Handy Hand D

Hand D, the fragment of lost play Sir Thomas More, thought to be in Shakespeare's handwriting, is in the news again.

Hand D

Professor Douglas Bruster, of the University of Austen, Texas, has joined Brian Vickers in claiming that a series of additions to Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy are attributable to Will. Rather than using stylometrical data as Vickers did, Professor Bruster is basing his analysis on the more traditional characteristic idiosyncrasies, which have been used by Will's editors to improve texts over hundreds of years to eliminate inconsistencies caused by errors in transcription or production in the First Folio and surviving Quarto texts.

To simultaneously spoil the Oxfordian day, in his paper, Mr. Bruster identifies 24 broad spelling patterns — including shortened past tenses (like “blest” for “blessed”) and single medial consonants (like “sorow” instead of “sorrow”) — that occur both in the Additional Passages of The Spanish Tragedy, for which no known manuscript survives, and the Shakespeare handwriting sample in the British Library. He also cites nine textual “corruptions” (like “creuie” instead of “creuic,” modernized as “crevice”) that he believes can be explained as misreadings of Shakespeare’s handwriting.

These are consistent with the idiosyncrasies that have been detected by editors over the years from mistakes in the First Folio likely to have been caused by the misreading of actual handwriting. Looking at the additional passages for The Spanish Tragedy, Bruster says “What we’ve got here isn’t bad writing, but bad handwriting,”

The characteristic handwriting errors Bruster identifies triangulate rather nicely with what we can see in Hand D. If any evidence of this quality cropped up on the Oxfordian side of the argument, the churchbells would be ringing.

Standing foursquare behind Elliot and Valenza's stylometric work, we at Oxfraud have adopted their non-committal position on Hand D. E&V don't rule out Shakespeare as the author of the pages of Sir Thomas More, but they can't quite convince themselves. 'Possibly' they say, 'but not in 1593'. They just won't come down off the fence. Given how categoric E&V can be when eliminating candidates like De Vere, this kind of gentle hesitation is interpreted as sufficient confirmation by many believers in Hand D. 

The story, therefore, is not going to end here.

A firm attribution of Hand D to Shakespeare through more evidence, stronger connections and more convincing paleology, will simply toss the whole Oxfordian Fallacy into the Thames. Even though Professor Bruster takes us only a couple of inches further along the road, it's valuable progress.

Satisfactory proof that Hand D is Will's will be enough to deep six the entire authorship question.

Now there's a worthy objective for the quartercentenary. Get those magnifying glasses out!

HND-Hand-D-home

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Comments (7)

  • natwhilk's picture

    Oxfordians insist that Shakespeare's scratchy hand is proof he never held a pen.  To saner eyes, this looks as if he wrote too much:  a torrent of ideas contending with a bad case of cramp.  The poster boy for RSI.

    My own idea--pure speculation--is that the boy Will was left-handed, like Da Vinci, and was forced to use his right.

    Nat

    Aug 14, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    Using your left hand to write with any kind of wet ink pen is a nightmare as your palm and wrist both want to smudge what you have written. My business partner could do it, just, with a rather elaborate curved wrist and elbow and used the same technique with a biro.

    Interesting idea . . . . 

    If Hand D is Will, the argument really is dead and buried. I wonder if that's what makes Shakespeareans so nervous about it.

    Aug 14, 2013
  • natwhilk's picture

    Smudged wet ink?  Tell me about it!  That's what put the idea in my head.

    I wonder if a paleographer could tell?

    Nat

     

    Aug 14, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    I think it's much easier to tell a leftie from a rightie than it is, for example, to tell a male from a female. It'd be asking a lot to tell whether Will was a switcher. In a recent BBC series called The Village, set in 1910-1920, we saw a left-handed boy actually being beaten into right-handed submission.

    Aug 16, 2013
  • natwhilk's picture

    In a folklife museum, I once saw--well, essentially left-hand stocks.  The fingers were thrust through, immobilsing them.  I can't remember if the hand itself was then tied behind the victim's back.  As a leftie, I notice such things.

    Nat

    Aug 16, 2013
  • natwhilk's picture

    Having got hold of that issue of Notes & Queries, I've checked a few of Shakespeare's spelling patterns against Alan Nelson's highly useful Oxfordian word list:  http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/oxspell.html.

    Two of the playwright's characteristic spellings are "nck" for "nk" ("rancke") and leaving off the final mute "e" from words like "insolenc," "obedyenc," "offyc," "ffraunc."

    In the 44,000 plus words in Oxford's hand, in his letters and memoranda, how often does he use these spellings?

    Never.

    Nat

     

     

    Aug 16, 2013
  • alfa's picture

    My personal favourite in Hand D is the use of 'scilens' which is nowhere in evidence outside Hand D and the canon after the 15c.

    It's an attractively logical inconsistency and a definite feature of Shakespeare's authography. The 'c' appears when he want the letter 'i' pronounced 'eye' as in 'science'. It is retained in the First Folio, where it appears 18 times in HIVii, probably because it is a proper noun - Justice Scilens. It is probably retained in error in Coriolanus even though it is, once again, a proper noun - Scicinius.

    There's more work going on around Hand D after Elliot and Valenza's objections and all of it suggests a definitive authentication might be possible. Where that will leave Oxfordianism is a rather nice thing to speculate about while cutting the grass. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the official position on Hand D, taken by Oxfraud University, changes in the forthcoming academic year.

    In their hasty response to Bruster's article, Oxfordians have, of course, the wrong end of the stick in their hot and sweaties.

    Here's an extract from McDonald P Jackson's article which is the theme Bruster is developing.

    One famous link in spelling has often been pronounced unique, and is in fact very nearly so. “Scilens” (for the noun “silence”) in Hand D can be found nowhere in drama and nowhere in any genre after the early fifteenth century except in 2 Henry IV (Quarto 1600), where Justice Silence’s name is spelt eighteen times in the same way: a compositor would normally have regularized the spelling of the common noun, but did not have the temerity to tamper with the proper noun (though it is the same word, since Silence is aptly named).[25] The Quarto of 2 Henry IV  “is a good example of a text printed directly from the author’s papers,”[26] and the  spelling “Iarman” (for “German”) constitutes another remarkable link between it and Hand D. The whole of “Literature Online” yields only one other example, in the manuscript play (attributed to Robert Greene and probably written about 1592) John of Bordeaux.[27] Likewise, Hand D’s plural “elamentes” is shared with the Quarto of Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598), but is found elsewhere in the database only in two poems: the medieval A Stanzaic Life of Christ (twice) and A New Treatise in Three Parts (circa 1550). And although “a leven” (for “eleven”) is not particularly rare, the sole parallel to Hand D’s “a levenpence” is Love’s Labour’s Lost’s “a leuenpence-farthing.” Hand D’s “deule” (twice for “devil”) recurs in Henry V  (Folio 1623), but “Literature Online” detects it elsewhere only in the anonymous fifteenth-century play The Wisdom That Is Christ, in two medieval poems, and in a poem by the Scotsman Robert Sempill (1530–1595). Of course there are many texts that cannot be searched by means of “Literature Online,” but its coverage of early modern drama is virtually complete, and all five exceptional Hand D spellings appear in early printed texts of Shakespeare’s, whereas only one makes so much as a single appearance in all the rest of “Literature Online: English Drama.”

    Aug 17, 2013