Counterfeiting Shakespeare: Evidence, Authorship, and John Ford's Funerall Elegye

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
Parallels? Plagiarisms?

Since the external evidence for Shakespeare's authorship of the William Peter Elegye is negligible, Foster's case rests wholly on the internal evidence, the 'textual and linguistic fabric' that it supposedly shares with Shakespeare's authentic work. Foster itemized several passages in the Funerall Elegye which, he stated, offered close parallels with Shakespeare's plays and poems. As we saw in discussing Gary Taylor's claims for 'Shall I die?', two scholars in the 1930s, Muriel St Clare Byrne and Arthur Sampley, conclusively showed the dangers involved in citing verbal parallels as a proof of authorship. Careful attribution scholars since that time have regularly warned against the misuse of this method, and have applied it cautiously themselves, pointing out truly striking parallels, involving an idiosyncratic grammatical usage, rare vocabulary, or some 'parallelism of thought combined with some verbal parallelism' (Byrne 1932, p. 24). Several attribution scholars used this method fruitfully, aware of its dangers, including E. H. C. Oliphant and R. H. Barker on Middleton's authorship of The Revenger's Tragedy and The Second Maiden's Tragedy, and Cyrus Hoyon the plays in the Beaumont and Fletcher canon, all of whom discussed verbal parallels in relation to similarities of attitude (especially the use of irony), dramatic situation, and style. 1

A thoughtful discussion of the methodological issues involved in citing parallel passages was provided by David J. Lake, after making the obligatory caveat that 'this type of evidence has been grievously abused in the past'. Lake observed that the average 'parallel passage' cited 'has been (1) undefined as to objective points of similarity, (2) hence uncountable for statistical purposes, (3) striking in thought and diction and hence open to imitation, (4) not subjected to the negative check', thus defeating four of the main desiderata for valid internal evidence. 2 Yet, Lake added, all these faults are avoidable, for 'if the parallel is defined, counted, fairly unobtrusive, and searched for through a whole corpus of comparison plays' in order to establish 'a recurrence of identical elements', then it may be

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