Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 16 - Stylometric evidence

I’ve now finished reading the Shakespere Beyond Doubt book and one thing at the end was especially interesting. In the Afterward by James Shapiro we see that he thanks the tireless worker for keeping the Wikipedia Shakespeare Authorship pages in accord with Stratfordian theory. Actually, he phrases it as “ensuring that the site remains fact rather than faith based”. But I had noticed when researching for the last post with comments on Hand D handwriting that the Wikipedia page on the handwriting of Hand D in Sir Thomas More only mentioned the pro-Stratfordian viewpoint. The Wikipedia Shakespeare Authorship pages, which Prof. Shapiro states are controlled by Stratfordian proponents have a link to the pages on the handwriting of Hand D. And on that Sir Thomas More page there’s an emphasis on the opinions of Edward Maunde Thompson.

But there is no mention whatsoever of the work or opinions countering Thompson that are in Samuel A. Tannenbaum’s Problems in Shakepeare’s Penmanship, 1927. And it is impossible for an honest and knowledgeable encyclopedia subject author to write on the Hand D handwriting question, citing Thompson’s conclusions without mentioning Tannenbaum and his book along with his conclusions.

This is some actual proof of the pro-Stratfordian efforts, approved by members of the academic community, of deliberately misleading the public with supposedly trusted public information sources on the Shakespeare authorship topic. Or if they don’t really think the Wikipedia webpages should be considered as ‘trusted’ then why are they working tirelessly to control them?
But back to Chapter 9 and the evidence of stylometrics

Here I only want to respond to the stylometric evidence provided against Bacon as an authorship candidate.

The essay author begins his argument against Bacon by saying that Shakespeare and Bacon had opposite mentalities, with Bacon’s writings being products of reason and Shakespeare’s products of the imagination, as if a person could not be talented in each. And that they each wrote of different things and used different imagery. This is a very common Stratfordian argument that we keep refuting. So here are just a few quotes of what many others have said:

“I infer from this sample that Bacon had all the natural faculties which a poet wants; a fine ear for metre, a fine feeling for imaginative effect in words, and a vein of poetic passion....Truth is that Bacon was not without the fine phrensy of a poet.” --James Spedding, Bacon biographer, "Works "

"A man so rare in knowledge, of so many several kinds endued with the facility and felicity of expressing it all in so eloquent, significant, so abundant, and yet so choice and ravishing, a way of words, of metaphors and allusions as, perhaps, the world hath not seen, since it was a world. I know this may seem a great hyperbole, and strange kind of excess of speech, but the best means of putting me to shame will be, for you to place any other man of yours by this of mine." - Tobie Mathew, friend of F. Bacon
“Only once grant that Bacon lacked imagination (he had infinite imagination), that he was devoid of humor (his humor was unbounded and inextinguishable), that he had no leisure to write the plays (he had years of waiting for place and work and years of struggle with debt), that he had no poetic faculty (his noblest prose is the highest poetry in all but metre), that he was cold and unsympathetic and selfish (Sir Tobie Matthew, and Rawleigh and other contemporaries did not think so)—only grant these postulates (all false) and a few others, and it will be certain that he did  not write the plays.” --- Rev. L. C. Manchester

No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly subjugated. In truth, much of Bacon’s life was passed in a visionary world, amidst things as strange as any that are described I the Arabian tales. –Lord Macauley.

The essay author also cites Caroline Spurgeon and her work on Shakspeare’s Imagery to argue that the two writers have “sharply dissimilar patterns” in their imagery. What he is unaware of is that her work on Bacon was refuted over 40 years ago. Spurgeon seems to only have sampled about a quarter of Bacon’s writings. And even within that she made such blatant oversights that it could only be concluded that they were intentional. For instance, when she argued that they had opposite views on “the action of time” and quoted Shakespeare’s Lucrece:

"Time's glory is to command contending Kings
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light".  

Then she quoted a passage from Bacon that had nothing to do with Time and Truth. But on the preceding page of this Bacon book from where she took that quote could be found "As time, which is the author of authors, be not deprived of his due, which is, further and further to discover truth". And this was only one of many quotes she should have come across that showed the similarity in thought.

Then regarding the stylometrics evidence itself, since there are no plays written under Bacon’s name there were only tests on the poetry of Shakespeare and Bacon. Shakespeare’s primary poetry was written in the early 1590s. The sonnets appear to have been mostly written from 1592-1598 or some later to 1603, and at least finished by 1609. Samples of verse in the plays were also used for the Shakespeare stylistic profile and so a portion of these likely came from a later period. But the heavier weighting seems to come from prior to 1609. This profile was tested against a sample of Bacon’s poetry, of which is only mentioned his Psalms paraphrases and his The World’s a Bubble.

Here are the problems I find with this comparison:

1.  The Psalms were a religious devotional exercise, which is not quite the same state as a poetic phrensy he might have been in if he were writing the erotic Venus and Adonis or even The Rape of Lucrece. Nor were they meant to be like sonnets.

2.  His Psalms were written in later 1624 when he was ill from “the raving of a hot ague”. So he was old, sick with a fever, almost in the last year of his life, somewhat mentally depleted, and likely dispirited from the loss of his great station and reputation. And yet they’ve still compared favorably with other noted poets like Sir Philip Sidney, John Milton, Joseph Hall and others.

3.  We’re told by the stylometrics researchers that stylistic trends change significantly over time. So Bacon’s poetic style likely would have changed significantly over the 20-30 years separating these Psalms from Shakespeare’s poetry from its earliest years and perhaps also into much of its later years.

 4.  He’s likely to have done little poetry writing in the last decade of his life since he had been so busy in his government positions and finishing up his philosophical works.

 5.  Since they’re paraphrases of the original psalms they can be expected to be more restricted in their style, choice of words, metre, etc.

6.  Being Psalm paraphrases, they may have likely been meant to be sung and not just read or recited. Nor were they suitable for embedding in a dramatic play. They might then even be said to be in somewhat different genres.

With all these considerations in mind, doing stylistic comparisons between Bacon’s Psalm paraphrases and Shakespeare’s poetry appears very much like comparing apples and oranges. You probably should expect statistical divergence on their styles! Still, many parallels of word usages have been found between them and in the Shakespeare works.

Bacon’s poem “The World’s a Bubble” is another paraphrase, this time of a Greek epigram. And it’s undated and so it may also have been written in his later years. It shares some of the same defects as the Psalms in terms of its usefulness in a stylistic comparison.

It looks like they may have used one other short poem in their stylistic tests. Even using the Psalms and two short poems this does not seem enough of a variety to do decent objective tests. And with the drawbacks already mentioned, especially for the Psalms, I think the minimum requirements for comparisons were not close to being met.

Finally, even with any stylometric analysis you’re still going to have to examine external evidence. The external evidence for William of Stratford has been shown to be weak by the non-Stratfordians and may support one of the alternate candidates. You can never know unless you examine it with them.
“Attribution studies should not be performed in isolation; one item of external evidence can overturn all such internal evidence. – M.W.A. Smith, “Attribution by Statistics: A Critique of Four Recent Studies”, in Revue Informatique et statistique dans les sciences humaines 26 (1990).

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