It is time to talk of Handwriting.
Oxfordians believe that Shakespeare left nothing behind.
In fact, their claims depend entirely on this being true.
They believe that Edward, 17th Earl of Oxford gave birth to the Shakespearean canon behind a hidden veil, in the darkness, unseen by anyone not party to the world's greatest secrets.
If you believe this, prepare to be disabused.
Yes, we have a whole adversarial website which takes issue with the hundreds of arguments that have, over the course of the last 100 years, accreted to the study of Shakespeare like barnacles on the hull of a great ship. But if what you'd really like is to prove to yourself and your local Oxfordian chums that it's all nonsense, without dealing with the minutiae of Elizabethan parish records or delving into the lives of Elizabethan aristocrats, then the handwriting of the two men is all you need. We can read the language Oxford spoke in his own hand. And without complex stylometry, math, big data or Cray XMPs, all anyone needs to do is look hard enough at what his Lordship says.
The two writers left behind everything you need to separate them.
No magic. No evidence-mangling. No ciphers.
Just paper, ink and words.
Will wrote in a style known as Secretary hand. Today, we find this difficult to read with its ornate letter forms, many of which are similar to each other and yet depressingly different to modern letter forms.
We know for sure what Will's handwriting looked like as there are six witnessed signatures.
Shakespeare signed his will in front of witnesses. It went though probate a matter of weeks later, unchanged. His signature appears on three other legal documents that have come down to us with possibly a fourth, in an odd place on the title page of a book. Six witnessed signatures in all. A witness effectively swears an oath they have seen whoever it is, making whatever mark they have chosen, on the document in question. Although Oxfordians like to claim there are 'problems' with these signatures, there are no problems of authenticity.
Six signatures are more than we have for many other dramatists of the period. We also have three pages of manuscript, as these pages demonstrate. The survival rate of manuscripts was not high. Especially manuscripts of popular work. There is almost an inverse proportional rule between popularity and survival rates. Most production manuscripts probably didn't make it past opening night after being torn up by actors, stagehands, painters and musicians.
The Oxfordian idea that the signatures constitute an insufficient control sample for handwriting analysis is nonsense. Forensic analysis often makes do with far less. A Gauguin, the subject of a recent BBC documentary, was de-attributed on the strength of three letters painted with a brush.
Similarly, the idea that the signatures are too deformed to be useful is a non-starter. Oxfordians love to include poor reproductions in the books and on their websites. Diana Price's recent article has some particularly execrable PMTs used to illustrate her difficulty in reading them. Price, like many of those she cites in her support, is not a trained palaeographer. However, three qualified palaeographers working with the originals had no trouble finding sufficient connections with Hand D to authenticate it as Shakespeare's.
Minims and crotchets
The three pages of manuscript which Will contributed to the play Sir Thomas More, if one insists on using the word "sample", are the sample. And once again, three pages is ample. It's an ample sample. Statistics make no objection to attributing Hand D to Will on the basis of six signatures and three pages of manuscript. Our Shakespearean handwriting pages explain this in detail. Taken in context, therefore, the case for Will's authorship of the Hand D manuscript, is cast iron. Handwriting experts say he wrote it, the quality of the work says he wrote it, the idiosyncratic spellings say he wrote it, the trademark orthography and stagecraft say he wrote it. The absence of any alternative possibilities says he wrote it. There's no argument left.
We can refer confidently, therefore, to three pages of William Shakespeare’s writing. Beyond Reasonable Doubt. Oxfordian Doubt is not reasonable. Our handwriting pages explain why no one, other than the man from Stratford, the man who signed the will, can possibly lay claim to them. And why this closes the door on alternative candidates.
Handwriting was changing rapidly in the 16c. Secretary hand is a style of European handwriting developed in the early sixteenth century that remained common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for writing English, German, Welsh and Gaelic. However, it was hard to read and laborious to produce with goose quills and was slowly being replaced by a more Italianate or italic style which had simpler, freer flowing letter forms and was easier to read though came with the disadvantage that it was easier to forge.
What did Edward De Vere write? To Oxfordian chagrin, scholarship not being their strongest suit, most of what we have in De Vere's hand was fished out of archives by someone they regard as an arch-Stratfordian, Professor Alan Nelson. We hold a mirror of his Authorship site here. Edward wrote a lot of letters, mostly in his own hand, mostly complaining about his circumstances, mostly self-pitying, mostly asking for money or proposing money-making schemes that would restore the fortune he had mostly thrown away.
You will find 77 letters and notes written by Oxford, totalling around 45,000 words: a Hamlet and a half. Shakespearean “dought” (as Oxford spelled it) is built on what doubters see as a dearth of historical records. Thanks to Professor Nelson, the details of Oxford's life and career cannot be hidden. Nor can the life Nelson describes be fitted to Shakespeare's career. There's no evidence that Oxford ever set foot in an Elizabethan theatre and he was dead before the Jacobean theatre had established itself as a genre. Six feet under before a third of the work was complete, before transforming new trends in theatre arrived to change the work of every dramatist in the early professional theatre.
Thanks to the pages of Oxford's prose in his letters, we know that the two men practically spoke a different language.
“For heres a paper written in his hand,
A halting sonnet of his owne pure braine,”
Except that, of course, is the secretary hand used by Will. Oxford's work looks and sounds very different.
“The Thyrd ys, that yt ys not of necescite, that her Magesty havinge taken the preemptione of Tyne that she must sell yt to them, but yf they will seme as yt were to contrast with her Magestye, she may sell yt to the Genevois & Florentines whoo will no dout doble yf she will the custome, for the stranger in every commodite payethe doble custome.”
Having lost the fortune he inherited, his Lordship made determined efforts to create another one out of tin. Except he called it tyne. We don't know what Shakespeare called it as he never mentions it once in 800,000 words. His Lordship, however, was preoccupied with it for decades and tried to manufacture a monopoly for himself on which he could earn an income. Sadly, his attempts to convince the Queen and his father-in-law that he would be a sensible custodian of a valuable industry all failed. He should have paid more attention in his math classes.
His attempts a becoming a writer also failed. The only court interlude of his for which we have a record seems to have failed. His every attempt at restoring his fortune failed. Oxfordians like to boast of his knowledge of the law yet he came off worse in almost every property deal as his estates shrank to nothing. His plotting at court failed disastrously and his failure to conceal his dalliance with one of the Queen’s ladies resulted in him being excluded. Trusted family retainers, like Thomas Churchyard, found, to their cost that he regularly failed to keep his promises.
Oxford was a failure as an Earl, a husband, a property dealer, an employer, a courtier and a poet. He never even got started as a Bankside dramatist but would surely have failed at that too.
The signs are all there in what he left behind.
The Italian scholar Niccolò De' Niccoli was dissatisfied with the lowercase forms of Humanist minuscule, finding it too slow to write. In response, he created the Italic script, which incorporates features and techniques characteristic of a quickly written hand: oblique forms, fewer strokes per character, and the joining of letters. .
Oxfordians are very proud of their Earl's affinity with Italy. Unlike the Bankside playwrights who learned to form their letters in grammar schools, Oxford wrote in the newer, more legible, privately taught Italian hand. Easier to teach and thought of by many as effeminate, it wasn't quickly taken up by businessmen and professional writers.
Will's handwriting, taught in a Grammar School in Stratford, and the Earl's, taught by specialist private tutors in the fashionable, lordly Italian style, were very different. Their usage of the English language reveals how different these two men sounded when they spoke, and, inevitably, when they sat down to write.
More starkly than anything else.
It is quite impossible to mistake one for the other.
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