The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.166 Monday, 24 April 2017
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.
General Editor, The New Oxford Shakespeare