“Slender (though well landed) is an idiot” or: More Attribution Nonsense

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.005  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


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

     Date:         December 29, 2016 at 4:46:08 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


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

     Date:         December 30, 2016 at 10:17:09 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author




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

Date:         December 29, 2016 at 4:46:08 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


The debate, if there is one, between Gabriel Egan (and perhaps some of his co-editors of the New Oxford Shakespeare), on the one hand, and Sir Brian Vickers, on the other, over whether lexical or function words are of greater significance is making or rejecting attributions seems not to recognize that they are both important.  For example, the relative frequency of lexical words and function words are considered by H. Craig & Arthur Kinney (Shakespeare, Computers and the Mystery of Authorship [Cambridge U.P., 2009]) to be separate tests, each of which confirms or rejects the reliability of the result reached by the other test. In my view, and that of statistical analysts, those verbal tests are two but not all of the tools which can and should be employed in statistical analysis of attribution issues.  Sam Schoenbaum noted that “A playwright’s individuality may find expression in a number of accidentals: his idiosyncrasies with regard to speech prefixes, stage directions, act divisions, the recording of entrances, etc., his peculiarities of spelling, punctuation, and abbreviation” (Internal Evidence and Elizabethan Dramatic Authorship [Northwestern U.P., 1966] at 182).  Even more subtle mannerisms, such as metrical habits, end-stopping and enjambment preferences, rhyming tendencies, peculiar rhetorical practices, cæsurae, enclitic and proclitic microphrases, tendencies as to contractions, compound words, etc., are also part of the “style” which may be quantified and compared by statistical analysis.



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

Date:         December 30, 2016 at 10:17:09 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


I read with great interest the SQ article that Gabriel Egan referred us to. If I may say so, it does a superb job of explaining the mathematics in a way that non-mathematicians could understand, with some effort. A little bit of googling also enabled me to find an earlier article, cited in the SQ paper, by Gabriel’s three collaborators, which gives the mathematics [*]. I’ll refer to this as ‘the other article’.


I am sharing below some observations of mine which might be of interest to readers of either article. 


I don’t understand why the method counts adjacencies only within a ‘sentence’. The other article defines a sentence as the words found between two successive periods, question marks, exclamation marks or semicolons. The SQ article says that “we do not count...any adjacency that spans a speech break”. It’s not clear whether this means that a sentence is words between speech breaks only, or between speech breaks, periods, question marks etc.; but that is not my main point. My point is that suppose one author writes like this:


SPEAKER 1. You did not see it.

SPEAKER 2. By Heaven, I did!


Suppose another author writes like this:


SPEAKER 1. You did not see it.

SPEAKER 2. Upon my word, I did!


If we ignore adjacencies that span sentences then we do not discover that the first author likes to follow ‘it’ with ‘by’ whereas the second author likes to follow ‘it’ with ‘upon’. In a passage of text that consists of lots of short sentences, it seems obvious that the results might be materially different if we also counted adjacencies across sentences. So why is this information excluded from the method? Since we are talking here about the measurable effects of an author’s unconscious writing style, I do not see why function word associations may not span sentence boundaries. An author does not stop after each sentence to clear his mind of all associations with the words he has just written. He might immediately start writing the next sentence and use the function words he unconsciously associates with the ones he has just written. How different would the results be if no account were taken of sentence boundaries?


Another concern is that the method assumes that an author’s word adjacency network is constant over time. The other article says: “Our claim is that every author...has an inherent relational structure...that serves as an authorial fingerprint... [my emphasis]” That’s not self-evident. Could an author’s style not change during his career? Both articles test the method to distinguish between different authors; but neither appears to test how different an author is from himself at different stages of his career. Suppose we produced separate WANs for early and late Shakespeare plays. They would of course be different, but might they not also be materially different? If they are materially different then at least some of the work done for the SQ article would be unsafe and would need to be done again.


I do not mean to try to undermine the SQ article. Gabriel and his collaborators have done exactly what ought to be done now. Today’s Shakespeare scholars are the first ever to possess electronic versions of every text, and accessible computing power and software tools with which to process them. They need to collaborate with their colleagues in the mathematics and computing departments, to invent and test methods like the one in the SQ article. That is the task for this generation.


As I am sure Gabriel will concede, much caution still needs to be exercised. If we look at the graphs in the SQ article, we see that what appears to be a decisive demonstration that Marlowe wrote some scenes in the H6 plays is actually a demonstration that if the plays had been written by only Shakespeare and Marlowe then the scenes would be divided between them as the graphs show. As other graphs in the same article show, it is not certain that only Shakespeare and Marlowe were involved. For some acts other authors like Greene have a stronger claim than Marlowe. Consistent with this, the New Oxford Shakespeare complete works edition attributes 2&3H6 to Shakespeare, Marlowe and Anonymous, but such nuances and caveats are lost when the press report these findings.


[*] The other article can be found at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1406.4469.pdf and in a shorter version at http://www.seas.upenn.edu/~maeisen/wiki/uploads/Research/c_2013_segarra_etal.pdf




New TED Talk Video -- How NOT to Hate Shakespeare by Rob Crisell

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.004  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


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

Date:         January 10, 2017 at 1:40:32 PM EST

Subject:    New TED Talk Video -- How NOT to Hate Shakespeare by Rob Crisell 


I’m a member of SHAKSPER and also a Shakespearean actor and educator who lives in California. I wanted to bring to your attention a TED talk I gave in October in which I share the importance of integrating acting into the teaching of Shakespeare. After all—with all due respect to all those fabulous scholars on the site—the Bard wasn’t originally meant to be read, he was meant to be experienced. I hope you find it interesting. See below.


If you feel it’s appropriate, feel free to pass it along to the other members. My hope is that as many high school and junior high (or even university!) teachers see it and utilize some of the principles in their teaching.


Of course, I’d love to get your feedback as well. Thank you.


Best regards, 

Rob Crisell






Published on Jan 4, 2017


What's all this ado about Shakespeare? Get beneath the surface and learn how and why to make the Bard a part of your life. Wait, he already is.  

Rob Crisell has spent more than two decades in publishing, non-profit work, law, and commercial real estate. These days he’s a full-time writer and educator, teaching Shakespeare at local schools on behalf of Murrieta Valley Union School District and Shakespeare in the Vines. As an actor, he’s appeared in Merchant of Venice, Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, among others. He’s the author of Red, White & Bard: A Celebration of Shakespeare in America, a one-man show slated to premier this winter. He’s a graduate of Yale University and George Mason University School of Law. His adventure novel for kids, The Zoo of Impossible Animals, was published this fall. He lives in Temecula with his wife Monisha and their two children.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx




Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.003  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


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

Date:         January 8, 2017 at 3:01:44 PM EST

Subject:    Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator


From The Guardian.




How ‘Sherlock of the library’ cracked the case of Shakespeare’s identity: Literary detective Heather Wolfe reveals how her passion for manuscripts helped unravel mystery of who the bard really was


By Robert McCrum

Saturday 7 January 2017 19.03 EST


Deep in the Folger Library, in Washington DC, Heather Wolfe says that studying Shakespeare makes an ideal preparation for the onset of Trump’s America. You can see her point: Shakespeare would have revelled in the mad excesses, the sinister vanities and the pervasive stench of cronyism and corruption surrounding the president-elect as America makes the painful transition from Barack Obama.


Dr Wolfe is a willowy, bright-eyed manuscript scholar, a paleographer specialising in Elizabethan England who in certain moods of candour might put you in mind of Portia or perhaps Cordelia. She’s also a Shakespeare detective who, last year, made the career-defining discovery that is going to transform our understanding of Shakespeare’s biography. In the simplest terms, Wolfe delivered the coup de grace to the wild-eyed army of conspiracy theorists, including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi, who contest the authenticity, even the existence, of the playwright known to contemporaries as Master Will Shakespeare.


Wolfe is an accidental sleuth. Her scholar’s passion is as much for old manuscripts as for the obscurities surrounding our national poet. Project Dustbunny, for example, one of her initiatives at the Folger Shakespeare Library, has made some extraordinary discoveries based on microscopic fragments of hair and skin accumulated in the crevices and gutters of 17th-century books.


DNA forensics aside, Wolfe’s role as a curator at the Folger is to bring her expertise to bear on the tantalising mass of documents that survives from the late 16th century. And yet, despite a heap of legal, commercial and matrimonial evidence, Shakespeare the man continues to slip through scholars’ fingers. Four centuries after his death, apart from a handful of crabbed signatures, there is not one manuscript, letter or diary we can definitively attribute to the poet, sponsoring the pervasive air of mystery that surrounds his genius. Indeed, the most intimate surviving Shakespeare document remains that notorious will, in which he bequeathed his wife his “second best bed”.


Before Wolfe arrived on the scene, all that scholars could be certain about was that a man named Shaxpere, Shaxberd or Shakespear was born in Stratford in 1564, and that he was an actor whose name is printed in the collected edition of his work published in 1623. We also know that he married Anne Hathaway, and died in 1616, according to legend, on his birthday, St George’s Day. The so-called “Stratfordian” case for Shakespeare rested on these, and a few other facts, but basically, that was it.


[ . . . ]


Into this vacuum, a bizarre fraternity, including Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud, have projected a “Shakespeare” written by a more obviously accomplished writer: Edward de Vere (the 17th earl of Oxford), Sir Francis Bacon and the playwright Christopher Marlowe, to name the leading contenders in a field that includes Sir Walter Raleigh, and even Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen herself.


In the absence of reliable data, a mountain of speculation has morphed into the weirdest fantasy, notably the 2011 film, Anonymous. Wolfe has no time for this. Speaking exclusively for the first time to the Observer, she says: “Without the evidence for other contenders, it’s hard for me to engage with this line of inquiry.”


Wolfe’s appetite for manuscript corroboration has led her into many dusty corners of the Elizabethan archives. It was this research instinct that first led her to reopen the file on the coat of arms granted to Shakespeare’s father, the small-town glover, in 1596.


John Shakespeare, from Stratford-upon-Avon, was ambitious to rise in the world. He was certainly not the first Englishman keen to put his origins as a provincial tradesman behind him. Among his contemporaries in Stratford, he was a figure of fun for his social climbing. English class snobbery has a long pedigree. His son, who would continue the quest for official recognition after his father’s death, also attracted metropolitan disdain as “an upstart crow beautified with our feathers”. In 1601, after his father’s death, Shakespeare the upstart returned to the college of arms to renew the family application for a coat of arms. He had made a small fortune in the theatre, and was buying property in and around Stratford. Now he set out to consolidate his reputation as a “Gentleman”. Under the rules that governed life at the court of Elizabeth I, only the Queen’s heralds could grant this wish.


A much-reproduced sketch for a coat of arms crystallised Shakespeare’s hopes for legitimacy in the antique jargon of heraldry: “On a Bend Sables, a Speare of the first steeled argent. And for his Crest, a falcon, his winges displayed Argent, supporting a Speare Gould …” The needy applicant also attached a motto: Non Sanz Droit (“Not Without Right”). All this, and much more, is buried in the archives of the college of arms in London.


Wolfe’s fascination with Shakespeare’s quest for a family crest grew out of her immersion in the manners and customs of late Elizabethan England, in particular the College of Heralds. These court officials were required to administer the complex rituals governing the lives of the knights, barons and earls surrounding Queen Elizabeth.


An adjunct to the court, the College of Heralds was not exempt from its own secret feuds. In 1602, the internecine rivalry between Sir William Dethick, the Garter King of Arms, and another herald, Ralph Brooke, burst into the open when Brooke released a list of 23 “mean persons” whose applications for crests (he claimed) had been wrongfully preferred by Dethick. When “Shakespeare the Player” found himself on this list, his campaign for social advancement seemed in jeopardy. A bitter row broke out at court between two factions. Shakespeare himself became an object of ridicule. Another rival, Ben Jonson, in his satire Every Man out of his Humour, poked fun at him as a rustic buffoon who pays £30 for a ridiculous coat of arms with the humiliating motto “Not Without Mustard”.


It’s at this point in the story that Wolfe discovered “the smoking gun”. In the Brooke-Dethick feud, it becomes clear that “Shakespeare, Gent. from Stratford” and “Shakespeare the Player” are the same man. In other words, “the man from Stratford” is indeed the playwright. Crucially, in the long-running “authorship” debate, this has been a fiercely contested point. But Wolfe’s research nails any lingering ambiguity in which the Shakespeare deniers can take refuge.


Wolfe is circumspect about making extravagant claims. Speaking carefully, she says that her manuscript discoveries fill in gaps, illuminating Shakespeare’s character. “They point to someone actively involved in defining and defending his legacy in 1602, shortly after his father’s death.”


For Wolfe, it’s Shakespeare the man who breaks cover here. “He’s defending his legacy not only as a playwright but, most importantly to him, as a gentleman.” The derogatory references to arms belonging to “Shakespeare ye player”, she says, show that “he’s playing the same game as everyone else in the period, purchasing land in Stratford to support his case to ‘ancient’ gentility, rather than through his astonishing professional success”.


James Shapiro, bestselling author of 1599, who is persuaded by Wolfe’s discoveries, compares her to “a Sherlock Holmes of the archives”. Shapiro says that Wolfe “has had the intellectual independence to see what others have overlooked, the skills to make sense of what she has stumbled upon and the modesty not to trumpet the larger implications of those finds. But make no mistake: they are enormously consequential.”


For Shapiro, Wolfe’s work suggests future breakthroughs. “I doubt that these are the last archival treasures she will unearth. Her recent finds sharpen our sense of Shakespeare’s dogged pursuit of upward mobility. And it is one more nail in the coffin of those who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that the glover’s son from Stratford was also the successful man of the theatre who left us so many extraordinary plays.”


Wolfe says she looks forward to “poking about” in the archives, and is convinced that Shakespeare’s identity no longer needs re-confirmation. “There is such a wealth of evidence out there that he’s the playwright.” She adds: “I’m sure there’s more untapped material waiting to be uncovered. Additional finds will certainly help us understand his life – as much as we can understand anyone’s life from 400 years ago.”




Velz, Barton, Foakes Next of Kin

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.002  Tuesday, 10 January 2017


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

Date:         January 8, 2017 at 6:05:08 PM EST

Subject:    Velz, Barton, Foakes Next of Kin


Most of the “Talking Books” interviews published in Shakespeare Newsletter (http://www.iona.edu/About/Iona-in-Community/The-Shakespeare-Newsletter.aspx) over the past sixteen years will be collected in a book to be published by McFarland (http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com) in 2019. I am in the process of contacting my former guests and requesting they grant permission to reprint.


Three of my guests are deceased: John Velz, Anne Barton, and Reg Foakes. I would like to get consent from the next of kin, but do not know who to contact. If you have next of kin information for any of the three, please sent it to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Thank you.

All the best, 

Mike Jensen 


author site: 




Happy New Year and Preliminary Plans for the Future

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.001  Tuesday, 3 January 2017


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

Date:         Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Subject:    Happy New Year and Preliminary Plans for the Future


Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers:


This marks the start of SHAKSPER’s 28th year of service to the academic Shakespeare community. If you would care to contribute to the support of SHAKSPER, please go to the SHAKSPER web page—shaksper.net—and use the Donate button on the right-hand side.


In 2015, I provided a long history of SHAKSPER, one of the oldest academic conferences on the Internet. You may read it at http://shaksper.net/archive/2014/324-january/29814-shaksper-begins-its-twenty-fifth-year.


In 2019, SHAKSPER will be thirty-years-old. Since I am far older than that, I have begun thinking about passing the torch in 2019 or, at least, sharing the work with someone else. I will become editor emeritus to assist with the transition and with any issues that might arise. It takes a particular type of personality to edit SHAKSPER. You must be thick-skinned and a bit OCD, among other characteristics. Also, since SHAKSPER is, in essence, my third child, giving her up is not easy for me. I plan to take plenty of time figuring out how to screen, to select, and to train my successor. I want to make sure that I leave SHAKSPER in capable hands since I believe that SHAKSPER plays an important role in the academic world. There will be more on this later. 


Best wishes for the New Year,



PS: 1/10/2017--There have been some issues with setting up the server for the new year. I have resolved most of them, but I made some mistakes in the process and will have to correct them in the future.



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