Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 December 2010
The object of this book is to strengthen the evidence of the existence (in the Harleian MS. 7368 at the British Museum) of three pages written by Shakespeare in his own hand as part of the play of Sir Thomas More. The contributors have tried not to be over-eager in pressing their contention, or to claim more than they can make good. They would not have their readers less critical than they have tried to be themselves, and are aware that from one quarter at least searching criticism is to be expected, since if Shakespeare wrote these three pages the discrepant theories which unite in regarding the “Stratford man” as a mere mask concealing the activity of some noble lord (a 17th Earl of Oxford, a 6th Earl of Derby, or a Viscount St Albans) come crashing to the ground. It is here contended that the writing of the three pages is compatible with a development into the hand seen in Shakespeare's considerably later extant signatures and explains misprints in his text; that the spelling of the three pages can all be paralleled from the text of the best editions of single plays printed in Shakespeare's life, and that the temper and even the phrasing of the three pages in the two crucial points involved, the attitude to authority and the attitude to the crowd, agree with and render more intelligible passages in much later plays.