Stylometry as Merit Badge

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.169  Tuesday, 25 April 2017


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

Date:         April 25, 2017 at 10:11:26 AM EDT

Subject:    Stylometry as Merit Badge


It appears that it has become fashionable for scientific types to involve themselves in studies of literary style. Now Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a paper on the subject, and Brian Vickers’ “Shakespeare, Co-Author” is cited as an example of a “successful” stylometric analysis. You can’t know how good this makes me feel, given that some of the author affiliations are Harvard (Neandertals were flower children! Negative absolute temperatures!).  The paper is “Quantitative criticism of literary relationships”, 2017 114 (16) E3195-E3204; doi:10.1073/pnas.1611910114. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:


“Authors often convey meaning by referring to or imitating prior works of literature, a process that creates complex networks of literary relationships (“intertextuality”) and contributes to cultural evolution.  In this paper, we use techniques from stylometry and machine learning to address subjective literary critical questions about Latin literature, a corpus marked by an extraordinary concentration of intertextuality.”


Jim Carroll




Query: New Oxford

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.168  Tuesday, 25 April 2017


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

Date:         April 24, 2017 at 2:08:32 PM EDT

Subject:    Query: New Oxford


Dear Friends,


My university is considering whether to purchase various part of the New Oxford Shakespeare. I haven't had a chance to see how they all work up-close and in-person. I wondered whether anyone has had a chance to use them, particularly some of the digital tools/database packaged with them. I'm supposed to write up a justification for whether to acquire these different items and would welcome your input on their usefulness for scholars, for students, and/or for the general public.


With thanks in advance,

Andrew Fleck




Texts of King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.167  Monday, 24 April 2017


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

Date:         April 24, 2017 at 12:49:30 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Texts of King Lear


After comment on two interesting, dense prose pages (I3v–I4r) I’ll suggest (for no good reason) that an F addition could restore Q omission (in preparation for “good reason” examples). Coincidentally, 4.6 was cited recently, though without exhausting the issues. [F in Blue]:


[Lear.]        . . . giue the word ?    Edg. Sweet Margerum.

Lear. Passe.           Glost. I know that voyce. (Q1 4.6.90ff)

Lear. Ha Gonorill, ha Regan, they flattered mee like a dogge,


‘Ha! Gonerill with a white beard?’ [If that’s a restoration (and ‘ha Regan’ a Q cop-out), I suppose Lear recognizes Gloster but responds to the “blindfold” (bandage) as a reminder of his ‘unseeing’ daughter. Stone: “on the whole, Shakespeare is at pains to avoid portraying Lear’s madness as mere delirium” (209). Bordeaux writes ‘ha’ when modern ‘ah’ is appropriate; BQ spellings mean little.]  


and tould me I had white haires in my beard, ere the black ones

were there, to say I and no, to euery thing I saide, I and no toe,

was no good diuinitie . . .


To say I, and no, to euery thing that I said : I, and no too, [As usual, F mispunctuates: ‘they said I was wise young (Foakes): to say “aye and no” to everything I said “aye and no” to was irreverent’ (Matt. 5.36–37.) Shakespearians say Shakespeare didn’t punctuate only to excuse Hand D (a copy). Q1, Q2, and F Lear show that can’t be true.]


Glost. The tricke of that voyce I doe well remember, ist not

the King?

Lear. I euer inch a King when I do stare, see how the subiect

quakes, I pardon that mans life, what was thy cause, adultery?


[Lear has Gloster’s ‘Wanted Poster’ in his hand.]


                                                     . . . let copulation thriue,

for Glosters bastard son was kinder to his father then my daugh-

ters got tweene the lawfull sheets . . . 


[However, Lear must not yet suspect Edmund’s character; only Regan could “proclaim” Gloster’s death. Lear speaks of Gloster’s supposed “crime.”]


behold yon simpring dame whose face between

her forkes presageth snow, that minces vertue . . .


[Of ‘forkes’, Furness had “no inclination to emphasize an unsavory question by discussing it.” Snow is a bit ambiguous: Eskimos have a million words for it.]  


Glost. O ruind peece of nature, this great world should so

weare out to naught, do you know me?

Lear. I remember thy eyes well inough, dost thou squiny on

me, no do thy worst blind Cupid, ile not loue, reade thou that

challenge, marke the penning oft.


[Now the bandinage says Cupid. Lear again shows Gloster the “proclamation.”]


Glost. Were all the letters sunnes I could not see one.

Edg. I would not take this from report, it is, and my heart

breakes at it.


[Edgar reads his father’s death warrant and learns the cold, hard ‘facts.’]


            . . . Lear. Read. Glost. What! with the case of eyes

Lear. O ho, are you there with me, no eyes in your head,

                          . . . yet you see how this world goes.


[Hey, you really are blind!]


Glost. I see it feelingly . . .

Lear                        . . .  thou mightst

behold the great image of authoritie, a dogge, so bade in office,

 . . . through tottered raggs, smal vices do appeare, robes &

furd-gownes hides all, [Place sinnes with Gold, and the strong

Lance of Iustice hurtlesse breakes, Arme it in ragges a Pigmies

straw does pierce it. None does offend, none I say none Ile

able ‘em, take that of me my Friend, who haue the power to

seale th’accusers lips.] get thee glasse eyes, and like a scuruy po-

lititian seeme to see the things thou doest not . . .

Edg. O matter and impertinencie mixt reason in madnesse.

Lear.                                           . . . I knowe

thee well inough thy name is Gloster . . .

Gost. Alack alack the day.

Lear.                     . . . wee are come to this

great stage of fooles, this a good blocke. It were a delicate stra-

tagem to shoot a troupe of horse with fell, & when I haue stole

vpon these sonne in lawes, then kill . . .


[F corrects the spoonerism to ‘shoo . . . with felt.’ I guess blocke results from confusing shorthand b with p again; cke misreads tte. Read plot for block, for a theatrical ambush.]


Q1 evidence indicates omissions (restored or not) in its printing. F adds lines. It’s not difficult to imagine a Q1 omission about the size of the F interpolation above. However, I don’t suggest these lines were accidentally left out, or their independent excision. But if omission occurred elsewhere in composing the crowded pages, the printer’s options were limited: leave the lines out; adjust several formes to enable restoration; restore partially; or replace unimportant text with the omission (to its different spot.)


Stone observes that F additions are generally irrelevant to the sense or action of the play, so much so as to question their motives as revisions. He seems to go out of his way to fault the reviser. But on reading the interpolations as if they formed part of the “original” Q1 text, most are not noticeably out of place. Reading them as candidates for removal to gain space plausibly suggests investigation of nearby text for like-sized restorations in foul proofing. Results consistent with that hypothesis not only explain unlikely “revisions”; they establish a probability that even more F additions are restorations from Q1 copy or the printer’s records. Stone offers a number of instances of possible F recoveries (alongside failed correction of Q error) and Sir Brian Vickers supposes many F restorations.


Gerald E. Downs




Vickers' Review of New Oxford and Norton3 Shakespeares

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.166  Monday, 24 April 2017


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

Date:         April 21, 2017 at 12:20:30 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: From TLS (Vickers)




That Brian Vickers has bad things to say about the New Oxford Shakespeare is no surprise. He didn’t like the 1986-7 Oxford Complete Works of Shakespeare either, although it was done along entirely different lines from the New Oxford Shakespeare and the two projects should not be conflated the way Vickers’s conflates them in his review.


SHAKSPERians with long memories may have noticed that Vickers tends to vehemently disagree with an idea right up until the moment he accepts it, at which point he flips into not only endorsing the idea but also pretending that he had endorsed it all along and that it was other people, not himself, who just could not see that it was correct.  He even gets exasperated by the blindness of those who just cannot see the truths that he himself not so long before had rejected.


Reviewing the 1986-87 Oxford Shakespeare’s Textual Companion, Vickers was scathing about its claims that Shakespeare co-authored a substantial body of his writing. He found that this claim relied on the work of “a very miscellaneous group of scholars who tried, over the last century, to quantify Shakespeare’s style” (Review of English Studies 40 (1989):

402-11, p. 410).


Which miscellaneous scholars exactly? Vickers was happy to name them and they included “E. K. Chambers . . . Karl Wentersdorf . . . [and] Ants Oras” (p. 410). At this point in his career, Vickers was deeply sceptical of co-authorship, which he found “so often bruited in the past and so often discredited for inadequate evidence” (p. 405).


Fast-forward 13 years, and Vickers signals his change of mind by publishing Shakespeare, Co-Author (Oxford University Press, 2002). But he doesn’t acknowledge that he has changed his mind. Instead, he laments “the ingrained resistance that still exists whenever the question of Shakespeare’s co-authorship arises” (Shakespeare, Co-Author, 43-4).


And what of that “very miscellaneous group of scholars who tried, over the last century, to quantify Shakespeare’s style”? Vickers now approves of them. E. K. Chambers is approvingly cited many times (on 21 pages, says Vickers’s index) and he provided “the most reliable data” (p. 127) for verse tests. Karl Wentersdorf is now credited with “providing convincing documentation” (p. 42) of Shakespeare’s collaborative writing and “recent research by [A. C.] Partridge, [David J.] Lake, and [MacDonald P.] Jackson has confirmed” (p. 132) what Wentersdorf found. Verse tests went out of fashion for a while, but “their validity was confirmed by the introduction of far more rigorous metrical procedures by Ants Oras” (p. viii), whose “work has many important implications for Shakespeare studies” (p. 54) and was based on “meticulous computation” (p. 55).


Same scholars, different Vickers review. I won’t be surprised if the new authorship attribution claims in the New Oxford Shakespeare one day get endorsed by Vickers and he complains about the “ingrained resistance” of those who resisted them.


Gabriel Egan

General Editor, The New Oxford Shakespeare




Crimes at Midnight

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.165  Monday, 24 April 2017


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

Date:         April 21, 2017 at 11:43:15 AM EDT

Subject:    Crimes at Midnight


“In 1980,...Chimes at Midnight...was considered a failure.”


Indeed it was, and for good reason.  When I first saw the film in the 1970s, I thought that it contained (a) a powerful battle sequence, (b) an impressive performance by Gielgud, and (c) nothing else of value.  Subsequent re-viewings have not altered my opinion.


--Charles Weinstein 




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