Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Parallelisms - Part 1 of 3

Introduction to Parallelisms

This would be a good point to provide some background information on the evidence of the many parallelisms between Bacon and Shake-Speare in the authorship analysis. It will be presented in three parts.

Part 1 of 3

A parallelism (hereinafter usually called a "parallel" for short) is a correspondence between passages in the works of two authors. It may be a thought that is shared, or the language, or both. In the Elizabethan scholarship game the rule about this type of evidence seems to be that it is of little value as evidence of common authorship - unless it can be used to support your own case. Thus the Professors are only too happy to find such evidence when they are advancing some theory of their own, as to whether for example another writer had a hand in a Shake-Speare play or whether Shake-Speare used some particular source. Yet when confronted with a mass of Bacon-Shake-Speare parallels, not a few of which are stronger than such as they themselves commonly rely on, they dismiss them almost out of hand.

The true principle for the evaluation of parallels is as follows: In any age writers work from a common stock of ideas and language, so that any two writers under comparison will borrow from that stock and may borrow from each other. Hence between their works a number of parallels are to be expected, and only become significant if their total weight seems exceptional. Non-unique parallels may score by their cumulative weight, as dripping water ultimately makes an impression on stone. Of course the vast majority of parallels are too commonplace to be significant; so one excludes them from consideration. For example, if two writers both say "The sun is hot", that is an exact parallel. But it is too mundane to grace any list of parallels. On the other hand, if they both say "A fool's bolt is soon shot", that seems notable enough to be included even though it was a familiar Elizabethan proverb. Obviously the dividing line can be difficult to draw and will be determined by the judgment of the compiler, as will therefore the number of entries in any list of parallels.

A parallel may be difficult to weigh. Its weight will depend partly on its rarity - a matter on which one is often uncertain. Even more taxing is to assess the parallels in aggregate. It is not simply of counting them - a few good ones may weight more than a larger number of minor ones. Nor has anyone made a conscious systematic study of what weight of parallels is normal between two writers. To do that would require close comparison of the works of a wide selection of authors and would be beyond the capacity of an individual. In any event, a norm could only apply as between writers who could be regarded as comparable. Bacon's prose works by their nature (being non-dramatic) are not comparable for this purpose to the Shake-Speare plays and poems, and would in that respect be likely to yield fewer parallels. On the other hand, the greater the total output of either author under comparison, the greater the scope for parallels, other things being equal. The output of both Shake-Speare and Bacon is considerable. Shake-Speare wrote 37 plays and has his non-dramatic poetry. His plays total 108,600 lines. Making a very rough calculation, I estimate that Bacon's works in Spedding's edition (excluding his letters and speeches but including his legal writings) run to about 3500 pages, or some 140,000 lines. And the letters and speeches add many more.

In the case of the Bacon-Shake-Speare parallels some help in weighing them can be provided by comparing them with parallels which have been identified between the works of Shake-Speare and two other authors, John Lyly and Christopher Marlowe. Also - and this is most important for our purposes - the evaluation of parallels is made far easier if they include, as I think the Bacon-Shake-Speare parallels do, some which are unique to the two authors in question. Human thought and speech are, and by Elizabethan times already were, such beaten tracks that very rarely do two writers, independently of each other, conceive the identical new idea or expression. So it takes only a mere handful of unique parallels to establish common authorship, provided one can exclude mutual borrowing. In the absence of any study of the question, one can only guess at the number of unique parallels needed, and obviously something will depend on the nature of each. But it seems unlikely that one would find more than half a dozen truly unique parallels between two distinct Elizabethan writers. One type of parallel which is very likely to be unique is found where two passages under comparison yield more than one significant parallel. The plural-headed parallels immensely increase the improbability of their being due to accident.

Even without unique parallels, there can be no doubt that this type of evidence can be a significant aid to the identification of authorship and even in some cases sufficient evidence by itself - it is as foolish to attach too little weight to parallels as to attach too much.

end of part 1 of 3

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