Sunday, April 17, 2011

Discussion: A Funeral Elegy

The poem: "A Funeral Elegy"

My favorite line:
When all shall turn to dust from whence we came
And we low-level'd in a narrow grave,
What can we leave behind us but a name,
Which, by a life well led, may honor have?


Oh, man.

When I assigned this reading last week, I knew its authorship was debated. (It was published in 1612 by a mysterious W.S.) What I didn't realize is that this poem is a key sticking point for the Oxfordian camp, who claim that Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, actually wrote Shakespeare's work.

It's pretty simple, really. This poem was clearly written in 1612, shortly after William Peter was murdered, and Edward de Vere was long dead by then. The logic pattern here is: The earl was actually "Shakespeare," but he was already dead, so clearly this poem is not by "Shakespeare." (Here is a summary of the Oxfordian perspective.)

The authorship issue was hotly debated in the late 1990s, when Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 published an essay suggesting Shakespeare's authorship (Richard Abrams, "WS's 'Funeral Elegy' and the Turn from the Theatrical," Spring 1996). Donald Foster's book, Elegy by W.S.: A Study in Attribution, also comes down on Shakespeare's side. In Guilty Creatures: Renaissance Poetry and the Ethics of Authorship, writer Dennis Kezar speaks of the poem's "emerging Shakespearean canonicity."

I've made my thoughts on Oxfordian/Marlovian/Baconian authorship conspiracy theories pretty clear. In brief: They're a giant load of crap. But even if we rightly believe that Shakespeare authored his own work, we still can't say for certain that this poem is his. Maybe W.S. stands for Wilbur Smith or Wilhelmina Stout.

I'm kind of hoping that's the case, because this poem bores me to tears. It does, however, carry through some of the themes Shakespeare discussed in his sonnets. What do you think? Does this poem "sound" like Shakespeare to you?


  1. In short, it did not feel at all Shakespearian to me. And it bored me as well.

  2. The elegy--the traditional poem for mourning--began in ancient Greece as a sad song lamenting love and death, often accompanied by a flute. order here