Blue suede shoes

Is the work of the early Elvis Presley, making recordings for Sun Records in the mid-50's, distinguishable from the work of the same singer in his recorded concerts of the mid-70's?

It's a difference of 20 years. The difference between early Beatles recordings and their final work is less than 10 years. Looking at Dennis Potter's early work in the sixties and comparing it with his work 20 years later is even more instructive. Very few people would want to admit they could not tell which came first, Vote, Vote Vote for Nigel Barton or The Singing Detective.

In the 16 years between Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters, with its off screen aliens and Jurassic Park with its very much on screen dinosaurs, computers had become big enough and powerful enough to be used for origination.

The professional theatre, in the 20 years Shakespeare was active, changed at an almost equally rapid pace as music, TV and film did between the 1960's and 1990's. You can make a science of dating any kind of art but when rapid development is happening around it, you don't always need much science to get things in order. Even at the most elementary level, dating doesn't have to be guesswork.

James Thurber

The weakest part of the Oxfordian argument, since the Earl died in 1604, is that it simply cannot account for the progressive changes that took place in theatre between the opening of the first professional playhouse in 1576 and 1611, the year the Tempest was first performed. Plays written at the end of that period are nothing like the plays written at the beginning, In 1611, the stage, music, language and the theatres themselves had changed in a revolution throughout which De Vere had mostly been dead.

Shakespeare's style and language change over the period. Every playwright's use of blank verse changes over the period. Everything changes.

And there is proof.

'Oh no there isn't' cry Oxfordians 'Oh yes, there is' reply Shakespeareans (and Marlovians, Baconians, Nevilleans and everybody else).

'It's BEHIND you!'

Yardsticks exist for measuring the change. The increase in feminine endings, the relationship between stressed and unstressed syllables, rhyming patterns, the density of imagery can all be measured and compared. You can use these metrics to chart the differences between authors and identify the years in which their works belong. It may not be as exact as carbon dating. It may leave room for limited argument, but you can use analysis of metre to produce charts which are consistent with everything in the history of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama except the idea of Shakespeare dying in 1604. 

But the Oxfordians will not look. Well, actually they do look. Some of them look and some of them produce rebuttal documents. Then come rebuttals of rebuttals like this one from master stylometrists Elliot and Valenza (the funny bit where they turn stylometry onto their Oxfordian critics starts on p154).

Nowhere in Oxfordland, when discussing poetry, metre and style, can anything approaching consistency be found.

Looney and Ogburn begin by claiming to detect stylistic echoes of Shakespeare in Oxford's work. However, since stylometric comparison completely eliminates Oxford, it has to be declared offside. The countering idea is that all of Oxford's undisputed work is juvenilia. Dating the Elizabethan and Jacobean plays shows a stylistic development consistent with the accepted chronology, so the whole science of stylometry is therefore declared suspect.

Stylistic comparison using methods with which are acceptable to everybody (except a few hard-headed Oxfordians) shows a progression in Shakespeare's work which follows the development in theatre to a point long after Oxford was dead.

Shakespeare's last works, to thoroughly mix a metaphor (and boldly split an infinitive), feature textspeak, Facebook references, smartphones and were written for digital video, Dolby 7.1 sound, Blu Ray and iPads.

Oxford died in the pre-internet era of stereo, celluloid, vinyl, CRT screens and analogue mobile phones.

And couldn't have written the last 10 of Shakespeare's plays.

Elliot and Valenza
Elliott and Valenza's analysis of Hand D, a fragment of a play called Sir Thomas More, thought to be in Shakespeare's handwriting. The analysis of whether the content is authentically Shakespeare is inconclusive. Despite there being enough material, the analysis places the script into an area of statistical uncertainty. Doubtful overall and 'especially doubtful' that it was written in 1593.
Oxford's work is entirely ruled out, though whether anyone needs more than the naked eye to support his elimination is an open question.

Share this post

Comments (6)

  • natwhilk's picture

    Oxford's not even rock 'n' roll.  Elliott and Valenza spike his clunking outdatedness in their 2007 paper "My Other Car is a Shakespeare" (Oxfordian X: 142–153).  If Shakespeare is a Porsche, they say, then Oxford's emblematic car would be "a 1956 Packard Patrician -- a heavy, chromed, wallowing dinosaur representing the next-to-the-last gasp of a line once favored by the elite of an earlier generation."

    Nat Whilk

    Jan 31, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Had to do a Google image search to check a Packard Patrician was a bad thing. Still not sure. GM sold that car in the UK as the Vauxhall Cresta. And I liked those. He's more of a Renault 4 to me. Common enough but with nothing to recommend it and always second choice if there's anything else parked nearby.

    Jan 31, 2013
  • natwhilk's picture

    Hmm.  A Renault 4 seems too modest, too anonymous.  Oxford's a landboat, long and heavy and madly over-alliterative.  You can't fit those fourteeners into a parking space.  How about a Cadillac Eldorado?

    Nat Whilk

    Feb 01, 2013
  • alfa-16's picture

    Yes, I think that's definitely progress. We are talking about a man whose spend on handkerchieves exceeded the total earnings of every professional playwright in his lifetime. Money he didn't have, as it turned out, too. There's a green convertible Bugatti Royale in the Schlumpf collection that has no lights interrupting its flowing lines. 'Oh no!' said the Russian countess who ordered it, 'Oh no, Mr Bugatti, No lights! We shan't be going out in the dark.' How about that? Long, extravagant and useless for half its life?

    Feb 01, 2013
  • natwhilk's picture

    And none too bright.  Yes.  Replace the engine with a knotted rubber band and we may be getting there.

    Looking up your Bugatti, I was charmed to learn that 30 of the cars in the Schlumpf collection were bought from a John Shakespeare, son of William. Some Oxfordians will tell you that no one is named Shakespeare--it's so clearly a gallant (or a bawdy) nom de plume made up by De Vere.

    Nat Whilk

    Feb 01, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    How good is this story??

    You haven't see a car collection until you've seen the Schlumpf. 108 Bugattis including the ones owned by the Bugatti family, examples of every Ferrari. I nearly had a heart attack when I turned a corner and found my kids in the front seats of a 1906 Darracq. 'No, no' an attendant told me 'they are allowed - look - you can choose your background and we put out period clothes for them to make your photos better - It's only a Darracq, after all.'

    De Vere was only an Earl, after all.

    Feb 01, 2013