Friday, September 21, 2012

Stylistic Markers in Guy of Warwick

In Three Seventeenth-Century Revisions: Thomas of Woodstock, The Jew of Malta, and Faustus B (Notes and Queries, April 1983) David J Lake noted that there are some simple stylistic markers that allow us, while exercising due caution, to confidently determine the broad period in which a late Elizabethan or Jacobean play was written:

“If one surveys the texts of many late Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, one soon
realizes that, as regards linguistic style, there are two fairly distinct periods:

(1) The period of the 1580s and 1590s;
(2) The period beginning about 1599-1600.

The earlier period is typified by the Marlowe of Tamburlaine, the works of Kyd, Greene, Peele, and early Shakespeare; the later period is typified by Middleton, and all but the earliest works of Jonson, Marston, and Dekker. One can often classify a section of dramatic text at a glance as 'typically early' or 'typically late': the criterion is the presence or absence of certain colloquialisms and contractions, most importantly 'em (for 'them'), I’m, i'th', o'th', a'th', the use of has and does rather than hath and doth, and the oath 'Sfoot (a shortening of 'God's foot'). In the period up to 1598 these features seldom or never appear, whereas after 1600 all are commonly found in the works of some authors, though others remained linguistically conservative. Thus the lack of these colloquialisms is not a decisive criterion for dating: a play without them may be early, or its author may be merely old-fashioned. But when such colloquialisms appear in any considerable number in a play which is usually dated before 1599, we have a strong reason to think that the work has been misdated, or at least that the extant text has been revised. This criterion, it should be noted, is very little affected by genre: before 1599, these colloquialisms are lacking in all plays, tragedies and comedies alike; and after 1599, they appear in both tragedies and comedies.”

These colloquial stylistic markers identified by Lake may be important for our understanding of the date and authorship of Guy of Warwick. As Lake notes, “when such colloquialisms appear in any considerable number in a play which is usually dated before 1599, we have a strong reason to think that the work has been misdated, or at least that the extant text has been revised.” Guy, of course, is usually dated before 1599, so it is worth looking at how it fits within Lake’s scheme. To do so, I will concentrate on the simple ‘has/hath’ marker.

By my count, the frequencies of 'has/hath' in Guy of Warwick are as follows:

Has    8
Hath    41

Clearly, ‘hath’ is predominant here, with only 8 occurrences of the more colloquial ‘has’. This would seem to put Guy more in Lake’s first period (the broad range from the 1580s to the 1590s) than in the later period (1599+). However, things become more interesting if we look at where exactly in the text the 8 uses of ‘has’ occur. As it turns out, all the occurrences of ‘has’ in Guy are spoken by Sparrow or his father (Sparrow 6, Father 2). For Sparrow himself, the frequencies are:

Hath    1
Has    6

In Ben Jonson's 'Villanous Guy', I argued that Guy of Warwick was probably a collaborative work, and that significant stylistic differences in Time’s choruses indicated different authors for the comic and dramatic sections of the play. I suggest now that the fact that ‘has’ only occurs in the comic sections of the play provides additional evidence of this. Further, I suggest that the predominance of ‘has’ over ‘hath’ in Sparrow’s lines tells us something about their date: it is unlikely that they were written in the early 1590s, and highly unlikely that they were written in the 1580s. Instead, Lake’s test points to them having been written in the seventeenth century or, at the earliest, the very late sixteenth century.

A possible objection to this conclusion is that we are more likely to find a colloquialism like ‘has’ in what Lake calls ‘vulgar dialogue’, and Sparrow's lines certainly fit into this category. However, Lake states that his dating test “is very little affected by genre”. To check this, I did one small test. I looked at the ‘has/hath’ usage by the clown to which Sparrow has been most often compared: Mouse in Mucedorus. By Lake's test, Mouse's 'vulgar dialogue' should show a low frequency of 'has' usage, since Mucedorus is generally acknowledged to have been written significantly earlier than its first print date of 1598. Mouse passes the test. In fact, he never uses ‘has’ i.e. his usage is totally consistent with Lake’s dating test, and in stark contrast to Sparrow’s clear preference for ‘has’.

I also postulated in Ben Jonson's 'Villanous Guy' that Guy of Warwick was probably written in 1598. I’m actually now starting to think it may have been a bit later than that - probably 1599 - for reasons I’ll spell out in a later post. Irrespective, the point here is that if Sparrow’s lines were written around the turn of the century, then their author must have been an ‘early adopter’ of the stylistic change that Lake sees as beginning about 1599-1600. So the obvious next question is: who were the early adopters of this change?

Lake again:

“It appears from this survey that about 1599-1600 there was a fairly sudden revolution in the linguistic practices of Jonson and Dekker, quickly followed by Middleton and several other authors. It is very likely that this revolution - essentially, the copious use of 'em, has and does in ordinary non-vulgar dialogue - was effected by the publication in 1600 of Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humour (acted 1599). In this play (Q 1600) for the first time we find copious use of 'em (66 instances, spelt 'hem, beside only 44 them), and a preponderance of has and does (has 75, hath 31; does 36, doth 20). Then in 1601 Jonson in Poetaster and Dekker in Satiromastix began to make occasional use of I'm. Jonson seems to have been the most style-conscious of the Elizabethans; certainly he took great care, in his revision of Every Man In his Humour, to bring that play into line with the new linguistic fashion which he himself had helped to create. Every Man In was first acted in 1598, and this, the 'Italian' version, was published 1601; then probably about 1606-12 Jonson produced the 'English' version, which was published in his 1616 Folio. In the 1601 text there is no 'em or 'hem: has 16, hath 35; does 2, doth 20. In the 1616 text the figures are: 'hem 60, them 48; has 35, hath, 15; does 10, doth 9. Into the revised version Jonson also introduced other marks of his new style, notably 33 instances of i'the and 25 of o'the - contractions which occur only sporadically in very small numbers in the whole period 1585-98. Since Jonson seems to be the key figure in this rapid shift, about 1599-1600, to a more colloquial style, we might refer to it, for convenience, as the 'Jonsonian revolution'. “

The earliest adopter of this ‘Jonsonian revolution’ was thus, by definition, Jonson himself. The next was Dekker. Coincidentally, these are the only two playwrights who have been proposed as serious candidates for the authorship of Guy.

We can actually use another stylistic marker to determine whether Jonson or Dekker could have been the creator of Sparrow: the 'while/whilst' marker. This is a particularly strong marker for determining authorship, because it is a personal preference that is not overly affected by date. Even today, some writers use 'whilst' in preference to 'while'.

Sparrow's preference for 'while' is clear; he uses it four times and never uses ‘whilst’. According to Lake (The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays - Appendix Table 1.1), Jonson's preference is consistent with Sparrow's, using 'while' 79 times compared with only 27 times for ‘whilst’. Dekker, however, has a “very strong preference for whilst over while”. In fact, Lake's tables show that Dekker only uses ‘while’ once as compared with 63 times for ‘whilst’. Based on the 'while/whilst' marker, Dekker is very unlikely to have written Sparrow's lines.

Stylistic analysis cannot, of course, definitively establish the date or authorship of a work by itself. But in the case of Guy of Warwick, the ‘has/hath’ and 'while/whilst' markers, in conjunction with other evidence, certainly seem to point in a particular direction: Sparrow's lines were probably written around the turn of the seventeenth century, and Ben Jonson is the prime candidate to be the author of those lines.