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This chapter explores the relationship between three stretches of text in which a hunt is described: the exchange between Tamora and Aaron in Titus Andronicus (2.3.10–50); several stanzas of Venus and Adonis (830–99); and Thomas Arden’s narrative of his nightmare in Arden of Faversham, in which he is transformed from a by-stander to the prey (6.6–34). The first two of these passages are indubitably by Shakespeare, and reasons are given for concluding that all three, which share complexes of words and images, are by a single author. The order in which the works were composed is discussed. These and samples from other early plays – including a further evocation of hunted deer in 1 Henry VI, 4.2 ߝ are analysed to illustrate distinctive aspects of Shakespeare’s early poetic style, such as the way that word-play generates imagery, giving his verse its vivid particularity.
Shakespeare is widely held to be the greatest writer in English. There must therefore be such a thing as literary value upon which agreement can be reached, and the best of those works attributed to Shakespeare must possess qualities that distinguish them from the works of other dramatists and poets. This is demonstrably the case. Most of Shakespeare's plays are mainly in verse, and his poetic style differs from that of each of the several playwrights who at times collaborated with him. It tends also to be more complex, concentrated and expressive – to carry a heavier freight of meaning. The poetry enriches the dramatized events in subtle ways. Shakespeare's dramatic verse is unmatched by that of his professional contemporaries. Its remoteness from the amateur compositions of noblemen proposed as ‘the real Shakespeare’ is even greater. This essay aims briefly to indicate the literary critical grounds for such a claim and, more especially, to describe certain kinds of quantitative tests that differentiate Shakespeare's writing from writing by his co-authors and those ‘Shakespeare claimants’ who have left poems or plays for comparison. The terms ‘stylometrics’ or ‘computational stylistics’ refer to this numerical measurement of style.
Scores of candidates have been put forward as sole or partial authors of Shakespeare's œuvre. Many of these have left no poetry or drama under their own names, so that it is impossible to investigate whether creative writing acknowledged to be theirs is stylistically compatible with the writings of the Shakespeare canon. The Claremont Shakespeare Clinic has, however, devised a series of tests that in combination differentiate every extant work of the core Shakespeare canon from a very large number of other early modern poetic and dramatic works, including those by the fifteen full claimants and twenty-two partial claimants for whom relevant material was available. ‘Full’ claimants are alleged to be the true authors behind the Shakespearian nom-de-plume. ‘Partial’ claimants are held to have composed portions of the canonical works and include several men accepted by orthodox scholars as collaborators with Shakespeare.
The famous three pages added by ‘Hand D’ to the multi-authored manuscript play Sir Thomas More have been accepted as Shakespeare’s by recent editors of his complete works. But scepticism about the attribution is still expressed by prominent scholars, and a new study by Ward E. Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza, in which the disputed material is subjected to their ‘silver bullet’ methods of computer-aided testing, concludes that the probabilities are solidly against Shakespeare’s authorship. Elsewhere I have attempted to rebut their arguments. Here I adduce some fresh evidence in favour of the majority view.
The approach to be reported on took advantage of the availability of the Chadwyck-Healey ‘Literature Online’ electronic database, which includes searchable texts of virtually all extant early modern English drama.4 For much of the twentieth century, scholars attempting to establish the authorship of anonymous plays of Shakespeare’s age, or to apportion shares in collaborative ones, relied on citing verbal parallels between a doubtful work and the writings of some favoured candidate. The main problem with this methodology was that it permitted only one outcome – the display of a certain number of similarities in phrasing, deemed ‘significant’ by the compiler, but difficult for any uncommitted judge to assess. Ostensibly impressive evidence of this kind could be collected in support of mutually exclusive theories. The implicit assumption was always that only common authorship could explain the quantity and quality of the parallels listed, but since different investigators, employing the same method, reached opposing conclusions, the assumption must often have been unjustified.
The experience of watching Deborah Warner’s RSC production of King John in the Pit at the Barbican two days after having seen the whole Henry VI-Richard III cycle, adapted as The Plantagenets, in the main theatre convinced me that in King John scenes are more subtly and dramatically conceived than in the Henry VI plays. They are more apt to be built around conflicts within characters as well as between them, to pose moral dilemmas, to be sharpened by ironies and shaped by tensions, and to develop towards climax and resolution. The progress in Shakespeare’s art is apparent both in public scenes in which those motivated by ‘commodity’ manoeuvre to defend or enhance their power and in more private scenes in which individuals suffer the consequences of these political machinations. And the poetry is more complex, the verse more flexible. A. R. Braunmuller must surely be right in deciding, after a careful consideration of the matter, that the anonymous The Troublesome Reign of King John (1591) was not derivative from Shakespeare’s play but served as a source for it, and that ‘King John was composed and performed in the mid 1590s, most probably 1595–6’ (p. 15).
Far from transcending farce, as critics have claimed, The Comedy of Errors ‘uses farce to achieve ends that are proper to farce – surprise, suspense, laughter’; in this play characters ‘do not so much relate as collide with one another’. Patrick Swinden’s no-nonsense account remains true to one’s experience of the play in performance: the hectic pace of the complicated plot ensures that its puppets have about as much psychological and emotional reality as Keystone Cops. It seemed wholly apt that in the BBC TV production Egeon’s long opening tale of woe – in which a delightfully improbable series of coincidences and mishaps serves to set up the situation for the delightfully improbable confusions that follow – was comically mimed by a troupe of street-theatre harlequins, and drew histrionic sniffles and tears from the listening Ephesians.
T. S. Dorsch, editor of the New Cambridge Comedy of Errors, takes the more common view that 'we must... feel deeply for Egeon as he tells his woeful story' (p. 14). He sees the play as 'a finely-balanced mixture of pathos and suspense, illusion and delusion, love turned bitter and love that is sweet, farce and fun' (p. 12), and briefly expands this description in the kind of old-fashioned character analysis that worries away at the differences in the dispositions of Dromio of Ephesus and his Syracusan twin. It is true, of course, that the play incorporates Adriana's jealousy, the wooing of her sister Luciana by Antipholus of Syracuse, and the hurt perplexity of Egeon in the closing scene before the joyous family reunion.
'Editing might... be provisionally defined as a total waste of time which periodically reconstructs our image of the past.' Gary Taylor ends the first paragraph of his introduction to the Oxford Shakespeare's Textual Companion with this quip about the double-bind in which editors are caught: those who evade ridicule as pedantic drudges fussing over trivia expose themselves to charges of recklessness, presumption, and cultural vandalism.
Nobody is likely to dismiss the Oxford editors' prodigious labours as inconsequential drudgery. They have produced two separate volumes of Complete Works, one in old spelling and one modernized, that are spectacularly unlike any other. Reviewers wishing to convict them of 'hurlyburly innovation' that threatens a national monument as the Percies threatened King Henry the Fourth's state must somehow demolish Taylor's general defence of the editors' procedures, rebut the evidence supporting hypotheses about the textual histories of individual plays, and challenge the arguments with which the four editors have justified their choices of variants and their emendations. 'No edition of Shakespeare can or should be definitive', writes Taylor. 'Of the variety of possible and desirable undefinitive editions one asks only that they define their own aims and limitations: that they be selfconscious, coherent, and explicit about the ways in which they mediate between writer and reader' (TC, pp. 3-4).
‘No longer the tiresome repetitions: “Who is the real author?” “Have we proof of his authenticity and originality?” ’, urges Michel Foucault. However, theorists who share his views continue to publish books under their own names – and to collect their royalties. And questions of authorship still arouse widespread interest. When they concern Shakespeare the stakes are high. For admission to the Shakespeare canon confers status on a work, guaranteeing sympathetic attention from critics, producers, readers, and playgoers. Had 1 Henry VI been excluded from the First Folio, would it have appeared quite the unified product of youthful genius that commentators find it today? And had the anonymous chronicle play Edmund Ironside, preserved in a manuscript of the late-sixteenth or early-seventeenth century, been included in the First Folio, would everyone have accepted its authenticity? Eric Sams believes so, and has published a modern-spelling edition with introduction and elaborate commentary designed to convince us that Edmund Ironside was written by Shakespeare at the beginning of his career as a dramatist.
‘Editors engaged in modernisations of texts would be well advised to discuss their difficulties more fully in print for their mutual advantage and the formulation of some working conventions that will do the least damage.’ So wrote Fredson Bowers in 1959. In Re-Editing Shakespeare for the Modern Reader, Stanley Wells draws on his experience as General Editor of the Oxford Shakespeare to further the open discussion advocated by Bowers a quarter of a century ago and promoted by Wells himself in Modernizing Shakespeare’s Spelling. At the same time, Wells challenges the view, implicit in Bowers’s phrase ‘the least damage’, that modernized editions are inevitably less scholarly than old-spelling ones, doing greater violence to the meanings of Shakespeare’s plays. Under the chapter heading ‘Old and Modern Spelling’, Wells argues that the disadvantages of modernization have been exaggerated, and shows how specific problems, including several over proper names, may be met by ‘reasoned decisions’.
Oxford-Cambridge rivalry now extends to Shakespeare publishing by the two university presses. The new Cambridge editions, like the Oxford ones, present modern-spelling texts and imitate the Arden layout, but their textual analyses are placed in appendixes and they offer reading lists of books and articles, not Oxford’s indexes to the commentaries. Sketches by C. Walter Hodges reconstruct possible Elizabethan-Jacobean stagings of selected episodes. The pages are larger, though not more readable, than those in the Oxford and Arden series. The volumes are pleasant to look at and handle.
Ann Thompson's edition of The Taming of the Shrew, appearing soon after Brian Morris's new Arden (1981) and H. J. Oliver's Oxford (1982), is a worthy competitor. On the main scholarly issues she agrees with Morris against Oliver when they differ and with both men when they do not: she believes that the Folio text was set from a transcript rather than foul papers, that A Shrew (1594) derives from Shakespeare's play, that none of the discrepancies between the sub-plots of A Shrew and The Shrew imply major revision of the latter, but that The Shrew once contained equivalents of the additional Sly episodes preserved in A Shrew.
The application of thought to Shakespearian textual criticism can still yield exciting results, as the new Oxford Henry V demonstrates. The coupling in a single volume (1979) of Modernizing Shakespeare’s Spelling, by Stanley Wells, General Editor of the Oxford Shakespeare, and Three Studies in the Text of ‘Henry V’, by Gary Taylor, Associate Editor, seemed arbitrary to some reviewers, but the two kinds of inquiry were complementary and they unite in the achievement of Taylor’s edition.
Wells had deliberated upon the difficulties faced by editors of modern-spelling texts. Recommending more thoroughgoing modernization than has been customary, he set down helpful guidelines toward rational and consistent practice. Taylor’s concern was with the relationship between the Quarto and Folio texts of Henry V and the nature of textual authority in the Quarto. Most scholars have agreed that behind the Folio Henry V lay Shakespeare’s foul papers, and behind the 1600 Quarto a memorial reconstruction or report. Taylor demonstrated the inadequacy of A. S. Cairncross’s case for supposing that F’s use of foul papers was indirect, by way of marked-up copy of a Quarto reprint. He found only the usual authorial loose ends in F, not evidence of the wholesale revision imagined by Dover Wilson and the new Arden editor J. H. Walter.
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