Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Delanceyplace.com 6/3/08-How To Spell Shakespeare

In today's excerpt--what we know about William Shakespeare:

"After four hundred years of dedicated hunting, researchers have found about a hundred documents relating to William Shakespeare and his immediately family--baptismal records, title deeds, tax certificates, marriage bonds, writs of attachment, court records (many court records--it was a litigious age), and so on. That's quite a good number as these things go, but deeds and bonds and other records are inevitably bloodless. ...

"In consequence there remains an enormous amount that we don't about William Shakespeare, much of it of a fundamental nature. We don't know, for one thing, exactly how many plays he wrote or in what order he wrote them. ... Although he left nearly a million words of text, we have just fourteen words in his own hand--his name signed six times and the words 'by me' on his will. Not a single note or letter or page of manuscript survives. ...

"We are not sure how best to spell his name--then neither, it appears, was he, for the name is never spelled the same way twice in the signatures that survive. (They read as 'Willm Shaksp,' 'William Shakespe,' 'Wm Shakspe,' 'William Shakspere,' 'Willm Shakspere,' and 'William Shakspeare.' Curiously one spelling he didn't use was the one now universally attached to his name.) Nor can we be entirely confident of how he pronounced his name. Helge Kokeritz, author of the definitive Shakespeare's Pronunciation, thought it possible that Shakespeare said it with a short a, as in 'shack.' It may have been spoken one way in Stratford and another in London, or he may have been as variable with the pronunciation as he was with the spelling. ...

"We don't know if he ever left England. ... On only a handful of days in his life can we say with absolute certainty where he was. ... For the rest, he is kind of a literary equivalent of an electron--forever there and not there."

Bill Bryson, Shakespeare, The World as Stage, Harper, Copyright 2007 by Bill Bryson, pp. 7-9.


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