Monday, November 23, 2009

Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer by Peter Farey

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

© 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.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.


JerichoMile said...

I'm a later bloomer to the "Who wrote Shakespeare?" question. Regardless, I can't take the Oxford claim seriously due to the 1604 issue and to Peter Farey's great work in this area.

"the hugely valid trend identified with orthodox dating is completely wrecked..."

Facts do matter, Oxfordians!

DMaloney said...

Excellent Oxfordian debunking here and elsewhere on this neat blog.

Daryl Pinksen said...

Peter Farey has succeeded where generations of Stratfordian bloviators have failed.

He has delivered the knock-out blow to the theory that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare.

Please Oxfordians, don't get up.

Isabel Gortazar said...

Well done, Peter. It's really excellent.

Mike M said...

One imagines that the purpose of this site is, at least in part, to propagandize the case (a word I use loosely) for Marlowe. Yet Marlowe is a black hole post-1593. Is there a single piece of evidence that he was writing after 1593? No. Is there a scrap of proof that he was in the land of the living post-1593? No. Presumably Marlovians have searched high and low for some clues that their favorite left in the writings of Shakespeare some indication that he was indeed the poet/dramatist known as Shakespeare, and these would have been trumpeted on this blog .... but the cupboard is bare, as far as I can see. Support for Marlowe will never gain more than a relatively tiny number of adherents because of the absence of that pesky commodity revered by us human beings ..... evidence.

Perusing that list of endings makes one somewhat dubious of its value. LOVES LABOURS LOST is now supposed to be a play probably (ha ha) written after TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, yet it boasts only two-thirds of the relevant endings. So where does that leave us? The assumption is also made that everything attributed to Shakespeare was written by him, a claim that is palpably false. To my way of thinking, the claims of a number of writers prominent almost a century ago (J. M. Robertson, H. T. S. Forrest) who emphasized the huge amount of doubtful material in Shakespeare are extremely valuable, although nowadays they would be described as 'discredited'. Shakespeare is, as Forrest described him (or it), a "noun of multitude", and the sooner the protagonists for the various candidates admit it, the better off the discussion will be.

Peter Farey said...

Thanks for your comments, Michael. I'll take it that you are unable to answer the two questions then.

On the other off-topic stuff, I'll be happy to discuss it in considerable detail with you once you are able to show me where the information or reasoning in my essay "Hoffman and the Authorship" (on my website) are wrong.

May I suggest that you post your critique to the unmoderated "humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare" newsgroup, and I promise to answer it.

Peter Farey

AllanW said...

Very significant work by Peter Farey.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Fantastic work Peter! I wonder what Mark Anderson would think of all of this. He seems to be an honest researcher barking up the wrong tree.

Peter Farey said...

No Oxfordian has attempted to answer my questions yet, I see, although for those who are interested there has been a brief discussion over at the Shakespeare Fellowship -

Peter Farey

Peter Farey said...

That address won't get you far! Try

Peter Farey

Jonathan said...

Peter Farey's posts on Oxford have been awesome.

Sothis said...

Mmmm, there's a new book out claiming authorship for that de Vere imposter:

May we look forward to a review at some point?


Donna Murphy said...

Fine work, Peter. Your articles and Web site have long served to inform and inspire me.

Peter Farey said...

Thanks Donna,

I've been taking stock of just how well Oxfordians have been doing in answering my two questions, posted here nearly two weeks ago, and I'm afraid the answer has to be - not very well.

Check out the comments above, and it is clear that no Oxfordian has given any sort of answer here.

At the "Forest of Arden" Google group ("Questions for Oxfordians" thread) the solitary Oxfordian active there suggested that I refer the questions to the Shakespeare Fellowship.

One person at The Shakespeare Fellowship forum ( took the questions seriously, but simply asked further questions. One of these questions suggested that the answer to my second was that the normal Stratfordian chronology was based on the frequency of open lines and feminine endings. I said that Gary Taylor's explanations show this to be untrue. Then they all fled.

I dropped into Mark ("Shakespeare by Another Name") Anderson's blog ( to ask him if he had answers to either of them, a request which has so far been ignored. At least I think so; the latest post is hardly helpful!

In fact the only Oxfordian to offer clear and unequivocal answers to my questions at the time I write this is Paul Crowley at HLAS (the newsgroup: humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare) in his "Farey's Fakery" thread. He says:

Re Question 1:

"the Meres list was almost certainly a part of the cover-up, and had little to do with any performance. He was probably an innocent dupe, who perhaps asked for, and was given a list of plays. Remember that 1598 was the first time the name 'Shake-speare' was attached to any play (the name was on the quartos of Richard 2, Richard 3, LLL). The intention of the originators of this 'data' was (among other things) to present a list of plays most likely to have been performed in public by that time. They would have excluded works more obviously aimed at a court audience -- i.e. those using (or experimenting with) more advanced techniques. The 'rural poet' necessarily had to be a 'child of nature' who knew little about complicated verse patterns. Also he had (supposedly) recently written a lot of stuff in six-line rhymed verse and rhyme-royal, so verse like that in (say) Henry 8 would clash."

Re Question 2:

"Presumably Elliot and Valenza knew what dates (or what sequence) they were supposed to produce, and kept working until their computers produced the 'correct' results."

And this, therefore, is the best that Oxfordians have managed to come up with so far, and may well (Heaven help them) even be the best they can hope to come up with.

Peter Farey

Peter Farey said...

I owe the Oxfordians an apology. Having kept going back to the Shakespeare Fellowship forum at and found my post always at the bottom of the page (followed by the usual "quick reply" box) I had assumed that it had remained unanswered.

Not true, I now see. The posts carry on to a page 2 that (being a "newbie" as I seem to be categorized) I hadn't realised existed.

In fact they make some quite interesting points, and do come up with a much better attempt than Paul Crowley's to answer my questions.

Sorry, Oxfordians, I'll turn my attention to dealing with these as soon as have enough time to do them justice.

Peter Farey

The Other Great One said...

This post is fantastic! Keep up the good work. I for one, enjoy seeing Oxfordians cower.

Rado Klose said...

To be brutal, arguing that DeVere wrote the works of Shakespeare is like suggesting, give or take a bit of temporal displacement in the other direction,that Pam Ayres is the mind hidden behind T.S. Elliot.