University of Virginia Library

Linguistic Discriminators between Webster and Heywood

Attempts to determine the authorship of Appius and Virginia are complicated by ignorance over its date of composition. Metrical and stylistic considerations have led most commentators to conclude that "Appius lies at one end or other of Webster's development" (Lucas, III, 122), but there is no agreement over which end: it has been dated 1603-4 at the one extreme, 1626-34 at the other. Bentley finds the evidence of earlier scholars "at best inadequate, often absurd, and frequently tied to arguments for hypothetical collaborators," but judges that "the period from 1624 to Webster's death seems to have slightly more to be said for it than have the other dates offered" (V, 1246). Lucas favoured 1625-7 as the most likely date of composition, and 1624 is the year under which it is entered in the Schoenbaum-Harbage Annals. In view of the paucity of hard evidence on the matter, however, Heywood and Webster characteristics that fail to differentiate between the dramatists throughout the first quarter of the seventeenth century are of little legitimate use.

Another complicating factor is doubt over the extent of Webster's participation in the plays in which he is alleged to have collaborated, such as Anything for a Quiet Life, The Fair Maid of the Inn, and A Cure for a Cuckold—and again there are problems of chronology. Could we be certain of his shares in these plays, a wider range of data concerning his stylistic and sub-stylistic characteristics would be available to us, and we might better be able to gauge and understand the changes in his art. But only the early collaborations with Dekker, Westward Ho (1604) and Northward Ho (1605), can


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be apportioned between the parties with any precision or confidence.[9]

In pursuit of "linguistic" features that may serve to distinguish between Webster and Heywood, I have examined the three plays of Webster's undoubted sole authorship and fifteen plays known to be the unaided work of Heywood, including The Captives and The Escapes of Jupiter, extant in manuscripts generally agreed to be autograph. The minutiae studied were those that Cyrus Hoy, David J. Lake, and others have shown to fall into patterns discriminating neatly between the various Jacobean and Caroline dramatists—colloquial contractions such as 'em, I've, e'en, ha', i'th'; linguistic preferences for ye, you, or 'ee, hath or has; exclamations, oaths, and other expletives; affirmative particles (Ay, Yes, or Yea); connectives such as among or amongst, betwixt or between, while or whilst; and habits in the setting out, spelling, and punctuation of the text.[10]

In many of these respects the two authors are closely alike. Neither makes liberal use of a wide range of contractions and both eschew has and does in favour of the formal hath and doth,[11] except that Webster favours has and


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does in The Devil's Law Case: we cannot know whether the change reflects chronology (The White Devil is usually dated 1612, The Duchess of Malfi 1614, and The Devil's Law Case 1617), or was made in the interests of decorum, the colloquial forms being felt more appropriate to tragi-comedy than to tragedy. Another possible explanation would look to the probable origins of the texts. John Russell Brown judged that The White Devil was printed from the author's own papers, that The Duchess of Malfi was printed from a transcript, probably in the hand of Ralph Crane, and that while for The Devil's Law Case the indications were slight and inconclusive, they appeared to point to a literary rather than a theatrical manuscript.[12] Although Webster and Heywood avoid various forms common in the work of other dramatists —and these forms are absent from Appius—both men are rather fond of aphetic forms, such as 'fore and 'gainst, which occur several times in Appius; and even the exclamation Ha!, a recognized favourite of Webster's, is of very little value in discriminating his writing from that of Heywood, who uses it quite often in several plays. Murray (A Study of John Webster, p. 38) asserts that instances of 'tis in Heywood's work are "relatively few," but in The Captives, The English Traveller, and The Fair Maid of the West, Part II Heywood uses 'tis with a Websterian liberality, and in some other plays his rate of use is not significantly lower than Webster's.

Among the more striking idiosyncracies of Heywood's autographs, the only one to survive into several printed texts is the spelling Ey for the affirmative Ay (I in most dramatists), but its appearance in a Quarto as late as 1654 would be most surprising, and it is in fact absent from Appius.[13]

The main features of Webster's linguistic pattern were noted by Hoy. Remarking that, apart from the switch to has and does in The Devil's Law Case, the linguistic practices evident in Webster's plays comprise a pattern that is "extremely consistent," Hoy showed that, though Webster avoids most contractions, "his use of i'th', o'th' (which often occurs in his work as a'th'), and 's for his in each of his three unaided plays far exceeds the occurrence of these forms in any single play of such other dramatists whose unaided work I have examined as Fletcher, Massinger, Field, and Ford."[14] Heywood makes little use of i'th', o'th', or 's for his. The two dramatists also differ in their preferences over connectives, one or two expletives are favoured by one man but not the other, and there are a few pseudo-bibliographical markers. Figures for some discriminators that prove relevant to Appius and Virginia are presented in Table 3 at the end of this article. I have omitted good discriminators between Webster and Heywood that fail to appear in Appius, such as the locution Gramercy, which turns up in almost all Heywood's plays but is never used by Webster.


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The forms listed in Table 3 vary in their power to discriminate. Heywood uses more contractions in i'th', o'th', and to th' towards the end of his career, to which period Appius is perhaps most likely to belong, but the rate of occurrence in his plays always falls far short of Webster's. Most of Heywood's to th' contractions are merely variants of the use, which he favours, of th' before a vowel; only five examples in The Captives and three within the two parts of The Fair Maid of the West are the genuine to th' contraction before a consonant, which is the type employed by Webster. For't appears with Websterian frequency in 2 Fair Maid but none of Heywood's other plays, though Webster's use is itself variable. A few examples of i'th', o'th', to th', and for't in a scene of Appius would be perfectly compatible with Heywood's authorship. Far more distinctive is Webster's liking for of't, which is completely absent from the Heywood plays. Though I have not entered figures in the table, Webster's partiality for enclitic 't contractions generally is much greater than Heywood's, and his range is wider, including many more examples of 't appended to a verb—proclaim't, swear't, bring't, whisper't, and the like. Heywood usually restricts himself to the more common 't contractions, such as is't, in't, do't, to't. The total numbers of enclictic 't contractions in Webster's plays, according to my rather quick counts, are: The White Devil 68, The Duchess of Malfi 102, The Devil's Law Case 76. There are only four Heywood plays in which the total falls outside the range 5-25; in 1 Fair Maid, 2 Fair Maid, and The Captives it is about 50, and in The English Traveller about 60. Again, in three of the four later Heywood plays the figures are high and the rate of use Websterian. Clearly the number and type of 't contractions in a scene of Appius can be used only as slight supporting evidence. The most obvious discrepancy between Heywood and Webster in their use of contractions concerns 's for his: any instance of this type of contraction in Appius must constitute strong evidence for Webster's hand.

The connectives ought to supply useful testimony. Whereas Heywood greatly prefers betwixt (83 times) to between (22),[15] and whilst (150 times) to while (10), Webster employs between exclusively (28 times), and prefers while (19 times) to whilst (6). Though in The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi Webster shares Heywood's preference for amongst over among, in The Devil's Law Case this preference is reversed. Thus while, among, and between will, with varying decisiveness, point to Webster, whilst and betwixt to Heywood.

A further pointer to Webster's authorship has not been tabulated. In The White Devil he adopts the classical and Jonsonian practice of using small capitals for speech prefixes and setting them within the line when a new speech continues a line of verse. In The Duchess of Malfi and The Devil's Law Case small capitals are replaced by lower-case italic (the names beginning with a capital, of course), but speeches continuing a line of verse still often begin within the line. This practice is entirely alien to the Heywood


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autographs; it occurs sporadically in the Quartos of The Royal King and the Loyal Subject and The English Traveller, and a few times in The Rape of Lucrece, The Golden Age, and (on a single page) The Silver Age, but it is not otherwise a feature of Heywood's plays.