Sources from trials
As an alternative to (Shakespeare’s) plays, several scholars have analysed protocols from legal proceedings. Two conclusions (or "foods for though") can be drawn from their peaces of work:
"Thou" was part of "court-conventions"
In legal proceedings, "thou" seems to have been part of the complex system of conventions in "legal language". According to Finkensteadt, English legal proceedings are particularly rich in conventions and the singular address, as one of these conventions, lasted especially long [The actual trial was however hold in the plural, at least in the 17th century. Cf. Finkensteadt, 139 ] For example at the beginning of the trial, the accused was called with the utterance "…, hold up thy hand" and after the verdict: "… thou hast been found guilty…" (cf. Finkenstead, 139 f.). According to Finkensteadt, the singular in trials occurred regularly until about 1750 and has lasted late into the 18th century (cf. Finkensteadt, 143).
It is possible that "thou" and "you" lead separate lives in the written and spoken mediums" (cf. Hope, 148)
Jonathan Hope challenges the assumptions made by Brown and Gilman (Brown and Gilman, "Politeness theory") that the best evidence for "Early Modern English speech pattern" is the drama and that "dramatic usages of linguistic features will mirror the 'real' usage of those features in 'real' Early Modern spoken English" (Hope, 142). Hope analyses depositions made to the Durham ecclesiastical court in the 1560s. These depositions can be compared with modern police statements: testimonies made by witnesses and litigants were written down at the same time by court clerks. Hope supports his thesis with several examples.
The first example confirms the assumption that the decision for "thou" or "you" depends on social status.
He uses another example to illustrate his perhaps most interesting point which reveals that people were aware of the fact that the use of "thou" or "you" in certain situation could have set implications. This is why they sometimes consciously tried to manipulate the effect of their testimonies.
"Though the nature of the conversations recorded in depositions (arguments, insults, and accusations) ought to favour "thou" use very strongly" (Hope, 148), in the Durham depositions, "thou" and "you" occur in roughly equal numbers:
(table: Hope, 148)
Hope comes to the conclusion that " ' thou ' and ' you ' lead separate lives in the written and spoken mediums" (Hope, 148). In Shakespeare’s drama, "thou" (as a marker of emotion) occurs relatively more often than in the depositions. According to Hope this shows that the special connotations of "thou" "are much more evident in writing […] than they ever were in speech" (Hope, 148).