Hand of Damocles

In the face of such methodological shortcomings, conflicting opinions, and duelling analyses, what is one to think? An obvious explanation is that to- day’s orthodox scholars, including all the stylometricians here mentioned, are groping blindly in the wrong paradigm, and are handicapped by the confines of the conventional Shakespearean dating system. (Craig and Kinney are familiar with the Oxfordian argument, and mention it several times, once even citing an article in The Oxfordian.) In addition, very few scholars of any period have given any consideration to the idea of a substantial corpus of Shakespearean juvenilia. We can be sure that Shakespeare did not always write like Shakespeare.
Ramon Jiménez: Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter January 2011

Stylometry takes a step forward

In 2009, Hugh Craig and Arthur F Kinney published a book called Shakespeare, Computers and the Mystery of Authorship, revised in 2012, which has received surprisingly little attention in the SAQ debate, given its title. Craig is Professor of English at the University of Newcastle, Australia and a contributor to the Early Modern Literary Studies site and is the author of a very good study on Jonson which looks at the problems thrown up by lexical analysis of his work.

Arthur F Kinney is the Thomas W, Copeland Professor of Literary History at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is a founding editor of English Literary Renaissance and he has also written on SAQ-relevant issues in Shakespeare's Web (2004) and Shakespeare and Cognition (2006). This book drew in the work of two doctoral students at Amherst; Philip Palmer and Timothy Irish Watt.

All sorts of bells should be ringing by now. However, the only reviews I can find in the field comprise a solitary Amazon review and a very positive notice from Linda Theil. I doubt she read it or even looked inside. There is also a mystifying article on the book in the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter in which Ramon Jiménez proves he has definitely read some of its contents but, concluding from the above conclusion, he has either understood nothing or is presenting his summary of an entirely different book.

Hand D home


Hand D belongs to one of six different individuals, five authors and one scribe, who contributed to the manuscript of Sir Thomas More, now in the British Library. Today, aside from anti-Stratfordians, few scholars do not accept Hand D as genuinely Shakespeare's. The different strands of proof, forensic, orthographic and documentary, when taken together, are conclusive. In this extended article we pull together these strands and review the reasons why residual doubt has evaporated.

Hand D Triptych

The three pages of Hand D British Library Manuscript Harley 7368. 6000x2800 hi-re sharpened, bleached and colour-balanced image.


Hand D

Inked Out: Downloadable Pdf

Inked Out: How Oxford's Letters Cross Him Off As “Shakespeare”


A W Pollard

A W Pollard by Frank Brook. The British Library. Click on the link below to download Pdf of the CUP 1923 edition of Pollard's book, Shakespeare's Hand in The Play of Sir Thomas More.


Pdf of the CUP 1923 edition of Pollard's book, Shakespeare's Hand in The Play of Sir Thomas More.

Sir Thomas More - text

An anonymous play of the sixteen century ascribed in part to William Shakespeare. First printed in 1844 and here re-edited from the Harleian MS. 7368 in the British Museum.

Modern spelling.
Hand D shown in red
Further possible addition shown in blue

Will's Handwriting

Hand D hi res extract

Years ago, while working as a software publisher for a very large company, I was sent an unreleased graphology (handwriting analysis) app by a programmer looking for a publisher.

It was an example of what was then called an "Expert System". You answered a series of questions while looking at a paragraph of someone's handwriting alongside three of their signatures. After a garishly fanciful animation of computerised thought, it fed back guesses about the character of the author, some of them apparently accurate. If you wanted more, you could then put the samples in the post and get a detailed analysis by return. I tried this out with half a dozen colleagues and compared it to results from the widely used 16PF personality test. All the subjects agreed that the graphology results were better.

Thomas Bayes and Elliott–Valenza

Is “Hand D” of Sir Thomas More Shakespeare’s?

Thomas Bayes and the Elliott–Valenza Authorship Tests.

Macdonald P Jackson


Internal evidence

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.