Email from Don Foster

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0048. Wednesday, 17 January 1996.

From: Don Foster foster@vaxsar.vassar.edu
Date: Wednesday, 17 Jan 1996 08:38:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: "A Funeral Elegy"

My kind thanks to Hardy Cook, Nicholas Ranson, and others for their kind remarks. I did not seek the publicity for FE; I'm doing my best to cope with it. I have tried accurately to represent Shakespeare studies to the television audience, and without making an ass of myself (in my 45 years on the planet, I have had fewer experiences with the media than with making an ass of myself). It's tough talking into one of those TV cameras without feeling silly. If any of you can suggest how best to nudge the press toward respect for our profession, please let me know before this little flurry of attention subsides. It seems to me that the public press often takes pleasure in characterizing literary scholars as (1) eccentric dolts who make up stupid interpretations about old books, or (2) niggling pedants who bicker with one another about literary trivia. The recent stories about FE have been almost surprisingly respectful of our profession--which, after years of university-bashing in the media, is a welcome change of tone.

Thanks to Harry Hill for his wonderfully witty parody of the "Funeral Elegy." (The elegist has surely been "bettered in his wit," by Harry, if not "bettered in "truth.") For the two lines of FE that Harry finds "particularly awful" (though I'm sure that Harry and I could both find much more awfuller examples), see *Elegy by W.S.*, p. 155.

Lim Wee Ching asks an important question about FE (the only question that really matters): Where is the evidence? The newspapers are printing an uncritical account of this poem's "discovery," which in the long run is inconsequential. Finding FE took no work at all--I wasn't even looking for it when I found it. It is the establishment of a consensus that matters. Now, six years after the publication of my book, that consensus seems to be taking shape--but not as a result of what's been printed in the papers (where the case for Shakespearean authorship cannot be set forth except in the most perfunctory fashion). If "any press is good press," as we are often told, then Shakespeare has been getting good press, and that's good for Shakespeare studies; but when the press fanfare dies (a few minutes from now), it's time to do the homework, and to take a hard look at the evidence. Many Shakespeareans have already done so. The best place to begin, for those unfamiliar with this poem's reception, will be Rick Abrams's piece in the Winter '95 issue of SNL (due out any day now). My 1989 book (*Elegy by W.S.: A Study in Attribution*) provides a detailed account of the poem and of the obstacles to a "Shakespeare" attribution. Only in the past year have I become convinced (1) Shakespeare indeed wrote the poem, and (2) that other Shakespeareans will agree.

The most compelling evidence of Shakespearean authorship has yet to be presented in print, but was set forth in condensed form at the SAA and again at the MLA Conventon, by Rick Abrams and myself. (Abrams's SNL piece should not be confused with his main attributional argument, which has been several years in development and not yet submitted for publication.) At the MLA Session, Stephen Booth, Lars Engle, and Leo Daugherty spoke on why it might actually matter that Shakespeare wrote FE (and it will matter a good deal in the years ahead). Of those Shakespeareans who have seen the evidence laid out in full, I do not know of anyone who is still supposing that someone other than Shakespeare may have written FE (if you're out there, please speak up)--but it will be a long time before a well-informed consensus emerges in published scholarship. Unfortunately, this late spate of publicity has preceded the most compelling evidence, which puts the publicity-cart, inconveniently, ahead of the scholarship-horse.

While waiting for the next round of attributional and critical work to appear in print, we have in SHAKSPER an excellent forum for critical discussion of the poem. Speaking strictly for myself, I'd be happy to see criticism of any kind, including even the less sophisticated, "ooh, it's yucky," variety of readerly response.

Don Foster
Vassar College


If you wish to follow the dialogue about this poem by Shakespeare scholars, then follow this LINK.