The problem of The Reign of King Edward III, a statistical approach

PhD Dissertation, King's College 1982

Posth. ed., Cambridge University Press 1988



It was sad that Cambridge University Press should have accepted this work for publication shortly after my father's death in May 1983. Since he was not able to see the book through the press himself, it has been reproduced from his original doctoral dissertation without alteration, save for the excision of one chapter of general literary criticism of Edward III, and the addition of an appendix on word links between Edmund Ironside, Edward III, Henry VI Parts 1 to 3 and Titus Andronicus. This appendix is drawn from a letter published by The Times Literary Supplement on 18 March 1983, and a corrected word list found among my father's papers after his death.

Ann Pasternak Slater

Preface by Richard Proudfoot

The late Dr Eliot Slater registered as a postgraduate student in the Department of English at King's College, London in the autumn of 1977. He was awarded the London PhD in February 1982 for his statistical work on the vocabulary of the anonymous Elizabethan play The Reign of King Edward III (1596). These facts might seem unremarkable, were it not that this graduate student entered professional English studies in his seventy‑fourth year and in his retirement from an internationally eminent career in psychiatry.

   Dr Slater's interest in Shakespeare was sustained and deeply personal. Before he came to King's he had already published articles and notes in Notes and Queries and in The Bard on the subject of the chronology of Shakespeare's works, based on analysis of the rarer elements in their vocabulary. With the encouragement of the late James Maxwell, then editor of Notes and Queries, Dr Slater decided to devote himself to more sustained study in his retirement. Unlike many other amateurs of Shakespearean scholarship, he resolutely set on one side his deep curiosity about the personality and psychology of Shakespeare and asked to be given a useful job to do. On my suggestion, he turned back to the work of Alfred Hart on the vocabulary of plays attributed to Shakespeare. He soon decided that the authorship of Edward III offered a suitable case for his treatment.

   With increasing difficulty as his health deteriorated and in face of a number of disappointments and set‑backs ‑ most dauntingly, his reluctant acceptance that computer‑aided analysis of vocabulary could not alone determine the chronology of Shakespeare's works ‑ Eliot Slater completed his PhD thesis, 'The Problem of The Reign of King Edward III (1596): a Statistical Approach'. He took his own line of enquiry as far as it could go. His findings, though in the nature of the case they could not be decisive in favour of Shakespeare's authorship of the play, will remain an important point of reference for future investigators. His study bears the print of a rare personality, whose sharp observation and dry wit impart life to the dry bones of a statistical argument. Not least, it offers a trenchant critique of some earlier methods used in the attempt to solve the question of attribution.

   As a final, personal note I wish to record my gratitude to a remarkable student for his patient forbearance with a supervisor many years his junior in years, experience and wisdom. Guiding, and following, his work was an educative experience I should have been sorry to miss.

Richard Proudfoot

King's College, London

26 October 1987