To Ward Elliott

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams



5 June 1999


Dear Ward,


I fear that my much-loved wife has had a stroke, so I'm off Shakespeare at the moment. But I'll return to that topic one of these days, if I'm spared. Meanwhile it was nice, as ever, to hear from you. And of course I'm one of the few people who are genuinely interested in what you and Don Foster have to say about Shakespeare - and each other.

    He repeatedly remarks (and I sympathise) that nowadays you never take the faintest notice of anything he says. And your case has other weaknesses, a topic to which I'll return both later in this letter and in my next book for Yale, if I ever finish it.

    Meanwhile you and Valenza are certain to lose the argument, if only because Foster is a professional Shakespearean and you're not. Almost no one, whatever their persuasion or qualifications, can be bothered to read all this stuff; the rest will reckon, as Foster does, that you're hopelessly wrong.

    What you have to do is to attack Foster's credit, head on, as I did when I debated Ironside with him on local TV in Virginia Beach in 1988; he has never forgiven me for his total public defeat and humiliation on that occasion, when I formed the view that he would say or do or believe anything that furthered or favoured his own personal cause. I have no doubt, incidentally, that he's making all this fuss about the Clinic solely because you've rejected the Elegy. The dates alone would tell us that, even if we didn't know our Foster (to whom incidentally I reckon you're much too kind, e. g. on p. 24; do you really know that facts about Primary Colors etc.?).

    His own folly has rendered him helplessly vulnerable. His notions that “Mr. W. H.” is a 'misprint' for 'Mr. W. SH.', i.e. Shakespeare Himself, and that 'OVR. EVER-LIVING POET' is God Himself, seem to me among the very maddest thoughts that have ever been uttered in this mad century - much madder, in fact, that the weirdest excesses of many anti­Stratfordians. Nobody who makes such bizarre claims, which (need one say) are wholly unsubstantiated by any actual evidence of any kind, can ever be trusted about anything (on Foster's own argumentation). Please read Foster's preposterous essay in PLMA 102 (1987) 42-54, in which (I'm told) he still passionately believes.

    There's another Foster theory that you may not think is quite so insane, namely his unique opinion (SQ 39 1988, 118-23) that Shakespeare plagiarised Edmund Ironside, a play which Foster himself despises, and which he still attributes to Robert Greene. Foster has recently upheld the latter claim, first published in 1987, even though its inventor, Thomas Merriam has now withdrawn it (as I point out in The Real Shakespeare, p. 190). Butnobody else, on this planet, has ever believed, or will ever believe, that Shakespeare was the plagiariser of the early Ironside, a weird theory which supposedly explains all those hundreds of proven and accepted parallels; there is, yet again, not the faintest trace of any evidence for any such crazy notion.

    In this context I should no doubt also mention (if only so that you can make all due allowances) that I and Mark Dominik complained about Foster in SQ; Foster retaliated with the outrageous lie that my edition ofIronside contained mistakes on every page. The SQ editor and board refused to prolong the correspondence, and I didn't have the time (or the money) to proceed further. I think you've done exceptionally well to appear in those pages. Presumably the editorship has changed hands since the days of Barbara Mowat.

     One more point about Foster. You've got his 'backbone' wrong (“Protest”, p. 426). He doesn't always seek to prove common authorship by means of share stylistic quirks. On the contrary, when he sees and accepts hundreds of exactly such Shakespearean thumbprints in Ironside, which he knows is an early play (why do you date it 1590, incidentally?), he 'explains' them as plagiarisms by Shakespeare!!!. This is the opposite of his Elegystance, which is all too readily reversible.

     Now I return to what's wrong with Elliott and Valenza. As you'll know, I've said all this before, no doubt with wearisome iteration. But I'll repeat it, just in case you feel disposed to take some slight notice of it this time around.

    The short point is that nobody but Elliott and Valenza will share their express and stated conviction that a couple of non-literary professors, using non-literary methods, namely unvalidated 'tests' devised by their students, can infallibly pronounce on Shakespeare's 'style'. On this last point, you say, in terms, YET AGAIN, that Shakespeare, uniquely among all the great creative artists who have ever lived, has ONLY ONE STYLE. As any accredited lit. crit. person will tell you (why not ask?) this basic assumption is just ridiculously wrong. If, as you say (p. 426) it's the backbone of your case, then your case has collapsed in a helpless heap before it ever began.

    Further, you rely on 'divergences from Shakespeare's style' [sic] in order to take away from Shakespeare what his editors and publishers have awarded him for the last 400 years. But nobody else will believe that the 'tests' applied by Elliott and Valenza are all that much more powerful and persuasive than the express assurances of Heminges and Condel 1616, or of Thomas Thorpe 1609. Again, you deliberately set yourselves up in opposition to centuries of expert commentary (Hand D, Edward III) and inclusion in standard editions (Riverside, Oxford, Cambridge, Arden, etc, etc.); so you're just going to lose the debate, and be written off as anti­Stratfordian loonies, exactly as Foster says – and as I shall say, given half a chance. Only an anti-Stratfordian sympathiser could possibly have written all that guff in the first two paragraphs of 'And then there were none'.

    Again, it's not a bit of use claiming, as I'm sorry to see you continue to claim, without any authority known to me, that 'most scholars' believe (p. 2) that the canon is not canonical. Most scholars, my eye. In order to make any such statement, you'd have to consult all scholars everywhere (including me), and everyone (including you) will know that you haven't done any such thing, and don't intend to either.

    About Ironside, exceptionally, you agree with Foster, and you're welcome to that measure of agreement. But what you ought to be doing (in everyone's view, not just mine) is accepting the obvious fact that Shakespeare could master more than just one style, whether deliberately (as in LC, or the play-scene in Hamlet) or in the ordinary course of artistic development (as in H6Titus etc.). Then you could perhaps actually test your own opinions about what you think is not Shakespeare, by comparing such texts with H6 and Titus. As soon as you do that, you'll begin to have well-founded doubts about Pericles 1-2, which the latest edition (Cambridge) sensibly says is not by 'George Wilkins', and about the authenticity of Edward III, which is good enough for professors of literature (Tobin, Blakemore Evans, Kerrigan, Jackson, Melchiori, etc. etc.) if not for Elliott or Valenza. In view of that professional consensus, why don't you ask yourselves what you're doing wrong?

    A few minor points. Even I know perfectly well that Shakespeare often says 'whenas' and 'whereas'; why didn't you?

    As to 'Winnowing' (rev.): 'All those 'ems' (p. 195) could have come from an editor, or a change of stylistic convention, or anywhere but a different author. Such objections, incidentally, apply to all 'tests' of all scripts except manuscripts.

    If one is to make nothing of the surprises (p. 195) then Hand D is Shakespeare, as professionals have accepted for the last century or so. And why should a 1382-word sample by Shakespeare fail the 'tests'? What about the obvious explanation that the 'tests' are misconceived?

    You don't mention (p. 196) that the late Charles Hamilton instantly identified the Ironside MS as Shakespeare's autograph.

    I thought Thisted and Efron (p. 197) failed to understand what west/meant by a slash in the Spevack concordance.

    Don't believe all that McDonald Jackson (p. 199 etc.) says. He has his moments (such as saying and showing that I might be right about Ironside) but he regularly invents 'memorising actors', 'compositors' and so forth, whose sole function is to behave in accordance with his own mistaken theories.


P. 402: is this the Morton who was exposed as a charlatan on our TV?

P. 203: the alleged 'Cinderella' rejections are just a way of saying that your tests are right;    

            they're not any kind of argument.

P. 205: why in the world shouldn't valid tests for play authorship apply equally to poems?

            If none of Shakespeare's poems passed a Shakespeare play 'test', then that test is

            surely just misconceived?

P. 206: 'Lover's Complaint' apart; but why doesn't this rejection just prove that the

            relevant 'tests' are wrong?

“Protest” P. 448: why is '1591' the 'latest supposed date' for 2H6 and 3H6, or '1594' (in defiance

                       of Ben Jonson) for Titus, or for TS (surely a late play), or for Err, or '1601' for

                       Hamlet, or '1586' for Dido, or etc.? Supposed by whom, on what evidence? Who

                       says that 7789 lines of Titus are 'late', and why, and what does 'late' mean?

P. 453: 'Contention of York' is no way to describe the early versions of 2-3 H6.

P. 453: who says, and why (in defiance of Heminges and Condell) that 1H6 is doubtful?

            or that H8 was part-authored by Fletcher?


    If you're going to accept modern theories and state them as fact, without question, why do we need the Clinic at all?

    Are all rejections equally valid, do you think? If not, why are they lumped together?

    Alas, I just don't have time at the moment to offer any further comments or queries. But I could summarise them by asking, as I've often asked before without any rejoinder – what evidence leads you to suppose that authorship is determinable by any of your tests? or that there is any necessary causal connection between words and numbers? or that you even have the right dates? Not only Foster but almost everyone else in the world will agree that authorship style and attribution are to be determined by literary, not non-literary, experts and criteria. Of course there will be disagreement aging litterateurs; but that doesn't affect the basic point. There's disagreement among statisticians, too. Tom Merrian and M.W.A. Smith both believe in their own 'tests' and their own 'methods'; but they've been publicly feuding for the last twenty years.

    Personally, I reckon that spelling, as inferable from the earliest publications, is a useful indicator; I'm working on it.

    Meanwhile I'm venturing to enclose some data about Ironside, which I'll try to persuade Yale U.P. to publish in due course, in some suitable forum. Capital letters mean rare concordance usages; numbered definitions refer to words or expressions attributed by the Oxford English Dictionary to Shakespeare; plus signs indicate trains of thought common to both Ironside and the Spevack concordance. Assuming that you don't agree with the Foster 'explanation' that Shakespeare stole all these ideas (and hundreds of others, for many years) from the author ofIronside, what would your own explanation be?

    Best regards, as ever,

Thanks again for thinking that my anti-Clinic and anti-Foster views ('a plague a both your houses') are worth having.