The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0121  Thursday, 21 March 2013


From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 20, 2013 6:40:17 PM EDT

Subject:     Hands D & B of Sir Thomas More


I’ll try to rethink the Sir Thomas More “Hand D” pages without getting carried away; the result may be helpful to someone. My recent study suggests a hypothesis I already accept but I’m not really interested in working out the details. After registering my disappointment with John Jowett’s Arden3 edition, where further inquiry is discouraged in various ways, I’m hoping Paul Werstine’s book will include new analysis of the play and its famous three pages. Because I rank Werstine as the best textual/textual history scholar around, I wonder how a statement of my guess (cooked up before I read his book) might be reconciled to his opinions. I’ll note some preliminary opinions of my own.


In an article written over years (and somewhat fatefully swept under a carpet in 2007), I expanded the argument that D’s addition is a scribal copy. In a subsequent article, I argue that the manuscript play John of Bordeaux is transcribed from a verbatim, phonetic, stenographic report of a performance. Until recently I hadn’t thought these topics might be related. Yet convincing evidence for one example of accurate shorthand reporting implies that other plays are similarly preserved. It’s easy then to revive the shorthand theories of Theobald, Malone, Collier, Schmidt, van Dam, Greg, Chambers (and others) because the bad quartos (as a mysterious class) share “Bordox” features that explain a like derivation. I may again describe some of the characteristics convincing me that Q1 Orlando, Romeo, Hamlet, Philaster, and others are shorthand reports.


Any play deriving in part from a reported text may yet retain evidence. Corrected reprints of bad quartos such as LLL and R3 are easy to peg. So are texts that can be compared to independently better versions. A revised reported text is still a report but the evidence may be obscured. For example, despite its problems, F King Lear may never have been suspected of derivation from a report if Q1 had not survived. The best way to see the process is to correct some lines of Bordox. Most errors are treatable, as shown by manuscript correctors, and confusing errors can be scratched or revised. Play-patching revisers were licensed (by themselves) to make changes at will (such as Chettle’s small addition to Bordox). For these reasons, my stock of hypothetical reports includes just about every play not associated with its certain author. The primary reason for my wait-and-see attitude is that Bordox is an accurate text. As it stands it is more than suspect; corrected, revised, recopied and printed—it could fool everyone. How many times did that happen?


Interest in STM reposes in Hand D, which apparently revises a missing scene. I failed (casually) to make full sense of it from that point of view (along with troupes of editors and scholars) but hadn’t thought from my new perspective. How could a revision be reported? Yet many Hand D features are variations on the Bordox theme; it dawned on me to invert the relationship between texts. Might Chettle & Munday have revised a report, ticking off Tilney in the process? Did the players at a later time recopy the reported scene back into Munday’s text while attempting to save the play? Offhand, what seems unlikely may reconcile questions (and answers).


Although the identities of copyist and author are separate questions, my appreciation of the D scene and its corruption is now such that I’m not inclined to argue against Shakespeare’s authorship on artistic grounds; and though stylistic argument in his favor is stretched it is not without substance. Then too, the case Thomas Merriam has argued for many years—that Shakespeare authored the original play—is not so easily discredited. Problems associated with the attributions may be resolved somewhat if the texts derive from a report and its revision. Yet I’m not concerned with attribution. A more important question is whether D is Shakespeare; if not, the Hand D characteristics shouldn’t be foisted on the canon, but studied for their own sake, which is precluded by laying them on Shakespeare.


I’ll start with McMillin’s book. “Either [D] wrote so long after Tilney’s censorship that he could disregard it, or he wrote before Tilney’s censorship and could not have seen it. Both are real possibilities, but the balance will tip, I believe, in favor of [D’s] early writing. For [D] also did not know some things the revisers were doing” (138). Two theories follow: that D “participated in the original composition of the play, as a collaborator” or, though D “came to the manuscript . . . as a reviser, he worked ahead of B and C and thus did not know of the changes they introduced and did not care about Tilney’s strictures.” McMillin says the 2nd suggestion


> “explains D’s lack of awareness of the other revisers’

> work by placing his writing earlier than theirs. It does

> not explain why one reviser would be out of step with

> the others, and thus leaves hanging what is so often

> left hanging in discussions of this manuscript, the

> implication that professional writers botched the job.

> I have taken pains to show that the manuscript does

> not represent a botched job in other respects” (142).


McMillin’s first idea “assumes that professional writers did their work coherently . . . . If D was one of the writers of the original version, the things he did not know are all explained by one reason: his writing preceded all the interventions . . .” (143).


Our conceptions are the same, only different. McMillin didn’t suspect that D was a scribe, or that he may have transmitted part of an original “original version.” But his idea works without the unnecessary step that Hand D is an “early revision”; early is good enough. McMillin elsewhere conjectures that plays were dictated to scribes by their casts to obtain texts. He was getting warm; theatrical reporting simplifies and amplifies his idea. The known STM playwrights, known revisers, aren’t necessary to an original—if theirs isn’t the original. Munday & Co. botched the play: the censor shot it down. If he did so in response to the S “interventions” and if the earlier scene had once been approved, those would be good reasons to reinstate More’s riot-quenshing as preserved by D. I reread McMillin last year; my reordering of events may stem from his analysis, though I don’t recall the connection. He was a very good scholar.


Other stuff is left hanging. D as Shakespeare forces peculiarities one wouldn’t predict onto the era’s greatest mind. For example, some odd spellings are “verified” by tokens in a few early editions (questionable practice in any case) but orthographic oddities don’t stop there unless the subjective blinkers are on. Would Shakespeare really spell ‘Shreiff,’ ‘shreef,’ ‘shreve, ‘Shreiue,’ and ‘Shreue’ in a 37-word stint? Or ‘dung’ & ‘Dvng’ within eight words? Switching medial v (’removing’ / ’remoued’,  ‘nvmber’), bespeaks an unpracticed writer, not Shakespeare in 1600. One has to wonder what the scribe’s copy looked like. Ordinarily, I’m not big on “spelling tests” but I’ve noticed that Bordox’s scribe S, an unlearned (if adept) stenographer, interchanged u & v similarly without reason. He also spelt ‘Iarman’ for German, ‘how’ for ho, as D. But who supposes these comparisons have the force to advance Shakespeare attribution? For what it’s worth, D’s ‘Ingland’ is consistent with Bordox’s 17 instances of ‘Inglish’ and ‘Ingland,’ whose scribe is illiterate. Must we believe Shakespeare spelt England with I? Yes, if Shakespeare is D; No, If we look around.


Bordox shows speech-heading confusions arise from Stenographers, who had no time to identify speakers until transcribing the dialogue by which identities were attempted. As with Bordox and Woodstock, some prefixes would be left for later agents to decide. It’s hard to imagine a dramatist leaving the work undone, though we hear of prefixes added later, as if that means not added at all. Yet D seems to fret with just such incomplete text. While one may argue that in particular instances authors are subject to indecision and faulty knowledge of their stories, at some point McMillin’s strictures matter.


If a stenographer uses the prefix ‘other’ because he doesn’t know or care who’s speaking and if an author uses the prefix intending to let the players decide whose lines they are, the result is the same: an arbitrary assignment. At line 32 (Arden3) C replaced D’s ‘Sher’ with ‘maior’; at 35 he replaced the same prefix with ‘williamson’. Jowett notes that at 32 C has “a coherent clarification where Shakespeare left confusion.” Of 35, “[D’s] second ‘Sher’ is particularly obtuse . . . . As [C] realized, the two ‘Sher’s have to be two different roles.” However, C needn’t have had reasons for his specific alterations. D’s copy-text may have been guesswork. ‘Sher’ might stand for sheriff (More or Downes) or Sherwin, who may have been present in the “original” or just a guess. Jowett’s conjecture that it means Shrewsbury isn’t convincing.


Complete investigation of matters like these may point more to a stolen and reworked text rather than to a Shakespearian revision of someone else’s play. But it wouldn’t stop there. Just as “Shakespeare” begs the D question, Arden3 refers to B (of Hand B fame) as “Heywood”; the I.D. is not a matter of evidence so much as a supporting role for the D I.D. Jowett acknowledges that B = Heywoood “is much less secure” than D = Shakespeare (437). Paleographically, that can only be true if Heywood’s handwriting—which is more in evidence (in full dramatic manuscripts) than is Shakespeare’s (virtually none)—fails to match B’s. And if that’s the case, how does Shakespeare do better? Since B’s I.D. is not secure I suggest (as with D) that if Hand B is mostly copied the range of possible penmen is both large and unknown. Insistence on a dramatist (as with D) discourages investigating “incidental” evidence.


Jowett asserts that B “is a composing writer. His . . . changes of mind made in the course of inscription . . . show plenty of evidence of this” (434). And yet it is probably fair to say that every agent involved with STM was free to alter the text; everyone had a “composing writer outfit”: pen and ink. For example, if B was the company clown, as Eric Rasmussen suggests, he may have had the same reported text to work with as D. That can be evaluated only if prior assumptions about STM are set aside. As with McMillin’s arguments, Rasmussen (The Library, ‘91) may be on the right track.


Arden3 argues that Rasmussen’s “scenario is not plausible. A revision on this scale would . . . normally be handed to a professional dramatist. There is no evidence for scribes . . . taking on this job.” But they make copies, don’t they? Because Jowett says “Heywood” and Rasmussen demurs, his article might be overlooked in future: who bothers with discredited thinking (besides me)? But he raises interesting questions by investigating the evidence. He doesn’t suggest that B copies a pre-existing text, but that works for me. “The peculiar characteristics of the Clown’s part in More might better be explained if . . . [B] was not creating the role of the Clown, but simply writing down . . . lines that an actor had improvised on stage. . . . [A]s Scott McMillin has recently pointed out, [B] apparently did not create the Clown; he seems merely to be providing lines for a character who is mute in the original version” (130).


If Munday & Co. revised a report the “original” is long gone and the clown’s lines were written out. That’s as plausible as ‘Rafe’ being there with nothing to say; every self-respecting Rafe has something to say. A shorthand reporter doesn’t miss the “improv”; B’s repetition of others’ dialogue is reminiscent of Bordox’s Perce, much of whose banter seems impromptu. Rasmussen speculates that Rafe “improvised on stage.” It’s doubtful Munday’s version got to rehearsal, but if STM “was later revived by an acting company . . . it may have been necessary for someone who remembered some of the clown’s improvisations from the original production to write them down . . . . McMillin argues convincingly that the original version of [STM] was written for and performed by the Lord Strange’s Men in 1592-93” (135). That’s about the time Bordox was reported and handled by Chettle. It’s easy to surmise STM was equally well recorded (with numerous others in evidence). Jowett “excludes the dead” as candidates for B; fair enough, yet reported texts need no surviving authors to be copied at any time. Rasmussen is worth reading, with McMillin and Werstine. Adding shorthand (like it or not) lets perplexing, contradictory evidence converge on good explanations of traditional and new questions alike.


Classical scholarship suggests that study of related manuscripts should not assume too much about their relationship. One doesn’t necessarily beget the other when both are copies; the original may be distant, their common ancestor may be a copy, and texts may be cut or augmented. Comparing Munday’s Scene iv (410 – 52, fol. 5b) with B’s replacement (Addition IIA, 1 – 64, fol. 7a), scholars assume B copies S and inserts his interpolations. Yet S may have copied a Hand B-like text, purposely omitting the clown’s role. Nothing weighs against this possibility other than the fact that Hand B replaces the Hand S scene. The players may have decided to let Rafe’s dialogue stand (stet, per crossword puzzles). If B derives from the common ancestor, that’s my Hand D hypothesis again and it explains their common features.


Hand S reads like a “modernized” version of Hand B. When we turn that around it’s a hard to understand how B copies S; the lines share the same words but B leaves no sure sign of copying the normalized text:


Lin.       Come gallant bloods, you, whose free soules doo scorne

to beare th'enforced wrongs of Aliens.

Add rage to resolution, fire the houses

of these audacious straungers. This is St. Martins

and yonder dwelles Mewtas a wealthie Piccarde, at the greene gate,

De Barde, Peter van Hollock Adrian Martine         420

with many more outlandish fugitiues.

Shall these enioy more priueledge then we

in our owne countrie ? lets then become their slaues.

Since iustice keeps not them in greater awe

weele be our selues rough ministers at lawe.

All.        ffire the houses, fire the houses.                   (S, 415-26)


lincol     then gallant bloods you whoes fre sowles doo skorne

(B)        to beare the inforsed wrongs of alians

ad rage to Ressolutione fier the howses

of theis audatious strangers : This is St martins

and yonder dwells mutas a welthy piccardye

at the greene gate

de barde peter van hollocke adrian Martine

wth many more outlandishe fugetiues                        20

shall theis enioy more priueledge then wee

in our owne cuntry. lets become ther slaiues

since lustis kepes not them in greater awe

wele be our Selues Rough ministers at lawe.

clo        vse no more swords nor no more words but fier the howses

braue captaine curragious fier me ther howses  (B, 13-26)


Is it more likely that B turned ‘whose free soules’ and ‘resolution, fire the houses’ into ‘whoes fre sowles’ and ‘Ressolutione fier the howses’, or was he copying an earlier text? The “B is Heywood the dramatist” perspective won’t entertain the question but the whole of the rewrites seem odd if B copies S. Does a scribe read ‘receiu’de’ & ‘receiue’ only to write ‘Risseude’ & ‘Resseaue’ (or such like)? It’s a probability thing. I don’t mean to suggest Heywood wasn’t a life-long odd speller (‘ffyar’) or that he spells some words as B (‘howse’). I don’t even argue against Heywood’s candidacy on this point. But my guess is that fully odd copy is behind Hand B and that the same text was previously normalized by the professional (Munday). Ditto punctuation. A couple of B speech-heading mistakes reinforce this view:


Will.      Now Lads, how shall we labour in our safetie?

I heare the Maior hath gathered men in Armes

and that Sheriffe Moore an houre agoe receiu'de

some of the priuie Councell in at Ludgate,                 440

fforce now must make our peace or else we fall

twill soone be knowne we are the principall

Doll.      And what of that? if thou bee'st afrayd husband, goe home againe and hide

thy head, for by the Lord He haue a little sporte now I am at it.

Geo.     Lets stand vppon our Guarde, and if they come

receiue them as they were our enemies. / En: Sher. & the rest. 

Lin.       How now? haue ye found anie?

Sher.    Not one, th'are fled.            (S, 437-48)


WILLlA now lads howe shall we labor in or saftie

I heare the maire hath gatherd men in armes

and that shreue more an hower a goe Risseude

some of the privye cownsell in at ludgate

forse now must make our pease or eles we fall

twill soone be knowne we ar the principall

doll       and what of that if thow beest a fraide husband go home a

gaine and hide thy hed for by the lord lle haue a lyttill sporte

now we ar att ytt                                                                        50

[Lin] Geor  lets stand vppon or swords and if they come

Resseaue them as they weare our eninemyes

clo        a purchase a purchase we haue fownd we ha fownde

doll       what

clo        nothinge nott a frenshe fleminge nor a fleming frenshe

to be fownde but all fled in plaine inglishe

Linco    how now haue you fownd any

Sher     no not one theyre all fled                (B, 42-58)


B himself corrected his ‘Lin’ prefix to ‘Geor’ at line 51; but why the error if he was copying S? I suspect his copy-text was deficient in speech headings (as are all shorthand reports) and he supplied ‘Lincoln’ based on the context that suggests the leader is speaking. But B realized that another answers the question posed at line 42, ‘howe shall we labor in or saftie’, which B also assigns to Lincoln. The only speaker left at the moment is George Betts, Rafe’s brother. But why assign the question to Lincoln if B copied S? C corrects by writing ‘WILLIA’ over B’s prefix, so B didn’t see his mistake, which again must stem from the assertive nature of the speech. Doll replies to hubby’s question but B missed the implied speaker. That’s how errors occur, when prefixes are wrong or missing. S could not cause the mistake.


Enter A Servingman [Hand C]

Man      wher be theis players     [2-73, Hand B]

all         heare Sir

Man      my lord [in poste] is sent for to the courte.

and all the guests doo after supper parte

and for he will not troble you againe

by Me for your Reward a sends 8 angills

wth many thanks : but supp before you goe,

yt is his will you should be farely entreatid

follow I pray ye

witt       this luggins [all] is your neclegens

wanting witts beard brought things into dislike

for other wies the playe had bin all seene

wher now some curius cittisin [dislikte itt,] [dispraisd itt] disgraste itt

and discomendinge ytt. all is dismiste,

vice      fore god a sayes true, but heare ye Sirs 8 angells ha

my lord wold neuer giues 8. angells more or [el] les for 12d

ether yt shold be 3 [pounds]. 5 or tenn ther 20sh wantinge suer

witt       twenty to one tis soe : I haue a tricke my lord comes

stand a side                                                        20

            [lord maier and ladies and the Rest: be patiente

            [the state hathe sent and I must nedes be gone

            [[but frollicq on] lead on theare : : what seekst thou fellow.

            [your lordship sent vs 8 angills by your man and I haue

            [loste one heare amongst the rishes

            [8 angills hoo dilliuerd yt I sent them ten.

            [I my lord dilliuerd yt. anon they shall haue too more.

            [thats more then we hard before my lord.

            [am I a man of [Righte and] equetie

            [equallie to deuide true Righte his [h]owne

            [and shall I haue disseauers in my house

            [goe pull the cote ouer the varlets eares.

            [ther ar too many suche : [ile Make them fuer by one]

            [giue them ther dewe. lead one awaye,

            [[come fellowes goe wth me]                  35

                        In haist to cownsell whats the busnes now

                        that all so late his highnes sends for me.

                        what sekst thou fellow

witt       nay nothinge. your lordship sent 8 angills by your man

and I haue lost too of them in the Rishes

Lord     wytt looke to thatt. 8 angells I did send them tenn

ho gauie yt them

Man      I my lord I had no more aboute me

but buy and buy they shall Risseaue the rest

Lord     well witt twas wieslye donne thou plaist witt well endede

not to be thus disseauid of thy Righte.

am I a man by offis truely ordaind

equally to deuide true Righte his owne

and shall I haue disseauers in my house

then what availes my bowntie. when such seruants

disseaue the pore [Risseauer] of what the mr giues  30

goe one and pull his cote ouer his [h]eares

ther ar too manye such : giue them ther Righte

witt let thie fellowes thanke the twas well dunn

thou now disserueste to match w* ladye wisdom


Greg notes, “21-35 marked for omission. The absence in this passage of speakers' names (which Dyce supplies) shows that this scribe at least wrote his text first and inserted his speakers afterwards . . .” If the scribe worked from copy-text without prefixes he would analyze the dialogue before adding them. Bordox shows such text might have to be relined. If in the process he decided to rework the bit there would be no need to add names to the replaced text. That wouldn’t indicate his habit in other circumstances. But any inference, even mine, depends on the origin of the text; the shorthand alternative may hold up pretty well.


Werstine’s book has arrived. I’ve seen a number of arguments against his articles lately, none that face up to the evidence very well (Pechter, Egan, Honigmann, Ioppolo). Should be an interesting read.


Gerald E. Downs 

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