"Exercise in This Kind": Shakespeare and the "Funeral Elegy" for William Peter

By Abrams, Richard | Shakespeare Studies, Annual 1997 | Go to article overview

"Exercise in This Kind": Shakespeare and the "Funeral Elegy" for William Peter


Abrams, Richard, Shakespeare Studies


The story has become familiar: On 25 January 1612, in Exeter, after a day's drinking with the brothers Edward and John Drew, William Peter was murdered. Nineteen days later Thomas Thorpe entered in the London Stationers' Register a 578-line poem entitled A Funeral Elegy in Memory of the Late Virtuous Master William Peter. The poem, twice signed W. S., was introduced to Shakespeare studies by Donald Foster in Elegy by W. S.: A Study in Attribution (1989). Noting the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship, Foster did not at that time feel he could press his arguments with confidence. But over the next five years, new evidence emerged; Foster and I presented an augmented case for Shakespeare's authorship at professional conferences, in the Times Literary Supplement and the Shakespeare Newsletter, in the journals PMLA and SEL, and online.(1) Inevitably, the Elegy's attribution to Shakespeare met with resistance; dry and repetitious, the poem was not a welcome addition to the canon. Yet the case for Shakespeare's authorship rests on powerful evidence: biographical coincidences, verbal echoes of canonical works including plays not yet printed in 1612, and anticipations of a play or plays not yet written in 1612, together with a host of characteristic, even idiosyncratic stylistic mannerisms. That these coincidences were managed in probably under two weeks (allowing for news of Peter's murder to travel the 160 miles from Exeter to London) by a poet who just happened to be initialed W. S., who courted a resemblance to Shakespeare, who enjoyed (on the poem's testimony) success sufficient to provoke envy, and who had access to the publisher of the Sonnets, is highly intriguing. Consequently, scholars who were initially skeptical of claims for Shakespeare's authorship began to listen hard to the evidence.

The present essay, expanding on one originally published in SEL, looks first at W. S.'s allusions to the theatrical profession and at singularities in his manner of alluding to Shakespeare; on both scores, I argue, W. S. must be Shakespeare himself. If the Elegy deviates stylistically from Shakespeare's other writings, then this deviation may be explained as an accommodation to the poetic occasion, an accommodation for which the Elegy supplies abundant metapoetic evidence of intention. In a further turn of my argument, I contextualize the poet's transformation of his customary style by linking the Elegy with proximate Shakespearean texts. My attempt in this latter regard is speculative, falling outside the bounds of my stricter evidentiary argument. Others who accept the Elegy as Shakespeare's may wish to build other bridges. It is plain in any case that some bridging is in order if the poem is truly to be assimilated to the canon and not just to orbit around it indefinitely, like the little-read but widely accepted A Lover's Complaint. For even if the massive evidence for Shakespeare's authorship stands up to scrutiny, the Elegy faces emotional resistance because of the kind of poem it is. In a record starved of first-person testimony, the Elegy bids to be that thing we have sorely lacked: an intimate document--from the final years, no less--in which Shakespeare extemporizes on the way of the world and his own sense of place in it.

Because the Elegy, if Shakespeare's, must be reckoned nothing less than a late-life credo of our favorite author's, it raises high expectations and is capable of touching off deep resentments. Our latent bardolatry feels violated to hear a voice so alien proposed as "our Shakespeare's." Of course, by now there are many Shakespeares, from Arnold's demigod "out-topping knowledge" to the New Historicist's cipher, the locus of collaborative cultural forces. Yet probably the most familiar of these--paradoxically, the most international--is the Shakespeare who appeared first in a heading of Ben Jonson's commonplace book: "De Shakespeare nostrati." Since Jonson's time "native Shakespeare" has been naturalized to states unborn and accents then unknown; readers around the world hold him dear. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Exercise in This Kind": Shakespeare and the "Funeral Elegy" for William Peter
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.