Daily Archives: April 23, 2011

Coming Attractions

And so we’ve come to April 23 at last! It’s time to begin our (I invite you to join me) serial reading of the plays. We’ll begin, as I suggested we must, with Romeo and Juliet. After that, since Spring finally appears to have come to Toronto, the romantic comedies are in order. We’ll start with Much Ado About Nothing and take in Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which, yes, I intend to be reading on Midsummer Night. (As You Like It and Twelfth Night are reserved for the very end of the Shakespeare Project. If I can manage it, we’ll be reading Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night, January 6, 2012.) After that things are pretty much wide open, though I’ll have a block of Shakespeare’s Villains (with a nod to Stephen Berkoff), probably ending it with Othello and moving into my favorites, the so-called problem plays. It’s a natural transition since Measure for Measure is a curdled version of Othello (and Troilus and Cressida is a curdled version of Romeo and Juliet). Whether or not I can hold off on The Winter’s Tale, an underrated play, until winter, there’s going to be something of interest going on all the time through at least the rest of the year. So please visit, bookmark, subscribe, comment, and enjoy!

Happy 447th!

Just to make it official while it’s still the day. Thanks for everything, Will.

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Was the Play? Enough Already with Double Falsehood (Part 3 of 3)

for the first post in this series, click here; for the second, click here.

Believe it or not, I could go on talking about Double Falsehood for many, many more posts; the issues it raises, as opposed to the play itself, are that significant. I’ll be coming back to them in other contexts again and again, but for now, since it’s Shakespeare’s birthday, it is time to step away from this problematic text and turn back to the real stuff. So I’m going to look briefly at one final line of inquiry and then say what I think it all means.

Here we come to the most technical subject I’m likely ever to discuss in this blog, but I’ll keep it simple. The question “Who wrote what?” has concerned scholars for a long time, and not just about Double Falsehood. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some looked for a quantitative approach. All writers adopt certain ways of saying things as it were subconsciously. Find these, and you have markers of a particular writer’s style that are both idiosyncratic and subtle enough to be hard to forge. Find enough, and you can tell one writer apart from another more objectively than you can using intuitions about “style.” To take a really crude example, Shakespeare was of the generation that used “hath” instead of “has”; his younger colleague Fletcher tends to use “has.” Scholars throughout the twentieth century performed heroic feats collocating these markers (particularly the wonderfully named Ants Oras), but when databases were developed the field really took off. Particularly when it’s a database that’s being analyzed, we call this technique stylometric analysis.

Applied to Shakespeare, here’s the idea: you look for markers in the texts we know to be his that are not found in texts we know to be by others, and apply them to problematic texts. Obviously, this isn’t some kind of magic technique, and it isn’t really science, but the method is scientific and there are already results that are statistically significant. Stylometric analysis appears to have confirmed that Shakespeare and Fletcher did collaborate on Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, and that Shakespeare and George Wilkins collaborated on Pericles, dividing the labor where intuition says (the clunky early acts are Wilkins’s, the brothel scene is Shakespeare’s). It even caused Jonathan Bate, who edited the  Arden Third Titus Andronicus, to change his mind about whether Shakespeare had a collaborator on that play. Most of all, it has been applied to the authorship controversy, where its results are universally and conclusively against the claims of Oxford. (As James Shapiro notes in his magisterial Contested Will, Oxfordians are just barely beginning to come to grips with these results.)

As you would expect, stylometry has been brought to bear on Double Falsehood. It’s an irresistible test case, even though you wouldn’t expect it to yield conclusive results (as my account should indicate, it’s not going to deliver line-by-line attributions, and you need a certain amount of text to make it work at all). If Double Falsehood is really the palimpsest it’s supposed to be, the results should be all over the map. And so they are, but Professor Hammond doesn’t acknowledge this. His discussion is desultory, relying on only two sources. He ignores Vickers’s skepticism and seems unaware of the work of Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza, whose “Oxford by the Numbers” is the most comprehensive stylometric analysis of Shakespeare, and which concludes (incidentally) that Double Falsehood hasn’t got any Shakespeare in it. And truly bizarrely, without citing any other analysis, he says that “The other [than “has” versus “hath”] most prominent identifier of Fletcher’s style is his addiction to the feminine ending.” A feminine ending occurs when a line in iambic pentameter, the usual blank verse line we see all the time in Shakespeare (for example, Portia’s The QUAL-i-TY of MER-cy IS not STRAIN’D) has an extra unstressed syllable at the end. So Hamlet:

How ALL oc-CAS-ions DO in-FORM a-GAINST me.

 What’s bizarre is that if you look at anybody else who does stylometric analysis, they’ll tell you that the feminine ending is a marker for Shakespeare and that it got more pronounced as his career went on. Check out Figure 1 in this article by Elloitt and Valenza, which shows that in the early 1610s Shakespeare was using at least 30%, as much as almost 40%, feminine endings. So at the least, I don’t know what Hammond’s table of feminine endings in Double Falsehood is supposed to prove.

The takeaway? There may be stylometric evidence that indicates that Shakespeare had a hand in Double Falsehood (I particularly need to look at Jonathan Hope’s The Authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays, which alas is not in the Toronto Public Library; from what I can gather via Google Books, Hope has what he thinks is a marker that doesn’t vary under revision under other hands, and he seems to think it shows at least one scene may be by Shakespeare) but Hammond doesn’t present it, at least not effectively. We’ll revisit this issue.

Which brings us to the bottom line. How is Double Falsehood the play? Whether or not it’s got Shakespeare in it, is it readable or performable?

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Spam, Spam, Spam, Shakespeare and Spam: Double Falsehood, One Dead Unjugged Rabbitfish Later (Part 2 of 3)

for the first post in this series, click here; for the third, click here.

Wife: I don’t want ANY spam!

Man: Why can’t she have egg bacon spam and sausage?

Wife: THAT’S got spam in it!

Man: Hasn’t got as much spam in it as spam egg sausage and spam, has it?

Waitress: Shut up! (Vikings stop) Bloody Vikings! You can’t have egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam.

Wife (shrieks): I don’t like spam!

Man: Sshh, dear, don’t cause a fuss. I’ll have your spam. I love it. I’m having spam spam spam spam spam spam spam beaked beans spam spam spam and spam!

My first post in this series ended on a cliffhanger: the chain of argument that leads some scholars to believe that Double Falsehood, first presented in 1727, was based on a play called Cardenio written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher in 1613:

  1. 1613: A play by Shakespeare and Fletcher called Cardenio is presented at court;
  2. 1653: Humphrey Moseley registers a play called Cardenio “by Mr Fletcher. & Shakespeare”;
  3. 1660s: A prompter slices and dices Cardenio for performance, probably cutting out most of the Shakespeare in the process, and makes a copy;
  4. 1720s: Theobald acquires the prompter’s copy and two others and slices and dices it further, probably removing even more Shakespeare, and presents the result as Double Falsehood.

There’s supposed to be a “broad consensus” that the timeline is essentially correct, although it’s harder to find scholars who endorse it than you’d think, if that were true. Jonathan Bate certainly does (in The Genius of Shakespeare as well as in the linked review). As the New York Times article I linked to in my first post shows, Stephen Greenblatt does not, though the fact that he has a competing version might just color his judgment a tad (or “tad bit,” as people are wont to say these days, although a tad is a bit). In the same article Harold Bloom, never anything less than most emphatic, most emphatically does not. James Shapiro does, rather more cautiously in the Times article than in this really wonderful bit from the program to the Classic Stage Company’s production (“Davenant” is William Davenant, a seventeenth-century actor who liked to let it be thought that he was Shakespeare’s illegitimate son):

As fate would have it, the day after CSC decided to produce Theobald’s alleged adaptation, I ran into the Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro on the street. I told him what we were about to embark upon and asked him if he thought there were any truth to Theobald’s claim that his DOUBLE FALSEHOOD was indeed a version of the missing Shakespeare work that had become “the holy grail” for many Shakespeare aficionados. James smiled and pointed to the street beneath out feet. “See this street? Underneath this street is another street and underneath that street is cobblestone and underneath the cobblestone: Dirt. It’s the same thing with this play, DOUBLE FALSEHOOD. There’s Theobald’s adaptation, underneath that is probably Betterton’s prompter’s adaptation, and underneath Davenant’s and underneath Davenant’s: Shakespeare.”

“As fate would have it” indeed. The same way fate contrived to have Marshall McLuhan just happen to be standing behind that potted plant in the theater lobby in Annie Hall. (The “James” is simply priceless.)

So where is this “consensus”? In a somewhat unusual circumstance, it all goes back to a single 1969 article by a scholar named John Freehafer. As far as I can tell, Freehafer invented the timetable, and everyone who accepts Shakespeare’s hand in Double Falsehood follows him. Professor Hammond certainly does, stating that “Freehafer’s essay is, in my opinion, a remarkable piece of work, one of the finest essays, it may not be too sensational to assert, I have ever read on any literary subject.” That’s pretty damn sensational, all right. And in fact the article is ingenious and extremely learned. I see only two problems with it. It begs the question whenever the opportunity arises, and it ignores contrary evidence.

Go back to the start of the timeline, and the crucial assumption should be obvious: that Cardenio is a play by Shakespeare and Fletcher. To go all pedantic, the entries of payment to the King’s Men that show that a Cardenio play existed mention six plays: Cardenio, The Captain (by Fletcher), The Alchemist (by Ben Jonson), The Hotspurr (i.e Henry IV Part 1), Benedicte and Betteris (i.e. Much Ado About Nothing), and A Badd Beginninge Makes a Good Endinge (an even more mysterious play than Cardenio). There’s no reason to doubt that this list is accurate and that it therefore establishes the existence of a play called Cardenio. But that doesn’t show that Cardenio was written by Shakespeare and Fletcher. The only actual evidence, rather than ingenious speculation, that Freehafer presents—or could present—is the very ex post registration of the play in 1653 as by “Mr Fletcher. & Shakespeare.” As I mentioned, Humphrey Moseley, the publisher who registered the play, registered five other plays as being by Shakespeare, and we don’t take any those seriously; why should this case be different? Because unless this case is different, there’s no reason at all to ascribe the lost Cardenio to any particular author. Freehafer goes so far as to say that since Moseley was Fletcher’s publisher, he would have preferred a solo-authored play by Fletcher, but this strikes me as simply disingenuous given Moseley’s other attributions, which Freehafer doesn’t mention.

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