Although computerised stylometric analysis has advanced considerably, modern attribution techniques are not dependent on it. Nor does it disagree with more traditional methods.
Today, the whole of Early Modern English literature is online and available in a single addressable database for research and comparison. Modern scholars have access to new methods of 'big-data' analysis using immensely powerful hardware which has conveniently become cheap enough to sit on their desktop.
Still in its infancy, however, the science of stylometry has not replaced the gentler art of internal analysis. Scholars have long felt able to discern Shakespearean or Marlovian qualities in unattributed work and conversely, whether Will's hand is discernible in plays attributed to other playwrights. The subject is rising in importance in every English Faculty. Although it might appear to succour the doubters, who are indeed seeking to make capital out of the disagreements which inevitably ensue, they are doomed. Wherever you look, however hard, with whatever technology or approach, there isn't the smallest amount of support for the idea that the canon wasn't written by the man from Stratford we know as Will Shakespeare.
"Not only does he use the rare words appearing in Hand-D more than his peers, but he also generally eschews the common words neglected by the writer of Hand-D. The evidence presented here is unusually consistent. The Hand-D and Addition III portions of Sir Thomas More are very like Shakespeare in their use of Shakespeare lexical words, non-Shakespeare lexical words, and function words. The Hand-D and Addition III portions share many rare words with Shakespeare and avoid many of the same common words. On these measures the More passages are not on a Shakespeare borderline but in a Shakespeare heartland. These results can be added to the many indications already in existence, from parallel passages, image clusters, rare words, idiosyncratic spellings, and indeed from handwriting..."
T Irish Watt.
Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship: CUP 2009
New methods are turning up revelations almost daily. Nevertheless, the internal analysis of Will's work done before the computer age is holding up well. Plays long thought to be collaborations with Fletcher and Middleton have turned out to be exactly that. The authorship of large chunks of Timon of Athens and Pericles by collaborating alternative authors is supported by the new methods of discrimination. As accuracy improves, scholars can turn their attention towards ever-smaller targets for analysis.
Sir Thomas More is an early an obvious candidate, an extraordinary play, strongly resonant of modern political issues particularly immigration and human rights. Overloaded with potential controversy beyond any chance of performance before Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences, the manuscript did not live in a theatre play-chest, pages did not get distributed among scribes, actors and prompters. Bits did not go missing to be recreated from actor's memories. It survived.
Internal analysis of Sir Thomas More is not a new activity. Nor is it guesswork.
John Dover Wilson spent years analysing characteristic spelling idiosyncrasies, looking for clusters which could be attributable to an individual author. In an attempt to reverse engineer what typesetters and printers had done, he looked at the many surviving manuscripts of Gabriel Harvey's printed work to see how they were normalised once in production. Dover Wilson convinced himself (and many others) that the spelling clusters he detected in the canon, were also present in Hand D. Jonathan Bate and Erik Rasmussen, the editors of the newly published RSC edition of The Collaborative Plays agree with Dover Wilson, also basing their judgement largely on internal evidence.
R W Chambers, in the first part of his 1939 essay, eliminates everything other than internal evidence. He traces the mispronunciation of the word 'argo' and the mention of 'halfpenny loaves' to other Shakespearean instances. He builds his case on the similarity of thought and imagery in the fragments and compares the content of the verse to passages in the plays, like the Jack Cade scenes of Henry VI Part II, before looking at the orthographic resemblances.
He follows Caroline Spurgeon, the great panjandrum of Shakespeare's Imagery, using a process of 'reverse engineering' the ideas, back through the use of figurative language to the thought behind the expression.
"Shakespeare, as Raleigh says, extols government with a fervour that suggests a real and ever present fear of the breaking of the front gates. But my point is that this further, in itself highly characteristic, is expressed both in St Thomas More and in Troilus and Cressida by a quite individual succession of thoughts: (A) degree neglected, (B) the flood surging over its banks, (C) the doing it to death, (D) cannibal monsters. It is this linking of the thought that matters. The wording is not the same, nor have we any reason to demand that it should be the same. For if so striking a sequence of thought were offered in the same words, we should have a mere repetition, such as we do not find, and ought not to expect to find, in the "myriad-minded" Shakespeare.
R W Chambers
The Play of More: Man's Unconquerable Mind; Jonathan Cape 1939
And appetite, an universal wolf
Troilus and Cressida, I,iii,121-4:
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
Sir Thomas More, Addition IIc, 84-7:
3rd Fisherman:...Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, II,i,26–32:
What's the matter,
Comparative internal evidence beyond the dreams of Oxfordians.
Time for a closer look.
Will's contribution to Sir Thomas More contains a crowd scene in which rebellion is curbed by a determined speaker who courageously addresses a classic mob of revolting peasants. He almost certainly contributed a soliloquy transcribed elsewhere but the bulk of his addition is one very dramatic mob scene.
Sound familiar? Of course, it does. Will had already written a great public insurrection in Henry VI ii with Jack Cade as a rather seductive anti-hero. He wrote several more, equally good, including the most famous mob scene in the theatre. Almost everyone knows how Mark Antony started his speech, however little they know of the rest of Will's work. So famous is it, that when covering the identical situation the series ROME, on the largest budget ever spent on a drama series, the writers made no attempt to recreate it, cutting straight to the characters describing its effect. Great mob scenes are rare and famous and not at all common in the work of Will's rivals. Apart from getting the mood right, getting any kind of political activism past the Master of the Revels was a specialist skill.
Here's More, like Mark Antony, using images of Divine Power, though the objective here is to implore citizens not to use their angry hands or their powerful arms but their supplicant knees, remembering their duty to the state is part of their duty to God. The juxtaposition of the plural meanings of 'arms' as limbs and weapons and 'knees', as joints and instruments of prayer, is distinctively Shakespearean.
Nay, certainly you are;
For to the king God hath his office lent
Of dread, of justice, power and command,
Hath bid him rule, and willed you to obey;
And, to add ampler majesty to this,
He hath not only lent the king his figure,
His throne and sword, but given him his own name,
Calls him a god on earth. What do you, then,
Rising gainst him that God himself installs,
But rise against God? what do you to your souls
In doing this? O, desperate as you are,
Wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands,
That you like rebels lift against the peace,
Lift up for peace, and your unreverent knees,
Make them your feet to kneel to be forgiven!
Here's Menenius, one of the most politically astute characters in literature (and a much better match for a Cecil than Polonius, should you need one) with the same thought in Coriolanus. Here we see Will attributing an equivalent Divine Nature to the republican state of Rome (James I must have purred at Republics with Divine Rights). Once again, we find the opposition of knees and arms.
you may as well
Strike at the heaven with your staves as lift them
Against the Roman state, whose course will on
The way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbs
Of more strong link asunder than can ever
Appear in your impediment. For the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians, make it, and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help.
Following Caroline Spurgeon, Chambers points out that "of the twelve [major] images in the three pages, every one can be paralleled in Shakespeare's known plays'. Spurgeon says:
"[compare] Gratiano's 'dress'd in an opinion of wisdom' (MoV) with 'you in your ruff opinions clothed'. 'Ruff' of course, means 'pride' or 'excitement'. But the word naturally suggested its other meaning of an article of clothing, and so the verb clinches into a metaphor, giving a double meaning to the noun…This method of swift evolution, by way of association and suggestion, is a marked feature of Shakepeare's style in metaphor, and especially of his middle and later style, from 1594 onwards, and it is one in which each differs from most, if not all, of his contemporaries"
But do we even need to go that far? The clamour of a mob gradually talked down by a single individual, expounding the need for order and degree is special to Will. Although there are no similar scenes in the work of other dramatists of the period, there are three more examples in Will's work in Henry VI ii, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. And that's before we go looking for similar ideas, outside of open insurrection, in plays like Hamlet or Troilus and Cressida or the complex setup and delivery of Henry V's famous turnaround speech before Agincourt.
Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to th' ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.
This is a play about human rights and even worse for the Oxfordian sect of Shakespeare Deniers, it's about who has them. Does everyone have them? Do the pitiful immigrants from religious wars abroad have them? The last eight lines are a savage criticism of Machiavellian ends justifying the means. The playwright tells us we are all human and we demean ourselves by denying human rights to others.
Here's Sir Ian McKellen driving the point home before snapping into character and delivering the speech with a conviction that tops any handwriting evidence when it comes to authentication.
'A theory of imitation would compel us to suppose …that 'D' imitated Shakespeare and that Shakespeare imitated D. It is simpler to suppose D and Shakespeare the same person.'
R W Chambers
Was this written yesterday? This is how Will Shakespeare, an unprecedented genius when it comes to narrowly observing humankind, is able to excite the Elizabethan groundling, the Jacobean monarch and the authors of The Communist Manifesto with the same work. Could the Earl of Oxford write like this? Only on another planet.
'Myne is made to serve me', is Oxford's creed, 'the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate'. On which side of the argument about penniless refugees would De Vere come down? There is certainly no evidence of any liberality in The Earl's actions. Collectors of biographical similarity are going to be stumped to find anything similar in his life or work.
And there, black, wet and glistening in the penultimate line, is one of Will's signature moves, taking the strong noun "shark" and turning it into a transitive verb. A linguistic magic trick. And another in the clever apposition of 'ruff' and 'ruffian'. These virtuoso tricks of language strike me as far stronger connections than the occurrence of repeated lines or similar phrases. When considering Oxfordian claims of incompatibility between Hand D and Will's undisputed work, see how the same analysts are to quick to discern Shakespearean quality in the work of poets like Dyer and Oxford. What are their qualifications worth of they think Dyer and Shakespeare are the same writer?
In Coriolanus, Cominius leads Coriolanus away from a raging mob. Menenius has a final attempt at intercession but Brutus cries out:
BRUTUS: He consul!
CITIZENS: No, No, No, No, No.
This echoes Lear but is a replica of of the line in the manuscript:
ALL: We'll not hear my lord of SurreyDecide for yourself which is more convincing. Exact repetition might be the result of imitation, homage or piracy. But to create anew, and make it sound sufficiently like Will Shakespeare to merit debate? Who is up to that challenge? In fact, another idea is possible. Since Will doesn't recycle his own material without change, is he permitting himself the luxury of re-use here because the first version of this scene stayed on the Jacobean cutting-room floor?
No, No, No, No, No.
R W Chambers has many more direct comparisons in his article. His carefully drawn distinctions between Will and other Elizabethan playwrights are as solid as Oxfordian fantasies are hollow. Particularly convincing is the way he builds comparisons of the dramatic structure and framework, tracking the Hitchcockian way Will stokes tension to a climax in Hand D, Richard II, Macbeth, Troilus and Cressida in addition to the more obvious comparisons between Henry VI ii, Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. The article will repay the curious reader with a conviction that even without palaeography or any other help from science, Hand D belongs to the man from Stratford.
Given that everything else points in the same direction, "What nedeth it to sermone of it moore? " as Chaucer's Pardoner said.
We are looking at Will's work as part of a collaboration that began with Munday, with emendment and addition by a series of other hands, which finally drew the attention of the Bard himself.
"Write me a good crowd scene", says Burbage "like the one in Julius Caesar, and we might be able to do something with this old thing."
"No worries." says Will.