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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: June ::
Arden3 Sir Thomas More


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0124  Friday, 17 June 2011

From:         Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         June 17, 2011 12:46:57 AM EDT
Subject:      Re: Arden3 Sir Thomas More

Replying to John Briggs's suggestion that "Hand D" has a "doubtful connection to Shakespeare," Pete McCluskey calls McMillin's investigations of Sir Thomas More essential and accepts "his well-supported argument for the identification of Shakespeare's revisions to the play . . ." In his own article,  “Sir Edmund Tilney, Sir Thomas More, and the Dutch,” McCluskey observes that "McMillin convincingly argues that . . . Munday . . . Chettle and Shakespeare wrote the play 'for Strange's men between the summer of 1592 and the summer of 1593 . . .'" (citing McMillin's 1987 book, 72-73). Yet McMillin was in these pages "precisely speculative" without mentioning Shakespeare. He can't be said to have supported any D-was-Shakespeare argument well enough to convince himself and seems instead to warn against that conclusion.

McMillin allows that if "we put Blayney's [Chettle] reasoning together with our evidence about the date and company . . . a story can be told which recounts some of the things Shakespeare was doing in the fall of 1592. He was working with Chettle and Munday . . . . The scene in which More quiets the crowd . . . was so powerfully written by Shakespeare . . . . Of no period in Shakespeare's artistic career can such a specific story be told. The similarity between the Shakespeare signatures and the pages by Hand D would only support the identification on which this eventful story rests (149-50).

"And the story is almost bound to be untrue. Its every element is hedged with doubt . . . . The story amounts to one hypothesis stacked on another and will not carry much weight. . . . I prefer to conclude in the area of doubt where names do not flow so easily and where stories are harder to tell" (150-53). McMillin advises: "What everyone knows in Shakespeare studies is usually a good target for fresh thinking (88). How does such a healthy attitude get swept into the "consensus"?

In 1995(?) I ran a McMillin quote by him to permit some "everyone knows" target practice: "Hand D's three pages have always been recognized as 'foul papers' – that is pages of first-draft writing which turned out to be usable without copying" (144). My theme was (is) that Hand D is a copy after all. McMillin agreed he had not considered the matter (he was far ahead of me in other respects). I spoke with him in 1997, seemingly without effect. However, I received an unsolicited letter, which I take to represent his own opinion:
"When we met in Cleveland, I realized that your essay on More had faded from my memory, so I have just re-read it with great interest. Your skepticism about the 'Shakespearean quality' of Hand D is refreshing, and I agree that any scholarly arguments which build upon this identification will be houses of cards. The problem continues – it shows up recently in E. A. J. Honigmann's book on the Othello texts, which calls upon 'Shakespeare's pages' in the More script to back up several key turns in the argument."

One expects the "Arden Shakespeare" STM to back Shakespeare as D; else why bother? Can you imagine Scott McMillin as editor? John Jowett has a different attitude. McMillin gets little air time; his "essential" finding of a '90s date for the "original" play is essentially summarily rejected in favor of a later eventful story. One mention is a bit instructive. Speaking of Hand D and Howard-Hill's 1989 collection, Jowett observes that other essays "and Mcmillin's and Taylor's proposed dating of the revisions in 1603 or after, all put forward specific evidence and arguments that strengthened the consensus among scholars who examined the question in detail" (438).

In that "Dates" essay McMillin concludes, "The original play was written in the early 1590s . . . . The writing was a collaborative effort, with the dramatists we now know as Hand S and Hand D sharing in the work. In at least one major scene, Hand D rewrote an episode first undertaken by Hand S [Munday]. . . . Hand D cannot be so readily identified. . . . A decade later . . . . Munday appears to have had no hand in revising his own play . . . . That Hand D had no part in the revision can perhaps be explained by a glance at the candidates for his identity: Greene, Marlowe, Peele, and Kyd were all dead; and Shakespeare . . . would have no reason to be involved" (71-72). McMillin dated Hand D to the '90s, not 1603; he didn't join the "attribution consensus" until he joined Greene, Kyd, and all the rest.

Gerald E. Downs

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