The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0540  Wednesday, 10 September 2008

From:       Ward Elliott <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 
Shakespeare ascription.

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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