Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

A Lover's Complaint and the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

A Lover's Complaint and the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic

Article excerpt

Under the direction of Ward E. Y. Elliot and Robert J. Valenza, the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic has spent two decades investigating the authorship of plays and poems associated with Shakespeare.1 Their project began as an attempt to check whether any anti-Stratfordian claimant to the title of "the true author" of the works attributed to "the man from Stratford" wrote in a distinctively "Shakespearean" style. They soon discovered that none did. They went on to consider problems of interest to mainstream Shakespeare scholarship and to make valuable contributions to their solution. Their findings have been largely in accord with orthodox scholarly opinion, which they have, in turn, helped to form: that 1 Henry VI, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, Pericles, All Is True, and The Two Noble Kinsmen were co-authored, not by Shakespeare alone; that doubts whether The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York (3 Henry VI) is solely Shakespeare's are also justified; that attempts to ascribe A Funeral Elegy and Edmond Ironside to Shakespeare were misguided; that Thomas of Woodstock is not his either; and that Shakespeare may have contributed to the anonymous Edward III and Arden of Faversham.2

Elliott and Valenza are wrong, in my view, in thinking that the three pages penned by "Hand D" of the manuscript play Sir Thomas More are not Shakespeare's, though on the right track in finding that it comes closer to meeting their test requirements as a post-1600 than as a pre-1600 composition.3 They also strike me as wrong in rejecting from the canon the 329-line poem A Lover's Complaint and it is their case against the Complaint that I want to examine here. The poem was published at the end of Thomas Thorpe's 1609 Quarto of Shakespeare's Sonnets, where it was printed under a separate ascription to "William Shake-speare." Yet there has been long-standing debate over its authenticity. Brian Vickers has devoted a whole book to arguing that the Complaint is really the work of the poet and writing-master John Davies of Hereford.4 If he is right, those critics are deluded who regard the poem as integral to a design intended by Shakespeare and duly realized in the Quarto and the ordering of its contents.5 So whether A Lover's Complaint is or is not Shakespeare's is a question of some literary-critical consequence. Proof that it is spurious would greatly undermine confidence in the authority of Thorpe's Quarto and its numbering of sonnets.

Subjecting A Lover's Complaint to the Clinic's battery of fourteen tests for Shakespearean authorship of poems, Elliott and Valenza judged it most unlikely to be by Shakespeare.6 For testing poems, they divided texts into approximately 3,000-word blocks. From the raw counts of various features, figures were calculated per exactly 3,000 words or per 1,000 words or per 20,000 words, or they were standardized in some other way. The Claremont figures and profiles for Shakespeare poems are reproduced in an Appendix to the present article. A Lover's Complaint failed four tests for 3,000-word blocks, whereas only two of the fourteen poem blocks undoubtedly by Shakespeare-one from Venus and Adonis and one from the Sonnets-failed even a single test. (It is no more than a confusing coincidence that there were fourteen tests applied to fourteen blocks.) Elliott and Valenza calculate what they call the "discrete composite probability" and the "continuous composite probability" that A Lover's Complaint should fail so many tests, and fail them to such an extent, if it were by Shakespeare. But, as they themselves concede, these "are not indicators of the absolute, actual probability that Shakespeare wrote the block in question." Rather the scores "permit comparison of the block in question . . . with an actual Shakespeare block at the edge of his range."7 A Lover's Complaint emerges as "hundreds of times" less "Shakespearean" than even the worst performing actual Shakespeare block.8

The conclusion that A Lover's Complaint is not by Shakespeare is, however, not warranted by this evidence. …

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