division by zero, so the inventors of this method faced an obstacle”. The way in which Segarra et al defined their method allowed them to ignore that important evidence. They recognise a difference when one author uses a pair of function words a thousand times and the other only once. However, “if one author uses a pair of function words a thousand times and the other never, then the method disregards that evidence. This is utterly irrational”. Rizvi illustrates this crucial point with an experiment in which he took the 100 function words that Segarra et al had used. Since any of them could follow any of the others, that would produce 10,000 pairs of words, which Rizvi duly assembled. He then searched for each of these word pairs in the 28 Shakespeare plays and the 6 Marlowe plays that Segarra et al regard as securely attributed. As he reported,


I found 2,670 pairs of function words in which the first word is followed by the second in a Shakespeare play but never in a Marlowe play. For example, Shakespeare follows about by at (e.g., “they may have their throats about them at that time” in Henry V) but Marlowe never does. Conversely, I found 116 pairs of such words in Marlowe but not Shakespeare; for example, Marlowe follows after by any (e.g., “to imagine that after this life there is any pain” in Doctor Faustus), but Shakespeare never does. It is difficult to see how we can have confidence in a method that disregards highly relevant evidence such as this, simply because it does not know what to do with it.


In many cases the use of function words depends on the non-function words that they follow, so that a method that ignores this fact is highly suspect.


Other aspects of this paper are also unsatisfactory. Segarra et al did not use the full 100 function words throughout their tests, but varied it for each experiment, choosing those words that would help to discriminate between the particular authors under consideration. Rizvi finds it significant that their software “failed to find one that works well for all authors”, and states an important principle for attribution studies:  


The value of an authorship attribution method is that, once we have satisfied ourselves of its accuracy by testing it with texts of known authorship, we can apply it, unchanged, to texts of unknown authorship and have some confidence in the results. That is not possible with the function word adjacency method.


The crucial element for any new method is its degree of success. Of the 154 plays in their corpus, 94 were of undisputed authorship, where Segarra et al claim a success rate of 93.6 percent, which, they assure readers, is “reasonably high … for this kind of attribution method”. Perhaps so, but it would cause dozens of early modern plays to be attributed to the wrong authors. Rizvi calculates that their method failed for 10 of the 60 collaborative plays, 


a shockingly high error rate. If this method were accepted for further use, and if its actual success rate of only 50 out of 60 were repeated across the board, it would attribute more than a hundred early modern plays to the wrong authors.


I find it difficult to disagree with his conclusion, that “this method is not suited for use in authorship attribution”.




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