In my earlier piece "Oxfordians and the 1604 Question," I showed how in dramatic verse between the 1580s and 1620s there was a steady move away from the constant repetition of the regular end-stopped iambic pentameter by the increasing use of open lines and feminine endings.
I also showed graphically how Shakespeare’s plays exhibited a change in the same direction although—if the dates used are similar to those estimated by most Shakespearean scholars—the rate with which his use of these techniques increased was even greater than that of his contemporaries. The increase was nevertheless surprisingly consistent and the correlation between the estimated latest date for when the play was written and the frequency with which either or both of these techniques was used extremely high.I have shown these figures with an extended range, because I want to compare this chart with one based upon dates assumed by Oxfordians, and their dating necessarily starts much earlier.
In fact there is no agreed Oxfordian chronology as such, although there have been various theories and conjectures about when the plays were written. The nearest thing to a recently published one at the moment appears to be in a Wikipedia entry entitled “Chronology of Shakespeare’s Plays – Oxfordian” which is largely based upon estimates given by Charlton Ogburn in his seminal Oxfordian work, The Mysterious William Shakespeare.1 We are promised a more generally accepted one eventually, but as yet this is all we have to work with. Let’s see (below) what happens when we use the latest dates they suggest instead of those given by Elliott and Valenza.2
The reason I use the latest date in each case is that the counts of both open lines and feminine endings were obtained from the texts of plays as they have come down to us—in fact the Riverside edition—so what is needed is the nearest date we can find to the one in which the verse must have stabilized to more or less what it is today. This means that earlier versions of the plays, no matter who actually wrote them, are for these purposes quite irrelevant. What can be seen quite clearly is that the hugely valid trend identified with orthodox dating is completely wrecked, the necessary correlation between the date and the usage rate ignored, and the need to squeeze everything in before Oxford’s death (in 1604) shamelessly evident. The difficulty Oxfordians must necessarily have in finding a chronology which avoids these problems is that it is also essential for them to provide evidence, whether internal or external, in support of each chosen date, and it seems that they have as yet found no way in which this can be done.
Even this, however, is by no means the greatest problem created for them by the increasing use of the two techniques over the years, since most Oxfordians tend to claim that almost all of Shakespeare’s plays had in fact been written by 1598.
Here I have listed all of the Shakespeare plays considered by Elliott and Valenza, and sorted them in ascending order according to the rate of their usage of open lines and feminine endings. Where appropriate, I have indicated in each case (1) if the play was included in the list of Shakespeare plays published by Francis Meres in 1598, (2) if it’s been shown not to have been in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s repertoire when Meres’s list was published, and/or (3) if Elliott and Valenza gave it a date after 1604.
Here then are those questions which—according to the title—I say must be answered by anyone before they have really earned the right to call themselves true Oxfordians.
1) As most Oxfordians claim that the majority of Shakespeare’s plays had been written by 1598, what explanation would you give for Meres including in his list, published that year, only those with the lowest frequency of open lines and feminine endings?
2) As the use of open lines and feminine endings is no longer of any real significance in the way plays are dated by Shakespearean scholars, what explanation would you give for all 11 plays given a "post-1604" date by Elliott and Valenza appearing among the 13 plays with the highest usage rates?
The odds against either of these things happening just by chance are so astronomical that there must be a reason for each of them. The obvious reasons are that Meres referred only to those “Shakespeare” plays which had been written and performed by then, and that the Elliott and Valenza chronology is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, neither of these options is available to Oxfordians.
So, over to you guys!
© Peter Farey, November 2009 Emmerich Anonymous
Peter Farey has been manning the Marlovian barricades on the internet for the past 11 years. His Marlowe Page is one of the most respected sites about Marlowe on the web. He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.
1Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Man and the Myth. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984.
2Elliott, Ward and Robert Valenza. "And Then There Were None: Winnowing the Shakespeare Claimants." Computers and the Humanities 30, 1996. pp. 191-245.
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