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The Date and Authorship of Hand D’s Contribution to Sir Thomas More: Evidence from ‘Literature Online’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

The famous three pages added by ‘Hand D’ to the multi-authored manuscript play Sir Thomas More have been accepted as Shakespeare’s by recent editors of his complete works. But scepticism about the attribution is still expressed by prominent scholars, and a new study by Ward E. Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza, in which the disputed material is subjected to their ‘silver bullet’ methods of computer-aided testing, concludes that the probabilities are solidly against Shakespeare’s authorship. Elsewhere I have attempted to rebut their arguments. Here I adduce some fresh evidence in favour of the majority view.

The approach to be reported on took advantage of the availability of the Chadwyck-Healey ‘Literature Online’ electronic database, which includes searchable texts of virtually all extant early modern English drama.4 For much of the twentieth century, scholars attempting to establish the authorship of anonymous plays of Shakespeare’s age, or to apportion shares in collaborative ones, relied on citing verbal parallels between a doubtful work and the writings of some favoured candidate. The main problem with this methodology was that it permitted only one outcome – the display of a certain number of similarities in phrasing, deemed ‘significant’ by the compiler, but difficult for any uncommitted judge to assess. Ostensibly impressive evidence of this kind could be collected in support of mutually exclusive theories. The implicit assumption was always that only common authorship could explain the quantity and quality of the parallels listed, but since different investigators, employing the same method, reached opposing conclusions, the assumption must often have been unjustified.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 69 - 78
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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