Friday, July 26, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 15 - Collaboration - Hand D

Now in chapter 8 we have the topic of Shakespeare as a collaborator. Most of this evidence is based on stylistic analysis, and is further described in chapter 9. It’s acknowledged that there is disagreement on some evidence and that some conclusions are speculative. Still, there are what are considered core finding that have broad support. There are 8 other playwrights that this evidence suggests that Shakespeare collaborated with.

Then, based on this evidence of collaboration, there is the claim that “This picture conflicts utterly with the anti-Shakespearians’ usual preferred candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, who are usually aristocrats such as the Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon who had no day-to-day dealings with the theatre and its dramatists.”

I can’t answer the evidence for the Earl of Oxford beyond what general comments I’ve already covered earlier on collaboration and stylometrics, or what more of a general nature I may write. But there is a response to this in the companion book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (SBD?) that is at least a partial answer.

But I can provide my own answer as a Baconian. And that is that it is totally false that “This picture conflicts utterly” Bacon’s candidacy as ‘Shakespeare’. Part of my argument for this is based on, as already mentioned several times, the quality of the stylistic evidence that I’ve seen presented. It has long seemed to me that many researchers, and the journal editorial boards, that review and approve their papers, have a bias in ‘wanting’ to elaborate upon a model picture of Shakespeare that fits the Stratfordian theory. This includes portraying the author as not well educated, not well travelled, as from Warwickshire, etc and then selecting or interpreting data that supports this view. I’ve already described some of this apparent ‘fitting of the data to theory’ in a previous post. And other contrary evidence to the poor education premise is answered in SBD? The strong academic bias against anti-Stratfordians is well known and the campaign to ‘defeat’ their challenge to orthodox dogma is apparent and admitted by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and some of the academic community supporting them. I recall one journal editor asking about how they as a group might ‘discourage’ public interest in the topic. Well, giving an easy pass on any research paper supporting the orthodox theory would certainly help this cause.

Secondly, Baconians are not uniform in their beliefs. In more recent decades there are still some that believe he was the sole author, but several others have no problem seeing him as collaborating with others.

Third, is the problem with the claim that Shakespeare the author must have had “day-to-day dealings with the theatre and its dramatists”. I think anti-Stratfordians would like to see the documentary evidence that either Shakespeare the author, or William of Stratford, met every day or nearly so, with another dramatist, or that any Shakespeare playwriting was done in the actual presence of actors. A simple assumption that he did, because it fits with the Stratfordian model, isn’t satisfactory for our authorship debate, unless you choose not to be scholarly about it. I’ve written elsewhere how easy it actually would be for Bacon, or also Oxford, or many other candidates, to interact with the actors outside the theater. They seem to have often either visited the court or played at one of the large estates of a noble. I’d like to see either some documentary proof or circumstantial evidence that absolutely rules out the hypothesis that Shakespeare could have collaborated on a script outside a playhouse. Or otherwise show that the Author wrote in the presence of another playwright that clearly identified who Shakespeare was. If you can’t then the hypothesis that the Author Shakespeare did not need to have “day-to-day dealings with either a theater or other playwrights” is viable. Finally, there is substantially more documentary evidence of Bacon’s knowledge of the craft of play production and his ability to write plays than there is for the Stratford man. Evidence for this statement could be assembled if ever there was a need to.

Let’s now look at the claim that Hand D in Sir Thomas More matches the handwriting of William of Stratford.

We’re told that “the evidence is complex, but finally compelling.” And “The most numerous and most expert studies of the handwriting find strong links between Hand D and the few samples of Shakespeare’s writing in legal documents.” “No remotely comparable affinity has been discovered between Hand D and any other hand.” And “Sir Thomas More establishes a clear documentary connection between William Shakespeare of Stratford and the author of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Now, if you’re not careful, you might find that after reading this long paragraph or two, that something was left out. There’s no direct mention of who are the authorities for the claims stated. But we find in the notes, #12, in the back of the book, that the justification for the claim comes from the chapter author’s own book Sir Thomas More. So it’s his own personal judgment and not anything like that of the entire academic community. You can see this for yourself from this post earlier this year by Independent Scholar Gerald Downs, made in plenty of time to accordingly add some limitation to the claim in the SBD chapter. This is from the Shaksper website and on this very topic:

Let’s break the argument down a little. 1) it’s assumed that Hand D was written by a playwright rather than by a scribe or copyist. But as Downs says, “When yet another succession of scholars argued that D is a copyist they got no reply from the first batch” [of scholars arguing that it was William of Stratford]. 2) the Shakespeare handwriting being used in comparison is only the six signatures and the words “By  me” (which may have been by a copyist); and for the noted ‘spurred’ letter ‘a’—this is found in only one of the signatures. Downs agrees with Tannebaum, (a Stratfordian and self-taught Paleographer)  who didn’t believe Hand D matched the handwriting of the Shakespeare signatures, saying “minimal “conditions are not fulfilled” for even a handwriting comparison to be made in the first place. 3) This Tannebaum also said, regarding Paleographers like those supporting the claim that William was the author, that “Paleographers are not handwriting experts.” He pointed out that while there were 9 claimed points of similarity between the two samples, he had found 25 points of dissimilarity. This helps to explain why Downs writes “The meaningful question is whether Shakespeare can be identified as D; in the long run, he can’t”. 4) the claim that no other handwriting is similar to Hand D is also falsified. Downs describes how Hand C has been thought as resembling Hand D and also says “…two writers in such close proximity having comparable hands suggests the Shakespeare case is overblown.”

Without this linchpin for William’s authorship of Hand D, all other Stratfordian evidence connected to it crumbles. No claim is supported. No evidence in Hand D is connected to William of Stratford. No expert analysis of the handwriting seems even to have been done. So there is still nothing in support of him being “a man of the theater” or “working alongside other playwrights”. But I’m all for an independent analysis of Hand D by modern handwriting experts (not Paleographers) and in comparison with the penmanship of others.  And who knows, there still might yet be some solid evidence for him in later chapters.

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