THE SHAKESPEARE IDENTITY PROBLEM

CHAPTER 3: SIGNATURES (Part 1)


Whoever Shakespeare the poet/dramatist was, he had to be able to write, or afford to have someone or more than one person write down what he wanted to say. There were no computer keyboards of course, no typewriters, no ballpoint pens, even a 'fountain pen' or pen with its own container of ink inside it, was not manufactured until 1655 in Paris, France. So you had to use a quill pen, made from a large bird's feather, probably a crow's. You dipped it into an inkpot, and picked up ink on the quill, enough to write with but not so much as to have some drop off and cause a blot on the paper. You wrote with the quill end, made into a split nib. That's how wide and narrow strokes of the pen were created.

'Shakespeare' wrote or had a hand in writing about 36 plays, two long poems, one of 30 printed pages, the other 45 pages of print, and 154 Sonnets of 14 lines each plus some other poems. So he had a lifetime of writing and had to be an experienced writer. If you look at the writing of people who do a considerable amount of writing you find they tend to flatten out their words. I happen to have a book on graphology - the study of writing - and it describes that particular type of experienced writing as 'linking with threads'. As such people get older their signatures become closer to straight lines. You can see this in the signatures of, say, President Kennedy.

I tend to write uphill. I understand it's a sign of optimism. My signature has no discernible individual letters. I have written a great deal over many years and signed countless documents. So if the man from Stratford is Shakespeare I suggest we would expect a flowing signature, someone who is used to writing. Someone like the lawyer or lawyer's clerk who when writing his will for him didn't drop blots of ink on the page.

Of course we have no manuscript of any of Shakespeare's plays or poems identifiable as written by him. But what we do have are 6 signatures said to be those of William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon, also said to be the real Shakespeare. You will find examples on the Web. But those I have seen there appear to me to have been 'cleaned up' with some of the blots removed or reduced and even changes in pen strokes, to improve them.

The first signature is dated 1611 and is an affidavit where he was called as a witness in the Belott - Mountjoy case in London. This was 5 years before his death. Here it is:

The first word (William) has a flourishing "W" followed by a blot from an "i", a good "l", a blotted second "l" and a possible "i" or another blot after it. The pressure of the nib is thick throughout the word, which seems incomplete Perhaps it was meant to be Will or Willi. There is a gratuitous horizontal stroke over the 'ill' which could be an exaggerated dot over the 'i'or possibly the Elizabethan convention to indicate an abbreviated word.

We need to discuss the last name, Shakespeare, because William Shakespeare was writing his signatures in the 'secretary' hand, so called. This is quite different in many respects from the 'Italian' hand which was very close to our modern script. But before we do that, here's Sir Francis Drake's signature. They were contemporaries; Shakespeare 1564 - 1616, Drake 1540? - 96. He sailed around the world, 1577-81, for which he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and commanded a division of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Both Shakespeare and Drake were masters of their professions.

sig

Drake was born near Tavistock, in Devon, the west country of England, eldest of 12 sons of Edmund Drake, whose parents held a lease on 180 acres of land near Tavistock. Edmund was not the eldest son and so did not inherit the lease. There are various undocumented stories as to why Edmund and his family left the area and moved to Kent where they lived in an old ship. There, Edmund managed a somewhat precarious living preaching to sailors in the navy. While still a boy Francis became apprenticed to the captain of a small coastal freighter, a sailing ship of course, and when the captain died without heirs, he bequeathed the ship to Francis. Fortunately for Francis, John Hawkins, a famous sea captain, was a relative. As a seafaring man, even as an admiral, Drake's life was a practical one, with only a limited opportunity to write, although there would be logs to update, reports to Admiralty, and orders to write. But his signature is firm, controlled and masterly.

The master poet and dramatist, William Shakespeare, could have been expected to have a flowing signature, but as you can see, such is not the case. Now we must consider whether that is because he used the 'secretary hand'.

In France, the 'secretary hand' was known as 'lettres bastarde' as distinct from 'lettres de forme' used for the most expensive manuscripts and 'lettre de cour' or court hand. The 'secretary hand' developed in mediaeval times and came into use among the lower classes where there was a need to write. There were a number of variations in letter formation. The upper classes and the court in England generally used the 'Italian' hand, the precursor of modern script. So to understand the signature of William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon (WS, for brevity) we need to look at 'secretary' letter formation. It so happens that the letters used in William are very similar in both hands, except that in one of WS's signatures he uses an uncommon secretary variant:

sig

This is the second 'a' from the right.

Now let's look at the ones used in his last name, Capital S, h, k, e, s, p, r,

Here they are, shown in that order, each with common variants:

sig

The above are specimens of capital S.

Now we have to attempt to correlate Shakespeare's signature shown above with these letters to determine how well he wrote. We'll refer to the example letters in each case counting from the left.

The capital 'S' in Shakespeare's signature is the first type.


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