The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.121  Friday, 15 March 2019


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

     Date:         March 15, 2019 at 2:57:19 AM EDT

     Subj:         Re: Arden of Faversham 


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

     Date:         March 15, 2019 at 11:17:12 AM EDT

     Subj:         Arden of Faversham 




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

Date:         March 15, 2019 at 2:57:19 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Arden of Faversham


I was interested to read MacDonald P. Jackson’s response to my post of a few days ago. While I do not agree with all his points, I do agree that it is not necessary for us to carry on with this exchange. What we have said, in our published articles and on this forum, is proportionate to our areas of disagreement, and it should be enough for anyone interested in this to be able to think about it and make up their own mind.


Jackson suggested that I should put online the data that he and I used for our articles. I should have done this sooner and have now done so. If anyone wants it, they should go to and click on the link at the bottom to go to my OneDrive. Then look for a folder called “Arden-of-Faversham...”


Finally, I’d like to clarify one point in my article. Explaining the test results I had obtained, I wrote: “We may observe in passing that, unlike Jackson, I did not choose my segments.” The phrase “unlike Jackson” was careless and a bit senseless, since the whole point of authorship attribution is to choose (or cherry-pick, as I described it in the next sentence) the plays and authors that go together. I hope that no informed person reading what I wrote would think that I was accusing Jackson of doing anything underhand. Nevertheless, it’s only fair for me to take this opportunity to retract the phrase.



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

Date:         March 15, 2019 at 11:17:12 AM EDT

Subject:    Arden of Faversham


Letter to SHAKSPER 15.3.19 


Gentle SHAKSPERians,


In reporting on MacDonald Jackson’s response to Pervez Rizvi (Arden of Faversham SHK 30.098) Egan made two mistakes. The first was his complacent statement that, “Being an editor of the journal that is publishing Jackson’s essay while being also an editor of the book (the Authorship Companion to the New Oxford Shakespeare) that published Jackson’s original essay” – and, moreover, Egan and Jackson being members  of the NOS Attribution Advisory Board – “it may be suspected that my co-editors are naturally disposed to be favourable to me and hence favourable towards the New Oxford Shakespeare that I’m a General Editor of.” Egan should have remembered the French maxim, “Qui s’excuse, s’accuse” – that is, by disclaiming bias you draw attention to the thing of which you protest your innocence. I’m sure the members of this forum would never have suspected that Egan had any influence on Jackson’s essay being published in his journal, and with such remarkable rapidity, had he not mentioned it.


His second mistake was to give a misleading account of an episode involving his journal. As he now describes it,


In 2012 the journal ‘Shakespeare’ published Brian Vickers’s essay “Identifying Shakespeare’s Additions to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ (1602): A New(er) Approach”. In another publication, the Year’s Work in English Studies, I reviewed Vickers’s essay and pointed out what I think are its weaknesses. Vickers wrote a response to my review called “Shakespeare and the 1602 Additions to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’: A Method Vindicated” and sent it to the journal ‘Shakespeare’, which duly published it.


As Egan recalled in last year’s NYWES, my article “passed strict peer review”, apparently by two world-class peer referees. But their judgment didn’t satisfy Egan, and two years later he published his own review in YWES. For some years he had contributed the opening sections of the ‘Shakespeare’ chapter, concerned with textual studies. The ‘Advice to Reviewers’ on the journal’s website recommends a length limit of 300 words for important books, and 50 words for essays. For whatever reason, the editors turned a blind eye to the fact that Egan consistently over-ran these limits, writing lengthy essays in which authors were divided into the saved and the damned, with many more of the latter. The editorial freedom he enjoyed allowed Egan to devote 2,500 words to an unremittingly hostile review of my essay, dismissing my scholarship and repeatedly stating that ‘Vickers is wrong’, that my method ‘ a good discriminator of authorship’ (p. 41), and that ‘Vickers’s method does not work’ (p.44). Egan heaped up a mass of matches that I had supposedly missed, but many of these were from non-dramatic literature, such as The dialogue bytweene [Pope] Jullius the seconde, genius, and saynt Peter; Two very notable commentaries on Turkish affairs, translated from the Italian and published in Budapest; and five other books of religious controversy.  These were completely irrelevant to my enquiry into the authorship of the Additions, since the language of Elizabethan drama and poetry is distinct from other genres, obeying stylistic and other conventions of its own. As Jackson argued in the AC, “extending searches to include the hundreds of works in EEBO-TCP but not in LION must unearth further examples of items rare in LION”, however, “LION is a database of literary texts, and it is rarity in poetry and drama that is most relevant to investigations” of authorship (124).


Disturbed that Egan had wilfully misrepresented and distorted my work, in the summer of 2014 I complained to the English Association, who replied sympathetically and shortly afterwards relieved Egan of his duties. As a senior member of the Association said to me, “we can’t have reviewers using our journal to pursue their own personal vendettas.”


Egan continued to pursue his quarry with  a conference paper (September 2015), given the pompous and occluding title ‘Instructive failures in authorship attribution by shared phrases in large textual corpora’, subsequently published on his website ( Accessed 15 March 2019). This consisted solely of excerpts from his two hostile reviews of my attribution scholarship previously published in YWES, in another undisguisedly personal attack. Egan has repeatedly attacked me for having “a private database” since I didn’t take my data directly from EEBO. But the software I use is incompatible with that format, and I had to construct my own corpus with texts downloaded from -- LION. In his conference paper Egan repeated those strictures and added a coda: 


Scholars should not take seriously any claims made by such methods, or by Vickers in particular on the basis of such techniques. Scholarly publishers and journals should in future not publish claims based on methods, like this, which have been repeatedly shown to be unreliable. 


I regarded those remarks as potentially libellous but ignored them since I thought that their presence on Gabriel Egan’s website hardly constituted publication. In June 2016 a colleague sent me a link to Egan’s website, which then included a typescript draft (pp. 630) of the NOS Authorship Companion, in which Egan recycled his YWES essay again, now called ‘The Limitations of Vickers’s Trigram Tests’. It repeated all the previous distortions and misrepresentations, although the list of the matches I supposedly missed includes fewer taken from non-dramatic literature, perhaps because Egan had learned from Jackson’s essay. It did, however, contain the offensive coda to his conference paper I wrote to Oxford University Press giving my opinion that Egan’s remarks constituted a defamatory statement under the Defamation Act 2013, namely, one whose “publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant,” and that his concluding sentence, intended to deter scholarly publishers and journals from publishing any future work of mine, damaged my fundamental right to freedom of speech. The coda does not appear in the Authorship Companion, but it is still on Egan’s website, and I politely ask him to delete it.


I recall this insalubrious episode to make public the fact that Egan has been attacking my work on authorship studies for several years, with increasing vehemence since he became an editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare. This has been an unpleasant experience, but it is particularly galling to find Egan giving such a false account of it. He states that I sent my response “to the journal ‘Shakespeare’, which duly published it”, as if that process had been smooth and uneventful. In fact, the editors restricted my response to 4,000 words, their limit for non-peer-reviewed material, on the grounds that they would find it impossible to anonymise my response. When I suggested that they ask referees who accepted my original essay to review my response, they declined since “firstly, it would establish a precedent, and secondly, it would put the reviewers in an awkward position of judging a non-anonymised submission” (how difficult that would be!). I was forced to halve the length of my response, omitting a lot of relevant detail, and it finally appeared in Shakespeare 13 (2017): 101-6. Egan was copied in to all the correspondence and may have been amused by one editor’s suggestion that I should “contact Gabriel, who is willing to publish the piece on his website”. Egan states that “I recused myself from making any judgements on Vickers’s response … my co-editors handled the entire process”. But even while posing as a figure of virtue (I recall La Rochefoucauld’s maxim: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue”) he can’t resist trying to score over me by picking out some phrases from my response, such as “Egan conveniently ignores”, “it is somewhat disingenuous of Egan to claim”, as if he were the injured party. Egan offers to send anyone a copy of my response, and I urge readers to accept his kind offer, and see for themselves how difficult it is to defend oneself from attack by a hostile critic who exploits the power invested in him by fellow editors and publishers. He will doubtless continue his vendetta in these pages, but I shall not dignify his efforts with a response.






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