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March 08, 2010

In bookshops shortly….

It's a reasonably minor publication, but significant for me. From Shakespeare's birthday the next batch of the RSC Shakespeare single editions will be available at a good bookshop near you, including the new The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice

Why is this one particularly significant? Well, it's my first published appearance in a book, as opposed to a journal. I've contributed a (selective, obviously) stage history of the play from original performances up to Propeller's 2009 production which features at the back of the volume. It's only a small part of the book, but still, it's novel to see something I've contributed to on a shelf!

Several of the future publications in this series will also include my stage histories: Richard II and Troilus and Cressida are already underway, and I'm working on Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and The Merry Wives of Windsor over the coming months. It's peripheral to my work on the apocrypha, but keeps me in touch with the performance criticism that was my first love.


February 28, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Writing about web page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolf-Hall-Hilary-Mantel/dp/0007230184/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267368311&sr=8-2

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Not rated

I recently finished reading Wolf Hall, which as you probably know won the Booker last year. It's a wonderful historical novel, dealing with the key early events of the English Reformation. It's of interest to me as it is written from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell; the lead character, of course, of the Chamberlain's Play Thomas Lord Cromwell attributed in 1599 to Shakespeare.

One of the most striking features of the play is that, unlike the vast majority of other Elizabethan/early Jacobean histories based on a single figure, it begins in the lead character's youth before his entry into public life. We see Cromwell's teenage years living at his blacksmith father's, and then his travels around Europe before his entry into English public life, ascension to the highest offices and ultimate execution. It's an unusually person-centred play, building up a character before his public "character" is formed in office.

Wolf Hall follows a similar pattern, though concluding with the execution of Thomas More (and, by association, the collapse of the Catholic church in England) rather than Cromwell's own fall. While it's obviously a more popular historical novel motif to view a period through one individual's eyes, it's interesting to read two versions of Cromwell's history written four hundred years apart. Seemingly, this would indicate a prevailing fascination with the character. Born in obscurity, yet rising to favour through a combination of hard work and political savvy, he also navigated successfully the dangerous path from favourite of Wolsey to favourite of the King when the former fell. That this man, whose humble birth of course occasioned a great deal of prejudice against him, was also responsible for spearheading the English Reformation and, effectively, making possible Henry's remarriage to Anne Boleyn, is even more extraordinary.

Mantel's book is fascinating in its depiction of the interior life of this man. His pragmatism and directness are tinged with a disposition to violence, his childhood abuse informing his instinctive response to conflict-resolution. He recognises the fear he occasions in others and manipulates that fear; and his prodigious memory skills, learned in Europe, allow Mantel to weave an internal narrative that sees the past constantly impinging on the present, particularly in the persons of his dead wife and children. The play, on the other hand, is light on soliloquy, and we are curiously distanced from Cromwell. While his past is an important part of the character, here it is rather in the external circumstances of his youth: childhood connections return throughout his adult life, and he maintains a rapport with the lower orders that separates him from his aristocratic peers. Similarly, in Mantel's version of Cromwell, he shows a predisposition to help and support the young and poor, his household growing exponentially as he finds positions for those without work. This connection to the people, both endearing him to the lower orders and making an enemy of the lords, is constant in both versions.

Alongside this is the presentation of Thomas More, dramatically different in both. More is a presence in the Elizabethan play, and in his brief appearances we are reminded of his wit, humanism and essential decency, though his fall is spoken of without pity. Similarly, in the play of Thomas More, More is a man of humour and integrity, with implicit criticism of the circumstances that led to his fall. It's quite remarkable, when you consider that More was executed for his Catholicism and his opposition to Henry's marriage with Anne Boleyn, that two Elizabethan plays on More present him in so positive a light. By contrast, his presentation in Wolf Hall is ruthless. More's role in the torture and execution of Protestants (seen of course from the eyes of Cromwell, who shares those Protestant beliefs; or, at least, finds them more politically useful) is a secondary horror to his treatment of his family, and his self-martyrdom is taken to a degree that even Cromwell finds pitiful. The two men, in the book's closing movement, are portrayed as surprisingly similar, only with opposing spiritual positions; their dedication and obstinacy form a kind of kinship between them. It's a kinship that I read in the two Elizabethan plays that build their picture of Henry VIII's reign around them; these are two essentially decent men whose rise inevitably leads to their catastrophic falls.

Mantel's book is well worth reading. It's thoroughly entertaining and creates a tremendous world populated by rich characters, and it's just a disappointment it ends when it does. As related to the apocrypha, it's an interesting lens through which to revisit the earlier works on Tudor history.


January 25, 2010

Criticism of palaeography

I've been working on Thomas More recently, re-reading some of the standard works on its authorship attribution, and there are a few things that have really stood out for me in terms of how we "read" evidence of the sort that has become essential, in Thomas More, to Shakespeare Studies as a whole.

Firstly, I'm entirely happy to believe that the additional passage designated by Greg as in the writing of "Hand D" are a genuine Shakespeare autograph. However, I want to emphasise that word "believe". Because it strikes me that, when it comes to palaeographical evidence, this case necessarily hinges on a willingness to accept a possibility, rather than anything approaching fact.

This was brought home to me by my attempts to read E.Maunde Thompson's "The Handwriting of the Three Pages Attributed to Shakespeare Compared with his Signatures" in Alfred W. Pollard (ed.)., Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More (CUP, 1923, pp. 57-112). Now, despite having taken an introductory course in Elizabethan palaeography, I am no expert in handwriting. Even were I, however, Maunde Thompson's article is dense, detailed and highly informed. One of the most skilled palaeographers of his day - perhaps of all time -, his results demonstrated an authority and certainty that are entirely convincing.

The problem here, as I see it, is that too few Shakespearean critics are expert enough in palaeography to actually mount a serious and informed challenge to Thompson's results. There have been a few, but Thompson's double-barrelled argument (this essay following an earlier 1916 piece) lent to the New Bibliographers intent on proving Shakespeare's hand the necessary technical palaeographic support for their other searches. Once canonised in Pollard's volume, Thompson's argument became dogma, and it is still his case which is referred to today, ie: for the palaeographic argument for Shakespeare as Hand D, see Thompson in Pollard (1923).

I can't challenge Thompson. I doubt many Shakespearean critics can. I read Thompson's results, his observations on letter forms, unique curls and particular types of flourish, and I simply have to trust that he's giving an unbiased, objective account of the similarities. Yet I'm simultaneously aware that Thompson's essay is part of an edited collection designed explicitly to bring together the most authoritative voices in Shakespearean criticism in order to consolidate a case for Hand D being a Shakespeare autograph. The agenda of this book is to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Hand D is Shakespeare. This makes me uneasy: I cannot objectively assess the validity of the volume's key piece of evidence. Further, when looking at the other essays in the volume, I find Greg and Pollard's historical theories somewhat out of date (based, understandably, on less evidence than we now have), R.W. Chambers' account of parallels of idea extremely unconvincing, and John Dover Wilson's bibliographic links fascinating but of questionable value when negative checks are not performed. Thompson's essay, thus, remains the key piece of unquestionable evidence, and my critical mind objects strongly to my inability to assess its strength.

This doesn't mean that no-one has criticised Thompson, of course. What it means is that very few people have questioned him on his own terms. Instead of challenging the specifics of his parallels and links, sceptical critics have instead cast doubt on the fundamental premise of his work. To wit: how can six extant signatures constitute a sample of Shakespeare's handwriting of acceptable enough size to extrapolate information about his handwriting habits? Particularly when several of those signatures date some ten-to-twenty years (itself a hotly contested matter) after the supposed date of Hand D's contribution. Can a palaeographic argument be considered to have any worth when the 'control' is so negligible?

In 1987, Scott McMillin reminded us of the argument that Hand D is in fact identical with "Hand C" - the supposed playhouse scribe, assumed to be a mere copyist. This argument has been contested, but never completely dispelled. In 2007, Gerald Downs usefully restated this case with a different slant, arguing that mistakes in Hand D are typically scribal and suggesting that Hand C and Hand D may well be separate, but that their similarities may be explained by the idea that both are (separately) scribal. I don't necessarily agree with Downs - again, I lack the skill to have any objective opinion on palaeographic matters -, but his note of caution seems a timely and reasonable one.

Greg, Pollard and co. achieved their goal. They established Hand D as authoritatively Shakespearean in a way which forestalled future argument and shaped critical opinion of the play. The subsequent work of generations of scholars has, for the most part, agreed with them and used a variety of criteria and methodologies to strengthen the case - though, it has to be said, never unanimously. It's a cumulative case that, as I stated at the beginning of this blog, I am content to buy into, to claim a belief in. But I feel it only responsible to make clear that it is a belief,  based on my willingness to accept a palaeographic argument that I lack the means to confirm, and with due caution that my core texts for this belief were constructed with a deliberate agenda to enforce that belief in less informed minds. I also believe that the Shakespearean attribution has seriously damaged, as well as enabled, scholarship on Thomas More - for, in the flurry of activity to ascertain Shakespeare's authorship (or otherwise), the play itself has remained criminally overlooked, and evidence relating to company and date has been forced to yield if that evidence doesn't neatly comply with Shakespeare's opportunity to contribute.


January 05, 2010

Double Falsehood

Arguably the most exciting intervention in a Shakespeare series for many years. Coming soon!

Double Falsehood

Nice to see, too, that The Winter's Tale and Massinger's The Renegado should be with us by March.


November 26, 2009

Sonia Massai's 'Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor'

Not a review, but just wanted to note here that I've just finished Sonia Massai's Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor (Cambridge: CUP, 2007), which I found thoroughly fascinating.

Massai argues for the importance of annotating readers in 17th century playbook culture. Both in the printing house and in private, playbooks were understood not to represent a finished, perfected text, but rather a mutable, perfectible text. Readers - professional or amateur - applied sporadic, inconsistent corrections to their books, which would explain those extant texts which show vast improvement in areas such as speech prefixes and clarification of stage action.

My main interest in this is the way in which it applies to the Pavier quartos, among which are Sir John Oldcastle and The Yorkshire Tragedy. Rather than being the fraudulent charlatan he is usually painted to be, Massai argues that Pavier's project was approved by the publishers of the First Folio to 'whet appetite' for their own project, and that Pavier actually shows unusual care and attention as an annotating reader in 'improving' his texts - because at this time, improvement did not constitute adherence to an authorial original, but rather subjective improvement on the original.

Great book, check it out.


Richard III (Arden Shakespeare, Third Series)

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Not rated

I've just finished working my way through James R. Siemon's new edition of Richard III for the Arden Shakespeare (the first new AS, incidentally, since the imprint's move to Methuen Drama). It's a hefty volume even by Arden 3 standards, a whisker over 500 pages long, and as exhaustive as one might expect.

Siemon's text is eclectic. A lengthy appendix details the elaborate textual theory to which he subscribes, which imagines a complex textual genealogy including two authoritative (FMS and QMS, with QMS at least partially dependent on FMS) and an annotated manuscript influenced by FMS and by the line of quartos stemming from QMS. The upshot of all this is that Siemon's text flicks between base text according to whichever text is most authoritative at any given point, according to this model, while at the same time freely amending from the other early texts.

On the upside, this allows for a thorough 'maximal' text which contains all that is important from all the early editions. Siemon's edition laudably embraces the essential state of flux in which early modern texts existed and circulated, and thus rather than recreating and canonising any one material text, which would misleadingly prioritise one text above several other authoritative texts, he contributes his edition as representative of the varying accounts. The downsides are practical; compared to other Arden editions, the reader is required to work much harder to remember what is the base text at any given time and to respond to continuing shifts in the priority of the textual notes. It is difficult to get a sense of any one text's contribution to the edition, and while Siemon's 43-page textual appendix accurately reflects the complexity of the textual situation, its high level of detail and focus on non-extant manuscript originals doesn't render itself helpful to the more casual reader wanting to quickly establish the basic editorial strategies employed.

Add to this the combination of in text QQ marks for quarto-only passages and the usual asterixed footnotes for emendations and square brackets for editorial SDs, and I have to confess that I simpy found it too difficult to work out what in this text came from where, without having to actively search for the information. If I was in need of doing serious textual work on Richard III, this text would be my first port of call; that not being the case, I would have liked to have had the information more immedialy available.

Siemon's second appendix introduces a casting chart, in the introduction to which he notes that "it does not attempt to distribute the play's many minor and silent parts" (461); which is fine, but when it excludes characters such as Vaughan and Grey while including single-scene parts such as the Scrivener and Archbishop, one wonders how far such a chart can be useful?

The Introduction is fascinating, detailing the discourses surrounding Richard which circulated both prior to and contemporaneously with Shakespeare's play. To my mind, it's an exemplary piece of 21st century source-study, thinking not in terms of direct influence but in the ideas and processes that necessarily formed both Shakespeare's and a contemporary audience's conceptions of Richard and medieval history. My only concern is that this forms the bulk of the Introduction, about fifty pages, during which space the play itself gets very little mention. We learn much about Hall's Richard, More's Richard, Holinshed's Richard etc., but surprisingly little time is devoted to how our play reshapes that material.

A further 45 pages is then given over to stage history which, as Siemon admits, is little more than "a mere sketch" (79). lt's a good job of a stage history, surveying an impressive range of productions, but the space allowed doesn't allow for the depth of critical interpretation that would have made this really worthwhile. There are a couple of disappointing omissions, most crucially the BBC film: as one of the most widely available DVDs for students and academics to get hold of,;as the only commercially available Richard III that is part of a filmed cycle of history plays, thus allowing the chance to follow the progression of Richard and his brothers; and as a bloody good version in its own right, its snub here seems shortsighted. However, this is not a performance book, and the stage history generally fulfils its purpose of providing a starting point for further investigation of the play in performance.

The framing materials for the book thus cover three essential areas; sources and para-texts (excellent), text (dense) and performance (broad). What is lacking across these is real insight into the play; there is little space given to critical matters, apart from a brief discussion of the female characters and Richard's forbears in the Vice and Machiavel (which arguably feeds into the 'source' study). Happily, this is part of the edition's design, as Siemon's excellent commentary notes form the highlight of the book. Rather than surveying critical perspectives as part of the Introduction, Siemon spreads it through the notes, allowing him to pick up on relevant criticism and dramaturgical insight at every point of the play. His glossing is clear and helpful; his use of performance to expand on key moments is well-chosen; his notes on changes to the sources shed light on authorial strategies; and his highlighting of key critical debates cuts across important moments and links them with other areas of the play. It is in these notes that Siemon's engagement with the play finally comes across, and the play's greatness is justified.

In all, then, Siemon's edition eventually proved to be a thorough and consistently fascinating one, which seems to me to particularly justify its existence through its painstaking work on text and sources. It could have been much more user-friendly, particularly in regard to its apparatus and to the organisation of its framing materials, but the important stuff is all here. A strong addition to the Arden imprint.

On a side note, the cover finally completes the progressively darker and bloodier images of roses and thorns that has run through the Henry VI third series, providing some of the best covers of the collection.


July 21, 2009

Not–So–Famous Victories

In what appears to be another case of external evidence being willfully ignored, I've stumbled upon a rather surprising omission in critical writing on The Famous Victories of Henry V. This is the old play upon which Shakespeare (probably) based his Henry IV and Henry V plays.

The first quarto of 1598 states that the play is printed "as it was plaide by thc [sic] Queenes Maiesties Players". This is the company attribution generally accepted for the play. By 1598, of course, the Queen's Men had ceased to exist, but the title-page no doubt acknowledges the play's most famous or long-standing attachment.

The second quarto of 1617, however, claims it is "As it was acted by the Kinges Maiesties Seruants". The immediate implication of this evidence, then, is that the play later found its way into the repertory of Shakespeare's company, being performed by them. The Second Quarto is regarded as having some authority, making occasional corrections - it is not a 'pirate' text.

So far, so straightforward. However, the evidence of the later quarto is ignored in every discussion I've so far read of both play and King's Men's repertory. Peter Corbin and Douglas Sedge completely ignore it in their Revels Companion volume The Oldcastle Controversy. Andrew Gurr meanwhile, in his The Shakespeare Company, 1594-1642, suggests that the play may have come into the Chamberlain's Men's repertory, but his suggestion is presented as a pure conjecture, failing to note the support that the title-page offers and omitting it from his survey of surviving company play-texts.

The most puzzling response, though, is that of Roslyn Knutson in The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613, who acknowledges but categorically dismisses the information. I quote her in full:

I accept the claims of ownership by the Chamberlain's and King's men on title-pages of quartos except in the cases of The Famous Victories of Henry V and Alphonsus Emperor of Germany. On the title-page of the first quarto (1598) The Famous Victories of Henry V is attributed to the Queen's men. That claim is probably right. There is no evidence to suggest the migration of the playbook to Shakespeare's company by 1617, at which time it was published with an attribution on the title-page of the quarto to the King's Men (212).

The poor logic of this is hopefully immediately apparent. What Knutson actually means is that there is no additional evidence for the attribution: but the title-page of a quarto is, in itself, a substantive testimony that does not necessarily need extra support. Several plays are attributed unquestionably to companies purely on title-page evidence: Knutson herself gives Mucedorus, The Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, A Warning for Fair Women and Sejanus to the Chamberlain's/King's Men on no greater grounds.

Furthermore, it is not as if the evidence of the two quartos is contradictory. By 1595 the Queen's Men had ceased to exist, and their repertory was divided up. In point of fact, I can think of no good reason to assume that the play did not go to the Chamberlain's Men: after all, if Shakespeare was to use the play as a primary source for his second tetralogy in 1597-9, surely it makes sense to imagine him having a copy of the playbook to hand.

So, why is the evidence of Q2 ignored in accounts of the King's Men's repertory, and of the play? There appears to, at some point, have entered into critical consciousness a conviction that the information of the quarto is simply wrong, and unworthy of discussion. This is bad practice: as Sam Schoenbaum has told us, "External evidence cannot be ignored, no matter how inconvenient" (Internal Evidence and Elizabethan Dramatic Authorship, 163).

The other reason that springs to mind for the ignoring of the information is the assumption that the play would not have been performed by the King's Men once they had Shakespeare's versions to draw on. This is a good argument, albeit one that needs to be articulated rather than just assumed. However, this does not mean that the play had no role in the repertory. I see two possible alternatives here:

  • 1. The play was popular, and may well have been performed regularly by the Chamberlain's Men for the first few years of their existence, before being replaced by Shakespeare's plays on the same matter. The attribution to the King's men on the 1617 title-page would then simply reflect the current title of the company that had most recently performed it.
  • 2. Is it actually justifiable to assume that it was replaced by Shakespeare's plays? Famous Victories is a play with its own intrinsic merits. Firstly, it allows for the whole story of Hal to be told in a single sitting: may the company have kept this 'abridged' version handy? It's also a highly comic play, with strong clown roles, and thus could have been considered sufficiently entertaining to maintain a place in the repertory.

Some of this is just conjecture, but is designed to demonstrate that the information on the Q2 title-page cannot simply be ignored. My personal suspicion is that the evidence is, indeed, good: that the popular old play came into the repertory of the Chamberlain's Men in 1594, that it was played regularly until the debut of Shakespeare's Hal plays, and that the play was later republished some years after it had used up its stage capital.


March 30, 2009

Mark Dominik's 'Shakespeare–Middleton Collaborations

Title:
Rating:
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 IV.vi. 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.


March 29, 2009

Mark Dominik's 'A Shakespearean Anomaly'

Title:
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

Mark Dominik's A Shakespearean Anomaly begins with a fair question. If Shakespeare collaborated with dramatists based at Henslowe's Rose on Thomas More, why might he not have also collaborated on other plays outside of those belonging to the Chamberlain's/King's Men? It's a good question, explored in literature Dominik seems unaware of by Carol A. Chillington ("Playwrights at Work") and the contributors to Howard-Hill's 1989 volume on Thomas More. Engagement with these works would have been hugely beneficial to Dominik in construcing his argument, which proceeds from this sensible start to utter ridiculousness.

Dominik's contention is that Shakespeare contributed to 1 Sir John Oldcastle, the play attributed to him by a 1619 title page. Dominik is quick to dismiss as unreliable the external evidence which usually rules out this possibility - the records in Henslowe's diary of payments to Munday, Drayton, Hathway and Wilson for the play. Dominik has formed his conclusions on the basis of internal evidence, and decides that, despite the record of any payment to Shakespeare, Shakespeare contributed to the play as part-penance for his indiscretion in naming the gluttonous knight of 1 Henry IV John Oldcastle. Interestingly, Dominik notes that Shakespeare's name was first attached to the play just after the death of Lord Cobham, the descendant of Oldcastle who originally caused the name to be changed. The implication is that Shakespeare was finally able, as a tribue to the dead lord, to acknowledge his contribution to the play written to appease him.

To overturn such strong critical opinion and persuasive external evidence (which S. Schoenbaum reminds us, of course, must take precedence over internal evidence) requires an impressive argument, which Dominik entirely fails to provide. His method is to prove that the play is more stylistically similar to the known works of Shakespeare than those of Munday. Owing to the absence of dramatic canons for Drayton, Hathway or Wilson, he dismisses them almost entirely from the discussion. The logic of this decision is impenetrable: all he could ever hope to prove from this is that parts of the play are more like Shakespeare than like one of the four named authors.

His stylistic evidence is based on general likeness and unlikeness to the two authors, and fails to be convincing in any way. Demonstrating a general likeness is not an argument for authorship without a substantive negative check, which he purports to provide. What texts does he choose for this negative check? The plays of Marlowe and the poems of Donne, Jonson and Spenser. He selects these canons for the availability of concordances, which is the laziest form of negative check imaginable. A negative check needs to be against relevant material: the dramatic canons of contemporary writers. Again, all Dominik proves is that neither Marlowe (dead), Spenser (a poet, and at the end of his life), Donne (another poet, and pre-career) nor Jonson the poet are likely to have contributed to the play. I need no concordance to tell you that.

Another complaint, particularly pertinent to this kind of play, is that he doesn't even consider the possibility of shared sources to explain similarities. One of his 'strongest' bits of evidence is the similarity of the chronicle-style explanation of the royal genealogy to those in 1 and 2 Henry VI (themselves arguably Shakespearean, but let that pass). He assumes that this is inherently Shakespearean, but doesn't even acknowledge that it is largely taken from the sources in Stow, Hall and Holinshed.

Dominik therefore essentially shows the following with his book:

1) Parts of the play show a greater resemblance to Shakespeare than they do to one of the play's four authors.

2) Shakespeare is more likely to have contributed to the play than Marlowe, Jonson, Spenser or Donne.

3) That there is no effective means to test for Drayton's, Hathway's or Wilson's contributions.

Essentially, then, the book is pointless. It's a shame, for Dominik provides some useful initial study of what is known of the relevant dramatists and asks some interesting questions. His methodology, though, is thoroughly amateurish and useless. To fly in the face of overwhelming external evidence requires a solid and well thought-out argument, and this is not it.


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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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