Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vickers says Shakespeare wrote additions to The Spanish Tragedy

The Spring 2011, Vol. 62, No. 1, edition of Shakespeare Quarterly features an article by textual analyst Brian Vickers titled, "Shakespeare and Authorship Studies in the Twenty-First Century" wherein Vickers attributes additions to the 1602 anonymous edition of The Spanish Tragedy (a groundbreaking play generally considered to have been written in the 1580s and lately attributed to Thomas Kyd) to Shakespeare. The abstract reads:
Authorship attribution studies have traditionally been based on a wide reading knowledge of a text in its historical and generic contexts. With the advent of computers, it became possible to process large quantities of data quickly. However, the first computer-driven attribution methods could only deal with individual words, ignoring grammar, syntax, and all the individualizing features of authorial language. By counting word frequencies and subjecting the word-count information to statistical analysis, it was hoped that authorship problems could be solved. Time has shown that the most this method can achieve is a measure of likeness, not identity. Second-generation research in authorship attribution has opened up a new path, drawing on recent advances in linguistics. Neurolinguists have shown that human utterances often take the form of "chunks" or ready-made groups of words. In parallel, linguists studying large corpora of actual language use have found that certain word groups tend to recur in close proximity. These collocations are partly phrases or idioms in general circulation, partly idiosyncratic formations which an individual speaker or writer uses regularly. By using modern plagiarism software we can establish the distinctive "phraseognomy" of one or more authors within a restricted database, organized by genre and date. Collocation matching, an automated and replicable process, can provide a reliable authorship indicator when dealing with anonymous or coauthored texts. On the evidence given here, it seems certain that the Additions to the 1602 text of Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy were written by Shakespeare.

An online article yesterday titled "Computer Software Proves Shakespeare Co-Authored Plays", on the website Big Think, gives Vickers explanation of how this anomaly might have occurred:
Yet some may ask why Shakespeare, the author of the greatest plays in the English language, would tinker with the works of a lesser playwright from a rival company? Given the success of The Spanish Tragedy in Elizabethan times, this should be no surprise at all. As Sir Brian notes, Shakespeare's theater company at the time--Lord Chamberlain's Men--was free to produce the play, and there is strong evidence that they likely did.* As Sir Brian explains, "it costs a lot less for a Broadway company to revise South Pacific and add a few show tunes than to commission a new musical." The same was true for the four competing theater companies in London who operated during the height of the Elizabethan theater boom. As the premier dramatist for Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare--like every other dramatist working at the time--was a collaborator. 

Can anyone believe this anachronistic folly? For Stratfordians, the problem with tying Shakespeare too tightly to reputed plays by Kyd (The Spanish TragedyKing Leir, and a possible ur-Hamlet) is that these plays would have been written before the purported Stratfordian author showed up in London (where he presumably developed his genius tout de suite). This evidence pushes the Shakespearean age solidly into the 1580s, too early for the Stratfordian candidate, forcing Stratfordians into contorted positions like Vickers'. 

Of Thomas Kyd, authorship researcher Stephanie Hughes says in her essay "Who were the University Wits?":
Thomas Kyd (1558-1594) was a Londoner like Peele, and a student at the Merchant Taylor’s School during the same play-giving period as Thomas Lodge and Edmund Spenser (late 1570s to early 1580s). The son of a scrivener, what today we would call a professional secretary, there is little solid evidence that Kyd was ever much more than that for clients like Lord Strange. His authorship of the groundbreaking play The Spanish Tragedy is based on nothing more than three words by Meres and a passing mention by Thomas Heywood 30 years later, which, if nothing else, has made him a favorite with scholars as the purported author of dozens of anonymous works including the mythical Ur-Hamlet. Arrested by Cecil’s agents in May 1593, Kyd was imprisoned and racked into turning state’s evidence against Marlowe. Though released following Marlowe’s assassination, he died the following year, shortly after the murder of their patron, Ld Strange.