The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0540 Wednesday, 10 September 2008
From: Ward Elliott <
Date: Monday, 8 Sep 2008 18:24:48 -0700
Subject: 19.0530 Hand D and Sir Thomas More
Comment: RE: SHK 19.0530 Hand D and Sir Thomas More
John Robinson wonders whether there have been stylometric analyses of what we
call Hand D-plus, the "Shakespeare" portion of Sir Thomas More. There were many
of these in the old days, none of them conclusive enough to settle all
authorship and dating doubts one way or the other, though the consensus has long
leaned toward Shakespeare, but divided between early and later dates of
composition. There have also been several recent studies with new lines of
evidence, not all of them published. Some point toward a Shakespeare
ascription, some do not.
Exhibit A on the skeptical side is our study, originally intended for the
Shakespeare Yearbook but now back in our shop since the SYB has hit a rough spot
(our 2005). We used our New Optics tests and found too much Shakespeare
discrepancy for an easy Shakespeare ascription, especially for an early, 1590's
Shakespeare ascription. Even using 1600s profiles, only 3% of our pertinent
Shakespeare baseline had as much discrepancy as we found in Hand D-plus. With
1590s profiles, none of our baseline blocks had as much discrepancy as Hand
D-plus. Exhibit B for the skeptics is the strong consensus in our Golden Ear
Elite Panel that a passage from Hand D-plus did not sound like Shakespeare. The
latter is purely intuitive, but has been 95% accurate, as a group, in
identifying known Shakespeare. We would rate Hand D-plus an improbable, but not
impossible Shakespeare ascription if written in the 1600s, but very improbable
if written in the 1590s. The rest of Sir Thomas More can't be Shakespeare by our
On the positive side are three interesting new studies by two of our mentors,
one by Marina Tarlinskaja, two by MacDonald Jackson, introducing new evidence of
their own. Exhibit A for Shakespeare is Tarlinskaja's study, intended for the
same ill-fated SYB volume as ours, and now, like ours, back in the shop. She
applied a dozen of her Russian-school versometric tests for the first time to
Hand D-plus, and almost all of these put it within her equivalent of late
Shakespeare profiles-but not early - and put the bulk of the rest of the play
outside of Shakespeare but inside her Anthony Munday profiles, consistent with
the consensus. She concluded that Hand D-plus was an easy 1600s Shakespeare
could-be by her tests, but not a 1500s could-be, and the "Munday" passages were
easy Munday ascriptions.
Exhibits B and C for Shakespeare are two strong stylometric arguments by
MacDonald Jackson, one that Hand D-plus is Shakespeare's, the other that our
2005 evidence to the contrary was overdrawn. The first (2006) powerfully
reevaluated older evidence that Hand D-plus shares many unique vocabulary,
usage, spelling, and handwriting quirks with Shakespeare and added to it an
impressive new review of Literature on Line (LION) showing persuasively that the
quirks are found almost nowhere outside of Shakespeare and Hand D-plus and are
unique in fact, as well as in name. The second (2007) argued with
sophistication that some of the discrepancies we found could be explained away
by subject matter, and that Bayesian analysis, which offers a way to
counterbalance low probability from one perspective with high probability from
another, shows our 3% Shakespeare odds for Hand D-plus to be much too low.
In three particulars, we agree with both our mentors - that Sir Thomas More is
co-authored, that Hand D-plus was not written in the 1590s, and that the rest of
the play is not Shakespeare. In the most important particular, whether any of
Sir Thomas More is Shakespeare's, we disagree, but not with the assurance we
claim for whole plays and for gross Shakespeare stylometric mismatches, such as
the Funeral Elegy by W.S. Those are in different statistical galaxies from
Hand D-plus is in the same city or state, but not in the same ballpark, and ways
may yet be found to explain away its discrepancies.
Our take on the new scholarship is that it strengthens the case for Shakespeare
in some ways, by showing a new dozen Shakespeare resemblances, most of them
previously unknown, and by giving Hand D-plus, for the first time some
"unique-quirk" resemblances to Shakespeare whose uniqueness is well-documented.
However, it does not take much discrepancy to outweigh a lot of resemblance.
You can have the right hair and eye color, the right height, dress size, hat
size, and so on, but you're not Cinderella if the shoe doesn't fit. We think the
discrepancies we found in Hand D-plus are still there after full allowance for
Jackson's explanations, and that they still pose significant problems for a
We are rewriting our SYB article (which also deals with Edward III and concludes
that some of it could be Shakespeare's), and it seems to us that the strong new
negative evidence still outweighs the strong new positive evidence. But all this
new evidence probably needs some time and percolation to iron out conflicts, and
it is plain from recent SHAKSPER postings that we and our mentors are not the
only ones with new evidence to offer. Maybe one day all conflicts will get
settled and everyone will one day agree who wrote what - or maybe not.
In the meantime, it's a good time for stylometric authorship studies. A lot of
new optics are getting deployed in Shakespeare authorship studies, quite a bit
of them mutually convergent and convergent with what we suspected from old
optics, but some of them not. Both outcomes seem to us OK, if there is good
evidence to support them. We're not sure that we would envy people born into a
world where every authorship mystery has been solved once and for all, though we
are doing our best to move things in that direction, and we certainly would not
grudge that privilege to others.
Ward E.Y Elliott and Robert J. Valenza
Elliott, W.E.Y., and Valenza, R.J. (2005) "Two Tough Nuts to Crack: Did
Shakespeare Write the "Shakespeare" Portions of Sir Thomas More and Edward III?"
typescript for SYB
Jackson, M. P. (2006). "The Date and Authorship of Hand D's Contribution to Sir
Thomas More: Evidence from 'Literature Online'." Shakespeare Survey 59: 69-78.
Jackson, M. P. (2007). "Is "Hand D" of Sir Thomas More Shakespeare's? Thomas
Bayes and the Elliott-Valenza Authorship Tests." Early Modern Literature Studies
12.3(January): 1-36 http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-3/jackbaye.htm.
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