The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0626 Thursday, 15 March 2001
Date: Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 06:49:33 EST
This week on UK radio 4 an American lawyer (unfortunately I didn't catch
his name -but it was probably Professor Denbeaux) made the statement
that the US courts had recently decided not to admit expert handwriting
witnesses testimony as evidence in court. If this is true it would
constitute a rejection of the previous US appeal court decision (US vs.
Paul) which held that handwriting witnesses were probative rather than
prejudicial as court evidence and that Professor Denbeaux's evidence
(which doubted the claims of handwriting expertise) be withheld as not
Several questions / positions relevant to Shakespeare studies spring to
(1) Katherine -Duncan-Jones has stated that given that only 4 undoubted
letters other than a signature exist in S's hand (i.e 'by me' on his
will i think) the Sir Thomas Moore identification of hand D cannot be
anything other than spurious.
(2) The handwriting witness as to the authority of hand D is central to
arguments concerning the Shakespearean origin (comparisons with the
equally contentious Jack Cade scenes not withstanding) of the Sir Thomas
Moore extract (not to mention Henry VIII).
(3) Even though the US appeals court rejected Professor's Denbeaux's
testimony and expertise regarding handwriting, it did cast doubts by
implication upon the kind of non-falsifiable evidence constituted by
some kinds of handwriting analysis e.g. of the four Daubert factors
cited by the court ((1) whether the theory or technique the expert
employs is generally accepted in the SCIENTIFIC community; (2) whether
the theory has been subject to peer review and publication; (3) whether
the theory can and has been TESTED; and (4) whether the known or
potential RATE OF ERROR is acceptable. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-95 -my
emphasis) - the fourth is the most doubtful in the case of hand D
identification since the error rate is not only high (deduced as it is
from very small data comparison) but the outcome is unable to be shown
true or false by any other currently available evidence (short of a new
Shakespeare manuscript find). Points (1) and (3) are particularly
relevent to the hand D ascription- for it seems unlikely that there
could be testing which could demonstrate to any accurate degree the
error margin for the identification of S's hand and that even given the
US appeal court decision in US vs. Paul to accept handwriting experts'
opinions as evidence their testimony is nevertheless treated as
unscientific but relevent experience only.
I wonder what other SHAKSPERians think about the above? Are there some
more legally versed / handwriting trained commentators who have an
opinion contrary to the doubtful view just expressed?
Yours in doubt,