Shakespeare’s Pauses, Authorship, and Early Chronology


  • Douglas Bruster Department of English, The University of Texas at Austin, 208 W. 21st St. Austin, Texas 78712



William Shakespeare, attribution, authorship, Ants Oras, prosody, metrics, pause patterns, caesura, iambic pentameter, chronology, Arden of Faversham, 1 Henry VI, Edward III, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, Marina Tarlinskaja


This paper explores the implications of Ants Oras’s Pause Patterns in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama: An Experiment in Prosody (Oras 1960) for the chronology and authorship of plays in early modern England. Oras’s brief monograph has been noticed by a relatively few scholars, mainly those interested in changes to Shakespeare’s pentameter line. Recent developments in the field, however, have rendered his data newly attractive. Compiled by hand, Oras’s figures on the punctuated pauses in pentameter verse offer computational approaches a wealth of information by which writers’ stylistic profiles and changes can be measured. Oras’s data for a large number of playwrights and poets, as well as his methodology generally, may prove instrumental in constructing a portrait of the aesthetic environment for writers of pentameter verse during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England. In particular, pause percentages may lend context to our attributions of texts of uncertain authorship. A hypothetical chronology is offered for Shakespeare’s earliest writing, including his contributions to Arden of Faversham, 1 Henry VI, and Edward III.


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