March 30, 2009

Mark Dominik's 'Shakespeare–Middleton Collaborations

2 out of 5 stars

As I picked on Mark Dominik's book rather meanly yesterday, I thought I'd continue where I left off with its predecessor, which argues for Shakespeare's hand in The Puritan and A Yorkshire Tragedy.

The book actually starts considerably more promisingly. He argues that the First Folio is considered anachronistically authoritative, using comparisons with the Jonson and Beaumont/Fletcher folios, and argues that Shakespeare is given special treatment in authorship studies owing to the Bardolatry of later centuries. So far, so good. Starting with Timon, he argues that the two apocryphal plays represent a period of extended collaboration between the two authors.

He sums up the 'features' of Middleton's hand (as identified in Timon of Athens) worryingly briefly, leaving himself an extremely general and vague base test for Middleton's hand elsewhere (such as "the intermixture of rhyme and blank verse" and "roughness of versification" (15)).

Sadly, once Dominik begins exampling his internal evidence for Shakespeare's hand in the two plays, he again resorts to an eclectic and impressionistic methodology. He entirely fails to perform negative checks, going instead for the approach that such-and-such a word is near this other word in the play, and the same is also true in a Shakespeare play, therefore both must be Shakespearean. One of his arguments for Scene 4 of Yorkshire Tragedy being Shakespearean is that "it concludes with what is for Shakespeare an ultimate horror, a murder between father and son" (19). I hardly need to explain how ludicrous this is as a measure of authorship. He is better, however, when discussing links that are both contextual and verbal; however, the instances he cites are few and general enough to not convince. Particularly irritatingly, he falls into traps such as citing links with Timon as proof of Shakespearean authorship, without identifying which parts of Timon are Shakespearean and which are Middletonian.

While Dominik purports to investigate multiple features, he in actuality restricts himself to similarities of vocabulary and proximity of repeated words to other repeated words. Without the support of technology, this is a necessarily restricted and impressionistic view. It's not dissimilar to the methodology being used by the Kyd/Ford team in London, but they are using computer softward to a) objectively pull up all links automatically and b) perform a simultaneous negative check against the entire extant corpus of contemporary early modern drama. Their results can be quantified and qualified with some degree of authority. Dominik's method simply allows him to point out similarities, but he is unable to demonstrate the quality of the similarity.

The bulk of the book is given over to The Puritan. Dominik's agenda is set out by his initial statement that "granting the presence of Middleton, I will not give too much attention to the evidence of his hand - it is the presence of Shakespeare that I wish to establish" (42). He falls into the trap of all amateur authorship scholars by setting out to look for a specific hand: if not providing a wide search for authors, he should at least be attempting to reinforce the Middletonian presence throughout. Because he is looking for Shakespeare, he finds Shakespeare everywhere, again focussing only on positive links and failing to perform negative checks. He admits himself that the strength of his evidence varies hugely - his most important one is a series of thematic verbal links between Puritan I.ii and Lear Again, though, his failure to provide the appropriate evidence or statistics to qualify his evidence remains his biggest weakness - his arguments do not command attention because the reader is compelled to go and check for themselves whether or not these links are even valid.

And then, the book is over with little fanfare. It's certainly better than the Oldcastle study, showing more interesting engagement with canonical problems. However, Dominik's methods are quick and fail to usefully contribute to the debate.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. I’ve just read Dominik’s first book on the authorship of The Birth of Merlin, and feel I should be generous by pointing out that Dominik identifies himself as a layman in the opening pages of his first foray into attribution studies, and that he identifies his book as an attempt. In reading the books in reverse order, this initial humility was obviously lost.

    This first study is actually far more interesting than the later two, starting with commendably balanced discussion of the external evidence for the play and conceptions of collaborative authorship. Unfortunately, he is apparently unaware of the external evidence for the play having been written after Shakespeare’s death, and his methodology still suffers from the same problems.

    30 Mar 2009, 12:08

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I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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