The Politics of Attribution
I introduce the term 'politics' in recognition of the fact that success in attribution studies, as in all other areas of research, is awarded not by the individual researcher but by the scholarly community. Readers who have followed my detailed analysis of the claims advanced by Gary Taylor and Donald Foster that their 'discoveries' should be admitted to the Shakespeare canon may have been struck by the gap between those claims and the paucity of evidence to support them. The question naturally arises, 'How did it all happen?' How did their case get accepted in the first place, and by what methods has it been maintained? Something truly unusual must have occurred for two such alien creations to have gained a provisional place in the Shakespeare canon, if we can grant such a status to the four one-volume editions concerned. The Norton Shakespeare, as we have seen, was obliged to include 'Shall I die?', since it had bought in the Oxford text, and justified its inclusion in the most perfunctory manner. As for the Funerall Elegye, we might expect that editors would have shown good reason for taking such a momentous step, having carefully weighed up the evidence. But it seems that no independent scholarly evaluation took place, and we are left surmising that commercial factors carried the day.
In 1997 the newly launched Norton Shakespeare had to compete in a market for college editions dominated by G. B. Evans's Riverside edition (Houghton Mifflin; first edition, 1974), 1 and David Bevington's update of the Hardin Craig edition (Addison Wesley Longman; third edition, 1980). 2 Norton stole a march on its rivals by including both 'Shall I die?' and A Funerall Elegye, a radical step that attracted much media attention. The senior editor of this production, Stephen Greenblatt, announced that 'the Norton team' had invited Donald Foster to edit A Funerall Elegye, 'a poem … that raises important questions about the attribution of works to Shakespeare' (Greenblatt, et al., 1997, p. xi). Whatever those questions were, Greenblatt failed to address them, assuring readers that Foster's