Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.016  Friday, 13 January 2017


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

Date:         January 12, 2017 at 8:12:05 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Wolfe


Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator


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


The Heather Wolfe story can’t be quite like this, surely, if it’s so new?  Oxfordians, etc., have never questioned that Shakespeare the player was the man from Stratford; the point of dispute is whether this Stratfordian player is also the playwright.  Unless she has found a coat of arms that says that, I can’t see what has been proved ...




The answer to Julia Griffin’s query is quite simple. I liken it to the distributive property used in algebra, that is, If A=B, and B=C, then A=C. In other words, if William Shakespeare of Stratford was the person who had a coat of arms, and if the armiguous gentleman William Shakespeare was the author, then William Shakespare of Stratford was the author. In fact, we know that Shakespeare of Stratford was indeed the person who inherited a coat of arms and the title of “gentleman” from his father, not only because of the arms displayed upon his tomb monument but also by the title “gentleman” placed after his name in several legal documents after his father’s death. And we know that William Shakespeare the author was referred to as “Master”–the honorific reserved for gentlemen in the Elizabethan era–by several contemporaries and in official records (Stationers Registry). So the William Shakespeare of Stratford, gentleman, was the same Mr. William Shakespeare named as the author on the title page of the First Folio and elsewhere in various contemporary poems and accolades.


What Heather Wolfe did was discover documents that included his first name, William, therefore removing any ambiguity about who was referred to as a player, as well as the original documents naming him as a player (the one we had was an 18th century copy). The documents also strongly imply that W.S. was involved in the eventual granting of the arms in 1598-9, which has long been suspected.


For a more detailed summary of the copious available evidence for Shakespeare’s authorship that is routinely denied by so-called “skeptics”, see my and David Kathman’s essay, “How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts.” Another good overview of the evidence can be found in the Wikipedia article, Shakespeare authorship question.


Tom Reedy




Speaking of Shakespeare with Columbia's Jean Howard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.015  Friday, 13 January 2017


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

Date:        January 12, 2017 at 7:09:11 PM EST

Subject:   Speaking of Shakespeare with Columbia's Jean Howard


Speaking of Shakespeare

With Columbia's Jean Howard


Wednesday, January 18, at 8 p.m.

The National Arts Club

15 Gramercy Park South in Manhattan

Admission Free; Reservations Requested


We’re delighted to launch our 2017 Speaking of Shakespeare series with one of today’s most influential thinkers. A Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and a leader who has presided over the Shakespeare Association of America, Jean E. Howard is the author of such books as Shakespeare’s Art of Orchestration (1984), Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s Histories (1997), and Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy 1598-1642 (2007). She has co-edited two indispensable collections, The Stage and Struggle in Early Modern England (1994) and Marxist Shakespeares (2000), and she serves as a co-editor of The Norton Shakespeare and as general editor of the Bedford Contextual Editions of Shakespeare.


One of Professor Howard’s current projects is Staging History, a volume about Shakespeare’s impact on key modern playwrights, and we hope you’ll join her and the Guild’s John Andrews for a lively NAC discussion about that and a variety of other engaging topics. 


Visit www.shakesguild.org for details about Shakespeare Guild offerings. There you’ll read about such highlights as our recent Gielgud Award presentation to Vanessa Redgrave in London’s venerable Guildhall, and you’ll see how you can help support such worthy endeavors. For inquiries, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..






The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.014  Thursday, 12 January 2017


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

     Date:        January 11, 2017 at 5:03:02 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


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

     Date:        January 11, 2017 at 7:50:50 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: Co-Author




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

Date:        January 11, 2017 at 5:03:02 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author


Larry Weiss writes


> The debate, if there is one, between Gabriel Egan

> ... and Sir Brian Vickers ... over whether lexical or

> function words are of greater significance in making

> or rejecting attributions seems not to recognize that

> they are both important.


I don’t know where Larry gets this impression from. In my SHAKSPER posting I merely defended the study of function words against unfounded claims that they tell us nothing about authorship. In our Shakespeare Quarterly article, we write that “Ideally, for each text we would count the proximity of every word to every other word, to capture the phenomenon of word-clustering at all levels—among rare words and frequent ones—wherever it occurs”. That’s exactly the point Larry claims that I don’t recognize.


Larry says that Hugh Craig’s work on rare-word and common-word frequencies (which is based on the foundational Delta and Zeta tests invented by John Burrows) is important for corroboration of hypotheses by independent means. I agree. The forthcoming ‘New Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion’ (edited by Gary Taylor and me) will contain one essay by John Burrows and Hugh Craig and another by Hugh

Craig alone that help explain the authorship claims made by the edition.


Larry rightly insists that all sorts of aspects of authorial style ought to be investigated, so I hope he’ll be pleased to hear that the General Editors of the New Oxford Shakespeare agree and as a consequence the Companion will also have essays on the evidence from metrical habits (by Marina Tarlinskaja amongst others) and on the latest techniques including the measurement of Shannon Entropy and data analysis by the use of Random Forests and Nearest Shrunken Centroid.


Pervez Rizvi was kind enough to say that our Shakespeare Quarterly article “does a superb job of explaining the mathematics in a way that non-mathematicians could understand” and since as co-editor of the Companion I took the same care to ensure that it too has this desideratum, I hope he finds that it does.


Pervez raises a most pertinent point about our decision to count only adjacencies within a speech and to ignore those that span a change of speaker. That’s what we do in the Shakespeare Quarterly paper. In the more technical paper, we’re concerned with non-Shakespearian prose writings and the segmentation is by sentences, not speeches. I’m sorry that Pervez got the impression that sentence boundaries are also respected in the Shakespeare Quarterly paper: they are not.


But should we respect speech boundaries when looking for function word adjacencies? On reflection, probably not. The thinking behind this decision is that at some boundaries we have to assume that Shakespeare’s mind was interrupted by a natural break in the writing. Because a scene break is, by definition, the occasion for a change of people on stage and/or the location in which the action takes place, it seems unlikely that Shakespeare would still be dwelling (consciously or unconsciously) on the words used at the end of the last speech of the old scene when composing the first words of the first speech of the new scene.


Between speeches a similar interruption can be caused by intervening stage directions, of course. So there won’t always be a ‘flow’ between speeches. But then again, most speeches do not have stage directions between them and stage directions can occur within speeches as well as between them.


Because our moving ‘window’ of consideration is only five words wide, and we give logarithmically diminishing weighting to the words near the far end of that window, the decision to segment at speech boundaries does not in the end make much difference to the results. Most speeches are significantly longer than 5 words.


But Pervez also raises the pertinent point of changes in Shakespeare’s writing across his career: if early Shakespeare is considerably unlike late Shakespeare on the feature we’re measuring then one not should derive a single Shakespearian profile that lumps them together.  There is more work to be done here, especially (now that I think on it) because as Helmut Ilsemann has shown the average length of speeches in Shakespeare dropped sharply around 1599 from about 10 words to about five. That does indeed make the segmentation question that Pervez raises particularly important. I’m grateful to him for raising it and we’ll be debating this in our team.


Finally, Pervez is exactly right to acknowledge that the press reporting of scholarly work is never as nuanced as the scholars would like. The caveats he is “sure Gabriel will concede” are indeed ones I concede and they are not present in the press release.


Gabriel Egan




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

Date:        January 11, 2017 at 7:50:50 PM EST

Subject:    Re: Co-Author


Pervez Rizvi:


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.


Computers aren’t new. Computer-aided studies of function words have been around for ages, and the evidence of the arxiv paper by Segarra, Eisen and Ribeiro shows essentially the same thing: that function words might be useful for attribution if you have a large number of texts (100,000 words) of a known author to serve as a basis, and if the texts you are testing aren’t too short (less than 10,000 words). Thus the statement in the online article (“Shakespeare and his co-authors, as told by Penn engineers”) that “Analysis of Shakespeare’s author profile suggests that he was not the only author of three “Henry VI” plays, which were most likely a collaboration between Shakespeare and Marlowe or Peele” is not believable, because there are only 4 known plays by Peele, as the authors themselves point out, and the seven Marlowe plays are in the same or similar genre of history, and, again as the authors themselves point out, works of similar genre have more similarities. It would also be helpful if one of the people involved would stop being coy and tell exactly what sections of the H6 plays are not by Shakespeare. I would be happy to explain exactly why they are all by Shakespeare! It’s always vastly amusing to me that the claims of alternate authorship by these means always neglect to give actual passages, instead of relying on abstract word counts. They also never want to explain how or why Marlowe would have been involved in these collaborations, and why no one ever wants to attribute part of play by say, Greene, to Marlowe, it’s always Shakespeare; for some reason the greatest writer in the English language is always the one who needs the helping hand. You also have to start asking awkward questions like “Did Marlowe only write seven plays because he was so busy helping Shakespeare? Didn’t he want a career of his own?”.


Here are some facts concerning the use of the word “for” in some of Shakespeare’s plays, including 2H6. I compare act 4 of 2H6 (the scene with “Let’s kill all the lawyers” that is claimed to be by Marlowe) with similar sized scenes in Act 4’s of other plays, early, middle and late.




Act 4

scene 1 147 lines 10 times 0.068 times per line

scene 2 190 lines 22 times 0.1156 per line 

scene 7 136 lines 14 times 0.102 times per line


Comparing only the longer scenes with scene 2, scenes 1 and 7 differ from scene 2 by 41% and 12% respectively.

Other acts in 2H6 that are about 190 lines (scene, #lines, # of “for”, “for”/line):


1.3 220 24 0.109

2.1 201 11 0.055

5.1 216 16 0.074

an almost 50% difference between the highest and lowest values.



Taming of the Shrew


Act 4

scene 2 121 lines 15 times 0.123 per line

scene 3 196 lines 13 times 0.066 per line

A difference of 46% with each other, and these acts are both above and below the rate of similar sized scenes in 2H6, and the average, 0.094, is close the rate in scene 7 of 2H6. If someone wanted to use this data, they could say “Scene 2 of 2H6 isn’t like scene 3 of Taming of the Shrew”, must not be by the same author!”, while another could argue “Scene 2 of 2H6 is like scene two of Taming of the Shrew, must be by the same author!”.


Here are all the acts in Taming of the Shrew that are about 190 lines like scene

2 of 2H6:

4.1 211 lines 12 0.056

4.3 196 lines 13 0.066

5.2 189 lines 21 0.111


A 50% difference between the highest and lowest rates there, and they look pretty similar to the rates in the acts from 2H6, not too surprising since they are both early plays.


What about Hamlet? Ah, well, Hamlet might have been written by [Oxford, Derby, Marlowe, Bacon, Nostradamus, Paracelsus, King Arthur, Beyonce...take your  pick] so maybe my comparison isn’t valid, but let’s see anyway:


Act 4:

scenes 3&4 combined 134 lines  10 times  0.0746 per line

scene 7 194 lines   8 times   0.041 per line

A difference of 45%.


In the brief scenes 1&2 of act 4 of Hamlet, 45 and 31 lines respectively, “for” occurs only once each, while in another brief scene, scene 6, 33 lines, it occurs 8 times, a huge variability (0.022, 0.032 and 0.24 per line respectively, a roughly 1000% difference).


Other acts in Hamlet that are about 190 lines:

1.1 175 7   0.040

1.5 190 6   0.032

3.1 188 14  0.074

3.4 217 14  0.065

4.5 211 13  0.062  (Varying by 57%.)




Act 4

combining 1,3 & 4, 125 lines, 13 times, 0.104 per line.

scene 2 403 lines, 24 times, 0.060 per line.


I found other scenes in Cymbeline that were roughly 190 lines long like 4.2 2H6:


1.1 179 lines  10 0.056

1.4 172 lines  10 0.058

1.6 200 lines  17 0.085

3.4 193 lines   9 0.047

5.4 206 lines  16 0.077


a difference of 45% between the highest and lowest rates there.


So the rate of commonplace (“function”) word use varies from scene to scene by a considerable margin, making “function” words useless in attributing relatively short stretches of text like a scene to anyone. But, of course, this variability from scene to scene of the function word frequency makes them an ideal playground for alternative authorship cranks, who can pick and choose what words and what acts they want to assign to their favorite hobby horse, whether it’s Oxford or Marlowe or whomever. If you want, do it the Vickers way: just make up a bunch of tests, combining say, “for” with the word “night”, and “or” with “black”, whatever you want, make up twenty or so. Then count them in Shakespeare and in your favorite hobby horse, and guess what? 3 or 4 of them will be close in frequency to your hobby horse’s frequency. Don’t mention the 16 or 17 tests that didn’t match.  This will be especially effective if you throw in some sophisticated looking statistical tests with lotsa jargon ‘n stuff. Then you can proudly proclaim “It was actually the Earl of East Armpit who wrote Shakespeare!” and the newspapers will come running. Gare-on-teed!


Jim Carroll




Velz, Barton, Foakes Next of Kin

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.013  Thursday, 12 January 2017


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

Date:        January 11, 2017 at 6:02:45 PM EST

Subject:    Velz, Barton, Foakes Next of Kin


<please understand that I am not giving legal advice.>


Dear Mr. Weiss,


Thank you for your expert, I’m going to call it, illegal advice. 


I am aware that I have the right to publish the interviews no matter what my guests want, but I would never be so discourteous. If they do not want their interview reprinted for any reason, I will respect their wishes. I am also aware that next of kin is not necessarily the executor, but the next of kin is a good place to start when trying to find the executor, don’t you think?

My editor wants me to get the best consent I can find, and so do I. He is willing to go ahead if nobody can be found to give consent as long as a statement to that effect is made. So far, I am still unable to find contact information for John Velz’s daughters, and I understand that they are his executors. Will be happy to hear from anybody who knows where to find one of them. Please write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


All the best, 

Mike Jensen 





Heather Wolfe, Folger Library Curator

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.012  Thursday, 12 January 2017


[Editor’s Note: Discussion of the so-called “Authorship Question” has been banned from SHAKSPER since the 1990s. Ian Steele contribution is a clarification of the matters at issue. As a reminder, I will not post submissions that advocate for anyone other the William Shakespeare from Stratford as the player and the playwright. Please restrain from sending me “hate” mail on this policy and my right to determine it. –Hardy]


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

     Date:        January 11, 2017 at 4:27:12 PM EST

     Subj:        Re: SHAKSPER: Wolfe; Shakespeare the player


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

     Date:        January 12, 2017 at 9:41:33 AM EST

     Subj:        Heather Wolfe Article




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

Date:        January 11, 2017 at 4:27:12 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Wolfe; Shakespeare the player


In response to Julia Griffin, I just wanted to let you know that I had the same thought, and sent an email to Heather Wolfe asking if any document mentioned Shakespeare as “player.”


If Ms. Wolfe responds, I will share it with all on this list


Best wishes,

Ira Zinman



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

Date:        January 12, 2017 at 9:41:33 AM EST

Subject:    Heather Wolfe Article


Julia Griffin (SHAKSPER, January 11, 2017) makes a fair point in her commentary on the Heather Wolfe article. The latter seems to bring no new information to shift the ground under dispute in Authorship wrangles.


However, the heraldic history does, I suggest, help in another way to undo the anti-Stratfordian hypothesis summarized by Professor Griffin: that Shakspere, the player from Stratford (with a coat of arms), was not the author accredited under the name of “Shakespeare”. For those interested here is the relevant counter-argument, in extract.


It is a requirement of some alternative Authorship theories to deny attribution of the name, “Shakespeare”, to the player from Stratford, born in 1564. The latter, these theories postulate, was really just “Shakspere”, who spelled his name thus (or in ways closely approximating it). It was only with the dedication of a publication in 1593, the long poem Venus & Adonis, that the nom de plume, “Shakespeare”, appeared and became established. Some challengers of the orthodox argue that its evocation of the brandishing of a weapon (or perhaps a phallus) could not have been an accident: the pen name must have been concocted to signify other, subtle meanings.


As in certain other areas, the Sceptics make some interesting points. The baptismal record of the Stratfordian shows him as the son of John Shakspere. The records of bond and licence to marry (each dated 1582) have him as Shagspere and Shaxpere, respectively. Each of the baptismal records of his children (dated 1583 and 1585) name him Shakspere. It is only after the appearance of the Venus & Adonis pen name that the records of the time appear (in most instances) to render his name in the same way as the Shakespeare of authorship. Even then the Stratford man had a tendency to revert to the earliest version of his name: two of the three signatures on his will (executed in 1616) appear to be rendered by him as Shakspere.


Of course, there was then considerable variation in the spellings of most words and names – and this is the principal argument of orthodoxy. Those interested in the many versions of Shakspere (and the pronunciation of its syllables, subject then, as now, to strong regional variations in England) will find these listed and discussed at The Spelling and Pronunciation of Shakespeare’s Name. Nevertheless, it remains intriguing that the witty author of Venus & Adonis should adapt the presentation of his handle to be (or, more likely, to remain) so redolent of pun when expressed in the vernacular of his principal, London-influenced audience.


The puns perceptible in “Shakespeare” are interpreted and emphasized by those classes of Authorship Sceptic which find advantage in so doing. Some deprecate orthodoxy for not recognizing what looks like an invention of purpose. Yet, as will become apparent below, William Shakspere of Stratford had, on the occasion of his first appearance in print, several reasonable incentives to stress (in the vernacular of his principal readership) the echoes in his birth-name of the shaker of a tool of penetration.


For those who prefer familiar context, we have only to look at aspirations of the Shakspere clan, inferred from historical records. William’s father, John, had initiated the quest for a prestigious family coat of arms – some twenty years before the appearance in print of “Shakespeare”. The application was revived in 1596 and the grant of the coat of arms was confirmed within a few years (all through the efforts, most historians believe, of William). The device shows a falcon brandishing a spear. Punning of this ilk, both visual and aural, must have been in the shared thoughts of the Shaksperes from the inception of their dreams of a coat of arms (and probably from time immemorial when it came to verbal wordplay). Consequently, William would long have had the shaking-spear association strongly in mind when opportunities came to promote his name. The practice of his play on its presentation (in the vernacular of London) is well corroborated by the now famous “Shake-scene” reference of Robert Greene in 1592 (described in all of the many modern biographies of Shakespeare). Greene castigates a competing author, depicted as an upstart player (neither an aristo, nor even a university man) who is evidently identified with a “shake” of some sort (not a “shack”). Greene also associates this author with a play, subsequently credited in print to Shakespeare, and with the conceit (held by the upstart Shaker) that he can deliver blank verse as well as the best of the university scholars of Greene’s address.


With less widely known evidence come further considerations. They are triggered by the very address which gave birth to “Shakespeare” in print .... for the dedication of Venus & Adonis is riddled with puns! Even the Latin script preceding the address is suspect for secondary meaning. The number, context and cohesion of the puns show them to be, in all probability, deliberate. Their secondary theme reveals an angry and needy author, once championed by his dedicatee, now second to a rival in the affections of the latter – so much so that he foresees little return for major investment of efforts on behalf of the patron. Those interested in the evidence will find it described in Double Dealing. The phenomenon (of the presence in the dedication of the two ostensibly conflicting themes) is consistent with both the status of William Shakspere and – remarkably – highly unusual content of Shake-speare's Sonnets. However, it belies the notion that “Shakespeare” was the pen name of a nobleman. It also belies the notion that Shakspere, the player from Stratford, was acting as front-man for an anonymous author.....




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