Deciphering a Date and Determining a Date:Anthony Munday’s John a Kent and John a Cumber and the Original Version of Sir Thomas More 

MacDonald P. Jackson
University of Auckland

MacDonald P. Jackson, "Deciphering a Date and Determining a Date: Anthony Munday’s John a Kent and John a Cumber and the Original Version of Sir Thomas More." [EMLS 15.3 (2011): 2]


  1. The manuscript of Anthony Munday’s John a Kent and John a Cumber is in the playwright’s own hand, but an appended date is not. On the final page a contemporary inscription was read by E. Maunde Thompson and W. W. Greg as “——Decembris 1596,” and in the first half of the twentieth century it was always so transcribed.[1] Thompson was widely considered the foremost palaeographer of his time, and Greg’s familiarity with early modern dramatic manuscripts was unrivalled. But in 1955 I. A. Shapiro claimed that the figures were intended as “1590.”[2] His article has frequently been cited, and the new date has won general acceptance. It sets a terminus ad quem for the composition of the comedy. 

    Fig. 1. Date at end of Manuscript of Munday’s John a Kent and John a Cumber
    Shapiro entitled his article “The Significance of a Date.” It is important for three reasons, the first stressed by Shapiro, the second and third ignored. The original version of the manuscript play Sir Thomas More is in Munday’s handwriting. He was probably the author, along with Henry Chettle.[3] Later additions to More were made by Chettle, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, and (most scholars believe) William Shakespeare, who has been identified as the famous “Hand D” who wrote the three-page “insurrection scene” in which More’s oratory quells a riot.[4] W. W. Greg’s Malone Society edition of The Book of Sir Thomas More (1911) differentiated the various handwritings in the manuscript, sorting out the “additions” from the “original” play (in “Hand S,” which is Munday’s) before it was revised.[5] The date of John a Kent has a bearing on the date of the earliest form of Sir Thomas More, because Thompson and Greg deduced from the evolution of Munday’s handwriting over time that the basic More manuscript must have been penned after John a Kent and before The Heaven of the Mind, which preserves four pages of Munday’s holograph plus a dedication, also in his hand and signed and dated 22 December 1602. Thompson and Greg agreed also that Munday’s handwriting in More more closely resembled that of John a Kent than of The Heaven of the Mind, and so could probably be dated nearer the earlier than the later of the other two manuscripts. A readjustment of the date for John a Kent­ thus implied, if Thompson and Greg’s interpretation of this palaeographical evidence could be trusted, a readjustment of the probable date for the original Sir Thomas More. It could be shifted backwards in time to “not long after 1590.”[6] And because of its connection with Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More is a play of undoubted significance: every scrap of evidence that helps us reconstruct a context for its making and remaking is of interest.

  2.  Determining the date at which Munday composed John and Kent and John a Cumber is also important for a second reason that has been overlooked, because the study of prosody has lately been neglected, except by a few specialists. The history of English dramatic verse needs modification if Munday’s comedy was written in or before 1590. It has a higher proportion of feminine endings (extra unstressed syllables at the end of the iambic pentameter line) than any other play known to have been written by 1590, so that if John a Kent is indeed that early Munday deserves credit as a notable pioneer in the development of what was to become one of the most common blank verse variations, and eventually the hallmark of the distinctive cadences of John Fletcher.[7] In fact, to specify the third point of significance, the dating of John a Kent obviously affects any account of its author’s career: two recent books on Munday each accept that the play was in existence by 1590.[8] 
  3. But was Shapiro right? He worked from photographs, without having seen the original, which is in the Henry H. Huntington Library, San Marino, California.[9] But he judged that there was “no room for doubt that the last figure cannot have been intended for ‘6’ but must be ‘o’.”[10] However, when, decades afterwards, Antony Hammond examined the original he did find “room for doubt,” being left “uncertain whether a six or a zero was intended.” He added that “in any event the date, which is not in Munday’s hand, may not refer to the date of either the play or the manuscript.”[11] This latter caveat had also been expressed by E. A. J. Honigmann, but it is difficult to imagine why anybody would have written at the end of the play and after Munday’s signature a date that was earlier than either.[12] The play was almost certainly composed “before 1590” or “before 1596,” depending on how the figures should be deciphered.
  4. I suggest that Thompson and Greg read the date correctly and that Shapiro, despite his confident assertion, was mistaken. He points out that there were two main ways of forming “6” in Elizabethan times. As in modern handwriting, the pen might begin at the top of the tail and proceed downwards and anticlockwise to end with the loop or “o,” which was sometimes not fully closed, falling short of the long downstroke to the left, but in certain other cases crossed it. Alternatively, the pen might trace precisely the reverse path, proceeding clockwise from the top left of the “o” and ending at the tip of the ascending tail. But the “6” could also be made in two distinct movements: to a large left-hand curve (like a left-hand round bracket) might be added the shape of a reverse miniscule modern “c” or large comma, the formation of each separate portion of the numeral being a downwards stroke; or to an “o” shape, not necessarily quite closed, might be added the upright tail—and in some of these last cases, it is unclear whether the tail was made with an upward or downward stroke.
  5. Shapiro points out that the last numeral in the John a Kent date was formed with the pen beginning at the top left of the loop or “o” and moving clockwise, but that its ascent, which took it right of the starting point, appears to stop slightly short of the upper curve of the loop, instead of crossing it. What looks like the tail of a “6” is, in his view, a meaningless transitional stroke rising from the top of a nought or zero to the final decorative flourish that sweeps downwards to the right of the date and then below it.
  6. Shapiro offers no other example of a final nought being embellished in this manner, and it is hard to believe that any scribe who wanted a date to be read as “1590” would have indulged in an embellishment that made the “o” look exactly like a “6.” Whether or not this scribe lifted his pen from the paper after completing the loop, he began the ostensible tail (Shapiro’s meaningless transitional stroke) at exactly the corresponding point on the other side of the upper curve of the loop and so formed a perfectly respectable “6.” The tails of Elizabethan “6”s that are formed clockwise are often very much thinner and lighter than the loop. Shapiro judged that the final numeral would have an “unusual character” as a “6,” in that it is “exceptional” for the loop of a clockwise “6” “to begin so far left that the upstroke has to cross it, as, apparently, here.”[13] But he exaggerates the rarity of such a form. The Bodleian Library papers of the early modern astrologer and physician Simon Forman afford several examples. Ashmole MS 208, famous for its inclusion of the “Boke of Plaies” in which details of Shakespeare performances at the Globe are recounted, contains on folio 6 recto a list of dates from 1584 to 1614. The last “6” of “1606” closely matches that of the John a Kent date, with the similar shading strongly suggesting clockwise inscription. Forman’s final “6”s elsewhere in the manuscript often have high ascending tails that cross the top left of the loop.

  7. Moreover, the final numeral of the John a Kent date would make a most anomalous nought. The top left projection would be unusual, but even more so would be the clockwise formation, which leaves the right hand half of the circle, where the pen is moving downwards, much thicker than the left hand side, where it is moving upwards. Nought, like the letter “o,” was normally formed anti-clockwise, as it still is. Noughts with the exact pattern of shading that we see in the final numeral of the John a Kent date must be extremely rare, if they exist at all. And the natural way to embellish “1590” would have been to begin the decorative underlining from the tail of the “9.”

  8. It seems to me, therefore, that the old terminus ad quem of December 1596 should be  reinstated.

  9. Even so, it might still be concluded, for other reasons, that John a Kent was composed several years before the date was attached. But the percentage of feminine endings in the play suggests otherwise. Philip W. Timberlake’s The Feminine Ending in English Blank Verse, the authoritative work on use of this variation in drama up to 1595, was published long before Shapiro’s article. Timberlake accepted Greg’s reading of the date as 1596 and his identification of the play with The Wise Man of West Chester, produced by the Admiral’s Men on 3 December 1594 and played to 18 July 1597.[14]  John a Kent is set in Chester and its hero is a “wise man” or magician. As Chambers remarked, “If the identification is correct, it is not easy to see how the MS. can be earlier than 1594.”[15] It is possible, of course, that the Admiral’s Men’s play was merely influenced in some way by John a Kent or vice versa. The first of these alternatives seems unlikely from a metrical point of view. Timberlake noted that the overall percentage of feminine endings in John a Kent is 13.7 on a strict count (18.5 on a count that includes proper names and ambiguous words such as “flower” and “heaven”), with a range of 8.4–16.2 per cent in scenes of over a hundred blank verse lines (14.1–21.7 on the more inclusive count); and that “the only plays written by 1594 which use feminine endings with greater frequency than John a Kent are certain of Shakespeare’s.”[16]
  10. If John a Kent was not in existence before 1594, the original Sir Thomas More was probably not written before 1595, at the earliest. Thompson and Greg may have been wrong to reason that the greater likeness of Munday’s handwriting in More to his holograph of John a Kent than of his holograph pages of The Heaven of the Mind (1602) meant that More was also closer to the earlier manuscript than to the later in date: changes in a person’s handwriting may occur suddenly rather than steadily over a period of several years. But their conclusion that the penmanship in More was intermediary between that of the other two holographs is firmly based, since where John a Kent and The Heaven of the Mind differ in letter formation, More is sometimes more like the one, sometimes more like the other.
  11. Timberlake, following other scholars of his time, favoured a dating for More of “1596 or the years immediately following.” He found a “uniformly high percentage of feminine endings”—both in the original script and in all but one of the Additions, namely Chettle’s short Addition I (A).[17] The overall percentage was 20.7 on a strict count, 24.7 on the more inclusive one. John Jowett provided evidence that although the manuscript of the original version of the play is in Munday’s handwriting, Munday collaborated with Chettle on its composition. The high incidence of feminine endings is common to scenes that he allocates to Munday and scenes that he allocates to Chettle.[18] As Timberlake wrote, there is in Sir Thomas More “a decided increase in feminine endings over their already free employment in John a Kent” and this increase is a feature not only of the Additions, but also of the original script. He concludes that dramatists gradually began using feminine endings more freely from about 1594 onwards, influenced by Shakespeare’s practices, when the theatres had reopened after the plague year of 1593 and “the older dramatic group had well-nigh vanished from the stage.”[19] 
  12. Probably all the Additions to Sir Thomas More belong to the same period, and there is strong evidence that Shakespeare and Dekker made theirs in the seventeenth century.[20] The fact that the percentage of feminine endings in the original Munday–Chettle script is much the same as in the Additions suggests that it was not composed so many years before the revision as most modern scholars believe. It is highly unlikely that both Munday and Chettle were using feminine endings at a rate of over 20 per cent of blank verse lines in the early 1590s.
  13. The pause patterns also point to a later date. Ants Oras’s examination of hundreds of early modern English plays revealed a general trend in dramatic blank verse, though playwrights responded to it in individual ways.[21] Basing his data on the punctuation of the earliest texts, he counted, for numerous plays, the numbers of pauses after each syllable in iambic pentameter lines. He differentiated three categories of pause: (1) type-A pauses, marked by any form of punctuation; (2) type-B pauses, marked by full stops, colons, semi-colons, and marks of exclamation or interrogation; and (3) type-C pauses, marked by the splitting of the pentameter between speakers. The third type, which is undoubtedly authorial, yielded patterns closely resembling those for the more inclusive counts, which, though affected by scribes and compositors, reflect underlying rhythmical characteristics. In early plays, graphs of percentages of pauses in the nine different syllabic positions within the line show a high peak after the fourth syllable. As dramatic blank verse evolved, pauses were more variously deployed and there was an increase in pauses later in the line.
  14. In the scenes of the original Sir Thomas More that Jowett most confidently ascribes to Chettle the percentages of pauses in each position are as follows. The counts are my own, based on Greg’s Malone Society transcript of the manuscript.[22]
                2.6       9.1       3.9       22.0     16.2     25.6     15.5     5.2       0.0
    No play of the early 1590s (or earlier) that was examined by Oras has a profile remotely similar. The first Shakespeare play in which pauses after the sixth syllable exceed pauses after the fourth is Twelfth Night (1601), and the total percentage of pauses in the first half of the line does not drop so low until Measure for Measure (1603).[23] The profile for the remaining scenes, mainly Munday’s in Jowett’s view, is as follows:

                5.7       9.3       3.9       28.0     18.0     21.3     11.3     1.7       0.7

    This is metrically less advanced, but among Shakespeare’s plays it most resembles the pause patterns for plays around the time of The Merchant of Venice (1596–7) and 1 Henry IV (1596–7). Few lines are split between speakers in the original Sir Thomas More, but those few tend to support the fuller “Chettle” and “Munday” figures and to differentiate between them in the same way. Chettle’s scenes have five lines split after the sixth syllable, four after each of the fourth and seventh, and two after the fifth. Munday’s have four after each of the fourth, fifth, and sixth, two after the seventh, and one after the second. The twenty type-A pauses in Chettle’s Addition I (A) yield a pattern not too dissimilar, given the smallness of the sample, from that for his type-A pauses in the original, with seven (35 per cent) falling after the sixth syllable and five (25 per cent) after the fourth.
  15. A category of internal evidence completely independent of the metrical also suggests a date after 1595 for the composition of the first version of Sir Thomas More. This consists of certain colloquial contractions, verbal forms, and exclamations. After scrutinizing the earliest surviving manuscripts or printed texts “of all plays of the London commercial theatre listed in Alfred Harbage’s Annals of English Drama, revised S. Schoenbaum, 1964, as first performed in the years 1585–99”, along with “more than 130 plays of the post-1599 period”, David J. Lake recognized that around the turn of the century many playwrights began to make liberal use of contracted and colloquial forms that—unlike such perennial favourites as “’tis” and “let’s”—had appeared very infrequently or not at all in earlier plays.[24] About 1599–1600 “there was a fairly sudden revolution in the linguistic practices” of several dramatists, though others remained conservative in this regard.[25] Munday’s manuscript of the original More is not so thickly sprinkled with the new forms that their evidence alone renders an early 1590s date impossible, but it does contain several contractions that are never, or hardly ever, found in plays of the early 1590s.

  16. Lake himself noted a few exceptions to the absence of “i’th’” and “’em” (for “them”) in plays known or supposed to have been written before 1599, though almost all in texts published much later. Among the aberrations were single instances of “’em” (probably spelt “am”) and “o’th’” (spelt “o’th”) in the original More. Lake commented that “Sir Thomas More, even in its pre-Additions state, is very dubiously dated”.[26] Through Literature Online (LION) searches the complete set of More’s contractions and other colloquial forms may be checked for parallels in English Drama up till 1610.[27] Such checks yield several other items of interest:
    • then’s: The contraction  “then’s” (meaning “than is” and used twice in More) appears only in Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge (1600), Chapman’s The Widow’s Tears (1604), Shakespeare and Middleton’s Timon of Athens (1605), Shakespeare and Wilkins’s Pericles (1607), and Daborne’s A Christian Turned Turk (1610).
    • they’d: More’s “they’d” (meaning “they would”) is found in seven plays, beginning with Haughton’s Englishmen for My Money (1598); the alternative “they’ld” occurs only in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1606), twice, and Jonson’s The Alchemist (1610).
    • had’t, bear’t, deny’t:  The range of contractions of “it” as “t” after a verb greatly increased after 1599. “Had’t” is used only in More, Shakespeare’s Richard II (1595), and Jonson’s Every Man out of His Humour (1599); “bear’t” only in More and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600–1), Marston’s What You Will (1601), Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), and Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607); “deny’t” occurs fourteen times, the earliest occasion being in Chettle and Day’s The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green (1600) and the next in Day’s Law Tricks (1604)—except for one instance in the 1616 text of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in a scene now generally agreed to have been revised long after Marlowe’s death in 1593.
    • you’ld: Up to 1610 LION records thirty-four instances of “you’ld” (spelt in that way, and used once in More) in sixteen plays; apart from a single appearance in the First Folio (1623) text of Shakespeare’s 3 Henry VI (1591), the earliest come, five times, in Jonson’s A Tale of a Tub, listed under 1596 in Annals, but heavily revised, if not composed, in 1633, and extant in no text earlier than 1640.[28]
    • you’r: “You’r,” with that spelling, occurs no fewer than eighty-five times in thirty-six plays, More being among them; there is a single instance in the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew (1592), but the earliest of the remaining eighty-three are two in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597–8).
    LION reveals that all these contractions continue to be used after 1610 and until the closing of the theatres in 1642, “then’s,” “they’d,” “deny’t”, “you’ld,” and “you’r” occurring in dozens of plays, in many cases repeatedly. Although they vary in evidential value, together they are more consistent with a date for the original Sir Thomas More of after 1595 (even well after) than before.
  17. Stronger support for a date appreciably later than 1595 is afforded by the ratios of “hath” to “has” (33:7) and “doth” to “does” (15:6) in More. As Lake observed, it was not until the turn of the century that playwrights began using “has” and “does” with any frequency. Shakespeare’s practices are typical.[29] Except in one anomalous play, “has” and “does” hardly appear at all in Shakespearean drama before Twelfth Night (1601), the first play in which the ratios of “hath” to “has” (35:17 or 2:1) and “doth” to “does” (15:21 or 0.7:1) drop lower than those for More (4.7:1 and 2.5:1). The anomalous Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew (1590–1), almost exactly matches More: “hath” 34, “has” 7; “doth” 16, “does” 6. This comedy was first published in the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623, so that the ratios, so utterly at variance with those for all other Shakespeare plays of the early 1590s, may have arisen through Folio The Shrew’s having been printed from “a transcript which had undergone some minor theatrical adaptation at a later date.” [30]

  18. However, one further consideration may tell against this explanation. It is possible to search all plays, by all dramatists, that LION lists as first performed within the period 1570–1598. Such a search confirms Lake’s observations. He attributed the move towards the modern verbal forms and a more colloquial orthography to the influence of Jonson, whose Every Man in His Humour (1598) contained 16 instances of “has” but only two of “does” (though 20 of “doth”) when first published, in its “Italian” version in 1601; Jonson’s “English” version, published in his 1616 Folio, favoured “has” (35 times) over “hath” (15) and “does” (10 times) over “doth” (9).[31] Even so, in only one play, besides The Taming of the Shrew, are the ratios of both “has” to “hath” and “does” to “doth” as low as for the original Sir Thomas More, and that happens to be the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew, published in 1594 and generally thought to have derived from Shakespeare’s The Shrew through a process of reporting and adaptation.[32] In A Shrew “hath” occurs 18 times, “has” 6 (a ratio of 3:1), while “doth” occurs 10 times, “does” 4 (a ratio of 2.5:1). If A Shrew really is derivative from The Shrew and its “hath” to “has” and “doth” to “does” ratios reflect the influence of Shakespeare’s play, late tampering with the text of The Shrew before its publication in the First Folio cannot account for its being anomalous among Shakespeare’s pre-1600 plays in its frequent use of “has” and “does”. On the other hand, if the old theory that A Shrew was a source for The Shrew is correct and the influence was in the other direction, the anonymous play, anomalous in itself, may have influenced Shakespeare to use “has” and “does” with atypical frequency, though at a somewhat later date than if the composition of The Shrew preceded that of A Shrew.

  19. Whatever their relationship, A Shrew and The Shrew use “has” and “does” at rates similar to the original Sir Thomas More’s. But they are the only LION plays of 1570–1598 to do so: apparent exceptions have fallen within LION’s 1570–1598 search limits erroneously, being dated 1599 or later in The Annals of English Drama (The Thracian Wonder, 1 Edward IV, The Birth of Merlin); or are known to have been substantially revised much later than 1598 (Thorney Abbey and Tale of a Tub); or have been misdated even in Annals (Thomas of Woodstock).[33] The 7 instances of has and 6 of does in the original Sir Thomas More would be exceptional, though not completely without parallel, in a play composed by 1595 or even 1598: they are suggestive of a later date.[34]

  20. Perhaps most relevant are the ratios (derived from LION) for plays associated with Chettle and Munday. These are as follows:




    Munday, Fedele and Fortunio (1584):



    Munday, John a Kent (1596?)



    Munday and Chettle, Downfall of Robert (1598)



    Munday and Chettle, Death of Robert (1598)



    Chettle, Hoffman (1602)



    Sir Thomas More (original)



    The shares of the two playwrights in the Robert Earl of Huntingdon plays are uncertain: Munday may have written the Downfall alone.[35] But Sir Thomas More would fit nicely into this chronologically arranged table some time after the Huntingdon plays, which in 1598 were showing fewer instances of “has” and “does” and higher ratios of “hath” to “has” and “doth” to “does” than More. Even in Hoffman in 1602 Chettle, though using “has” more liberally than it is used in More, is more sparing than More of “does.” And in his Addition  I (A) to More “doth,” “hath,” and “has” each appear once. 

  21. Oaths and exclamations go in and out of fashion. Lake records “’Sfoot” as one indicator of seventeenth-century provenance. The original Sir Thomas More does not use this expletive, but it does contain several that were fashionable in the period 1596–1610 but not in the 1580s or early 1590s. Most notable is “Gods me,” which occurs once in More: there are forty-nine other examples in drama up till 1610, spread over twenty-five plays, the earliest being three in the bad quarto (Q 1597) of Romeo and Juliet (1595), two in Captain Thomas Stukeley (listed under in Annals 1596, but said to have been revised in 1599) and one in 1 Henry IV (1596–7). The period 1611–1642 offers only seven more instances in five plays.[36]

  22. In their Revels edition of Sir Thomas More, Vittorio Gabrieli and Giorgio Melchiori conclude that the original version of the play was composed “not later than 1593,”[37] and the Oxford Textual Companion settled for 1592–1595.[38] But the evidence adduced above seems to support a later dating. So it may well be worth looking again at Levin L. Schücking’s argument for a date of about 1601–2, which appears never to have been adequately answered. He relates More to Sir John Oldcastle (1599) and Thomas Lord Cromwell (dated 1600 in Annals but probably late 1601), plays of “citizen virtue” based on leading figures who are of consequence in the state but not of royal blood. Oldcastle, like More, is “a staunch adherent to principles as regards both his advanced religious creed and his loyalty to the King. When the two clash he unflinchingly decides for the first.” But the relation between More and Cromwell is even closer. “Occasionally the matter used for the one play is taken from the very source of the other” and “Striking single resemblances have been repeatedly drawn attention to” and “might be multiplied.”[39]

  23. Most significantly, however, the conspicuous and odd absence from Moreof everything that concerns Cardinal Wolsey” could, as Schücking notes, be explained by the prior existence of two lost plays for the Admiral’s Men, Chettle’s The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, datable between 5 June and 18 August 1601, and Chettle, Drayton, Munday, and Smith’s The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey, datable between 24 August and 12 November of the same year. “The Wolsey theme had been worked out so fully that the interest in him with the public was supposed to be exhausted. The chorus to Act 4 of Cromwell, assigned on the 1602 quarto title-page to the Chamberlain’s Men, apologizes for omitting “all Wolsayes life,” and Schücking argues that the reason for this omission also was that Wolsey had been so fully treated in the two Admiral’s plays. This seems quite a good reason for thinking that Cromwell post-dated the Wolsey plays. In any case, Schücking’s argument that “Cromwell, Wolsey, and More belong closely together,” and that Sir Thomas More “had to be constructed, as far as political situations were concerned, from what was left after the political circumstances of the times of Wolsey had been dealt with already in the plays on Wolsey and Cromwell”deserves serious consideration.[40]

  24. There are, of course, several respectable reasons for assigning the original composition of Sir Thomas More to the early 1590s. But they are not decisive. Evidence put forward in this article falls short of proving that the play was first written around the turn of the century, but it certainly gives grounds for questioning the current consensus. And those who believe that John a Kent was composed by 1590 must look for support from sources other than the date inscribed at the end of the manuscript.[41]


 1. Damage to the paper has removed the day of the month. W. W. Greg (ed.), John a Kent and John a Cumber, Malone Society, 1923; “Autograph Plays by Anthony Munday,” Modern Language Review 8 (1913): 89–90; “The Date of John a Kent,” Times Literary Supplement, 16 November 1922: 747; and “The Handwriting of the Manuscript”, in A. W. Pollard and others, Shakespeare’s Hand in “The Play of Sir Thomas More” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923), 48. E. Maunde Thompson, “The Autograph Manuscripts of Anthony Mundy,” Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 14 (1915–17): 325–53. In his Tudor Facsimile Texts photographic reprint of John a Kent (1910), John S. Farmer followed J. P. Collier in reading the date as 1595 and this has recently been favoured by Grace Ioppolo, Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 2006), 101. These scholars seem to me wrong in identifying the final digit as “5” rather than “6,” but right in rejecting the idea that it is “0.” For the purposes of dating John a Kent, it makes very little difference whether we read the date at the end of the manuscript as 1595 or 1596, so long as it is not 1590. Acknowledgement is due to the Henry H. Huntington Library for permission to reproduce the image in Figure 1.

 2. I. A. Shapiro, “The Significance of a Date,” Shakespeare Survey 8 (1955): 100–5. Arthur E. Pennell (ed.) accepts Shapiro’s judgement in An Edition of Anthony Munday’s “John a Kent and John a Cumber” (New York: Garland, 1980).

 3. John Jowett, “Henry Chettle and the Original Text of Sir Thomas More,” in Shakespeare and “Sir Thomas More”: Essays on the Play and its Shakespearean Interest, ed. T. H. Howard-Hill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 131–49. The same volume contains a survey of scholarship on the play by G. Harold Metz, “‘Voice and credyt’: The Scholars and Sir Thomas More,” 11–44. Thomas Merriam has repeatedly argued against Munday’s involvement as author and, sometimes by implication, in favour of Shakespeare’s; see, for example, “Correspondences in More and Hoffman,” Notes and Queries 248 (2003): 410–14, which challenges Jowett’s conclusions; “An Unwarranted Assumption,” Notes and Queries 245 (2000): 438–41; and “Feminine Endings and More,” Notes and Queries 246 (2001): 278–80; “The Misunderstanding of Munday as Author of Sir Thomas More,” Review of English Studies 51 (2000): 540–81.

 4. For two recent confirmations that “Hand D” was Shakespeare’s see MacDonald P. Jackson, “The Date and Authorship of Hand D’s Contribution to Sir Thomas More: Evidence from ‘Literature Online’,” Shakespeare Survey 59 (2006), 69–78; and “Is ‘Hand D’ of Sir Thomas More Shakespeare’s? Thomas Bayes and the Elliott–Valenza Authorship Tests,” Early Modern Studies 12.3 (January, 2007), 1.1–36 <URL:>.

 5. Greg’s Malone Society edition of The Book of Sir Thomas More was reprinted, with a supplement by Harold Jenkins, in 1961. See also Metz’s survey mentioned in the previous note; Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor with John Jowett and William Montgomery, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 124–5; Vittorio Gabrieli and Giorgio Melchiori, Sir Thomas More (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), Revels Plays.

 6. Shapiro himself thought “not later than 1591 and . . . possibly earlier” (“Significance,” 102).

 7. Philip W. Timberlake, The Feminine Ending in English Blank Verse (Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta, 1931); details of Timberlake’s study are discussed below.

 8. Donna B. Hamilton, Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560–1633 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 114; Tracey Hill, Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 101.

 9. Huntington HM 500. I am grateful to Ms Gayle Richardson and Dr Mary Robertson of the library’s Manuscript’s Department for inspecting the date for me. They thought that for the upward stroke from the left of the denser “o” shape the pen was not quite lifted but that the pressure was lightened and they pronounced the date “definitely ambiguous,” while disclaiming expertise.

 10. Shapiro, “Significance,” 101.

 11. Antony Hammond, “The Noisy Comma: Searching for the Signal in Renaissance Dramatic Texts,” in Crisis in Editing: Texts of the English Renaissance, ed. Randall McLeod (New York: AMS Press, 1993), 203–49 (244, n. 36).

 12. E. A. J. Honigmann, “John a Kent and Marprelate,” Yearbook of English Studies, 13 (1983): 288–93.

 13. Shapiro, “Significance,” 101. Shapiro’s further argument that the alignment and relative sizes of the figures in the John a Kent date point to its ending in “o,” rather than “6,” is without substance. There is nothing anomalous about these features of the date when it is read as “1596.”

 14. Timberlake, Feminine Ending, 80–2.

 15. E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), III, 446. The identification is far from certain: two “wise men” (rather than one “wise man”) are named in the title of John a Kent and John a Cumber, but Kent clearly has the dominant role, with Cumber as his antagonist or foil. Roslyn L. Knutson, “Play Identifications: The Wise Man of West Chester and John a Kent and John a Cumber; Longshanks and Edward I,” Huntington Library Quarterly 47 (1984): 1–11, argued against Greg’s suggestion (anticipated by Frederick G. Fleay), but her argument is predicated upon the correctness of Shapiro’s reading of the date at the end of the John a Kent manuscript as “1590.” Like Greg and Thompson, Chambers read it as “1596,” noting that it had been misread as “1595.”

 16. Timberlake, Feminine Ending, 82. My interpretation of the evidence of feminine endings, in John a Kent and in More, is very different from Merriam’s in “Feminine Endings and More” (n.3 above). He extends the accepted definition of a feminine ending to include extra syllables within the line, as well as at its end.

 17. Timberlake, Feminine Ending, 80; and see the table for More, 81.

 18. Jowett, “Original Text,” 135.

 19. Timberlake, Feminine Ending, 83.

 20. The case was fully set forth by Gary Taylor, “The Date and Auspices of the Additions to Sir Thomas More,” in Shakespeare and “Sir Thomas More”, ed. Howard-Hill, 101–49; it has been supplemented by Jackson, “Date and Authorship” (as in n.4 above).

 21. Ants Oras, Pause Patterns in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama: An Experiment in Prosody (Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1960.

 22. Scenes i, vi, vii, viii, x, and xiii; Jowett, “Original Text,” 147. In making my counts I have been careful to adopt Oras’s principles, which he spells out in detail.

 23. Oras, Pause Patterns, 65–8.

 24. D. J. Lake, “Three Seventeenth-Century Revisions: Thomas of Woodstock, The Jew of Malta, and Faustus B,” Notes and Queries 228 (1983): 133–43; see 134 n.3. Lake showed that the two plays by Marlowe named in his title had been revised in the seventeenth century before being published in the quartos of 1633 (Jew) and 1616 (Faustus). He showed also that the manuscript of Thomas of Woodstock, the only early text in which the play survives, must have been penned in the seventeenth century. He thought that play had been originally composed in the early 1590s but had been subjected to “creative transcription” by Samuel Rowley at the later date. But it is probable that, as Lake came to realize, Rowley was the sole author of the play and wrote it in the seventeenth century: MacD. P. Jackson, “Shakespeare’s Richard II and the Anonymous Thomas of Woodstock,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 14 (2002): 17–65; “The Date and Authorship of Thomas of Woodstock: Evidence and its Interpretation,” Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama 46 (2007): 67–100 (see 96 n.8 for Lake’s change of mind).

 25. Lake, “Revisions,” 134.

 26. Lake, “Revisions,” 135 n.7

 27. The Chadwyck-Healey electronic database Literature Online (LION) is at The dates I give for plays are those of the Oxford Textual Companion for Shakespeare and those of Alfred Harbage, rev. S. Schoenbaum, Annals of English Drama 975–1700 (London: Methuen, 1964, supplements 1966, 1970) for other dramatists. My LION figures for contracted forms are for the results when the exact spellings cited are entered in the search box, but all variant spellings of “hath,” “has,” “doth,” and “does” are included in the totals for these forms. LION does not distinguish between capitalized and non-capitalized spellings. When using LION it is usually advisable to check the entries turned up by searches. Keying in “then’s,” for example, will also yield examples of the irrelevant “Nay then S r,” where “S r” equates to the abbreviated form of “Sir” with a raised “r.” LION searches of Sir Thomas More helpfully segregate results for the “Main text” (the original play as transcribed by Munday) from the “Back matter” consisting of the additions. The database includes 386 “dramatic works” supposedly “first performed” by 1595 and 212 “first performed” in the period 1596–1610. However, these figures include scores of very short medieval works of miscellaneous kinds. For the period 1570–1595 the total is 116. LION contains multiple texts of Shakespeare plays (substantive quartos, the First Folio, and the Cambridge edition of 1863–6), but of course the above totals count each play only once. When LION searches are conducted according to supposed periods of first performance, results are apt to include some plays that rightly fall outside the stipulated limits. A chronological table in The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) is based on the Annals but excludes entertainments, pageants, masques, school plays, and Latin academic plays. It lists 89 plays as first performed 1570–1595, 173 as first performed 1596–1610.

28. Annals, 62 and 130; G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941–68), IV, 632–6.

29. For details of these I have relied on Frederick O. Waller, “The Use of Linguistic Criteria in Determining the Copy and Dates for Shakespeare’s Plays,” in Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare, ed. Waldo F. McNeir and Thelma N. Greenfield (Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon, 1966), 1–19.

30. Textual Companion, 170.

 31. Lake, “Revisions,” 134. He cites Herford and Simpson’s edition of Jonson’s works in support of his statements about the timing of Jonson’s revisions.

 32.Textual Companion, 109–11.

 33. For Thorney Abbey, see Annals, 203; for Woodstock, see n.24 above.

 34. In the LION database for all drama up till 1642, the spelling “doo’s” (for “does”), used once in More, is first found elsewhere in Jonson’s The Case Is Altered (1597, but not published until 1609 “with interpolations”), where it occurs three times; the next  nine examples are chronologically clustered in five plays of the period 1598–1605: Chettle and Munday’s The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon (1598), Shakespeare’s Henry V (1598–9), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (160–1), Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels (1601), and Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, Part II (1605); the only other instances are in Fletcher’s A Wife for a Month (1624) and Newman’s The Andrian Woman (1627).

 35. The question is fully discussed by John Carney Meagher (ed.), The Huntingdon Plays: A Critical Edition of “The Downfall” and “The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon” (New York: Garland, 1980), 96–107.

 36. Other original-text More expletives in vogue during the period 1596–1610 but rare before then, are “bir Lady” (twice in More), “afore God,” (twice in More), “a murren on’t” (especially with that spelling), and “body of me,” and the spelling “hoh” (in that spelling) as a call rather than laughter. A rather remarkable number of the possible chronological markers cited here and in the text of this article are found in plays by Chettle, Munday, and Haughton, who worked on collaborations for Henslowe and the Admiral’s Men: “deny’t” and “a murren on” in Chettle and Day’s The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green (1601, posssibly with Haughton); “doo’s” in Chettle and Munday’s The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon (1598); “they’d,” “you’r,” “afore God,” “a murren on,” “bir lady,” and “Gods me” in Haughton’s Englishmen for My Money (1598); “afore God” in Haughton’s Grim the Collier (1600); “you’r” and “bir lady” in Chettle and Munday’s The Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon (1598) and Munday’s \John a Kent (1596?). It is possible that Haughton was involved with the first version of Sir Thomas More. One or more of the same playwrights—Chettle, Munday, Haughton—may have been at least part-author of the Admiral’s Men’s play Captain Thomas Stukeley (1596, revised 1599), which uses the exclamations “afore God,” “body of me” (4 times), and “Gods me” (twice); also “ber lady” (twice) in that spelling.

 37. Gabrieli and Melchiori (eds.), Sir Thomas More, 12.

 38.Textual Companion, 139.

 39. Levin L. Schücking, “Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More,” Review of English Studies 1 (1925): 40–59 (50–1).

 40. Schücking, “Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More,” 52–3. See also his discussion on 53–5, where he suggests, among other things, that More’s Justice Suresbie owes some mannerisms to Justice Shallow in 2 Henry IV (1597–8).

 41. In “More and Woodstock,” Notes and Queries 248 (2003): 27–31, Thomas Merriam found that seventeen variables used by Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza for their Claremont McKenna Shakespeare Clinic’s studies of authorship are correlated with chronology. From these data he produced a graph showing the correlation, with a regression line revealing the trend. The position of Sir Thomas More, in terms of its chronological principal component, suggests a date about 1600. But Merriam does not draw this conclusion. Privately he comments that “The scatter of the points about the regression line is such that exactness down to the correct year is misleading”; a reworking of his data placed More around 1597. Certainly the analysis can give only a rough indication of more or less likely date.



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