New Primary Evidence
Against "William Shakespear" Having Been An Author:
Until now the earliest
primary evidence against the Stratford actor and producer has been the Diary entries
of the Rev. Dr. John Ward who was both Vicar and Physician in Stratford during
the last half of the 17th century and who
knew Shakespeare's illiterate daughter Judith.
Ward, writing about 1660,
noted that Shakspere was "without any art at all," meaning book
learning, and that for his "allowance." which Ward stipulated
allowed him to spend "att ye Rate of a 1000l. a
year," he "supplied ye
stage with 2 plays every year." (Short Life, Chambers,
Exciting new primary
evidence has been discovered by an Oxfordian, Dr. Paul Altrocchi, M.D.,
researching what was actually known about Stratford. This evidence is
fifty years earlier than Ward's and thus dates, perhaps, to a time when
Shakspere was still alive. In the most conservative of the readings it alludes to him as a "humble actor"
and not as a playwright.
Altrocchi happened to think
that a careful study of William Camden's History of England might prove
productive. The book is short titled Remains and in the 1605 edition
Camden mentions "William Shakespeare" as a writer. However
Camden never mentions the William Shakespear or Shakspere of Stratford, not even
when he is dealing specifically with Stratford.
In following this trail,
Dr. Altrocchi suffered himself to review each printed edition of Remains.
He hit pay dirt in a microfilmed copy of a 1590 edition. This particular volume belongs to The
Huntington Shakespeare Library and was microfilmed for world wide distribution
and thus has been a standard feature of nearly every major library in the world
for several generations. His essay on this discovery has appeared in Shakespeare
Volume 2 No. 4 Summer 2003, entitled, "Sleuthing
An Enigmatic Latin Annotation."
During his methodical
review of the primary printed evidence, Altrocchi noticed, at the bottom of the page
on Stratford, in a period hand, i.e., a Transitional Hand, one which
likely learned to write about that same time Shakespeare lived, a curious Latin annotation on
the page dealing with Stratford that mentioned Shakespeare by name. Below are two scans, the second,
supplied to me by Bill Boyle, editor of Shakespeare Matters, is more detailed
than the quick copy I made of the Huntington plate:
One can only imagine how
Paul must have felt when he first noticed the annotation and afterwards as he
realized he was the first scholar to notice it! (Readers should see
Richard Altick's excellent book on this "feeling" entitled The
Scholar Adventurers, if they want a vicarious kick.)
The Huntington's curator of
Rare Books, Stephen Tabor, suggested to me that the reading and translation as follows:
|I ve been around this
inscription at length with Dr. Altrocchi. It reads [et]
Gulielmo Shakespear Roscio planè nostro ( and William Shakespeare,
certainly our Roscius ). The annotator is adding him to the list of
Stratfordian worthies mentioned in the text. Sorry, no headlines there.
Armed with the scanned copy
of a plate of the annotation, Peter Farey and I have
deciphered it as:
Shakespear Roscio plane nostro
Peter, whose Latin is much
more extensive than mine, suggests it reads:
And William Shakespeare our
We both agree the use of "nostro"
(our) on this particular page and in this hand
implies the annotation was written by someone living in Stratford before
the time of the First Folio and before the erection of the Stratford monument,
both of which
link the rustic to the plays as their author.
As such it may well have been
written while he was alive, i.e., prior to 23 April 1616. Indeed the
Annotator would not used the word "nostro" alone if Shakespear
had been dead. "Our" implies not only the kinship of community
but of life. If Shakespear had recently died, the writer would have
qualified his remarks with a phrase meaning "our recently departed townsman"
(recens or nuper decedere or mori) or, if long gone, a
phrase suggesting this would have been included, such as "immortal"
i.e., "immortalis"---not to be confused with "depravtus."
So it would
seem on internal grounds this annotation was written while Shakespear was alive,
well and living in Stratford with the Annotator.
The list of Stratfordian
citizens who were fluent enough to have written this annotation is not overly
long, and a quick check of the hands attributed to the various clerks, attorneys
and Dr. Hall proves none were responsible for this annotation. (My
check, not Paul's.) Thus his or
her identity remains to be discovered. Clues to it may be found on other
annotations in the book, perhaps even the name of the original owner? Alas
The Huntington has not responded with any additional information about this.
But even without additional
discoveries this annotation alone is headline
It will become the earliest local record of him to come down to
us. It seems to have been written whilst he was living in Stratford, c.
1612-1616. This would make it half a century earlier than Dr. John Ward's
Equally as worthy of
headlines is the fact the Annotator, obviously a well educated Stratfordian
fluent in Latin, does not allude to Shakespear as a writer, i.e., as "our
humble Terence" or "our humble Plautus," or "our humble Seneca,"
three Roman playwrights who would have been well known to the
Roscius, who was a
famous Roman actor and, importantly, someone
who profited from special laws allowing him to hawk or sell seats in the theater,
is mentioned twice by Shakespeare, once in Henry VI and again
in Hamlet, but was not known as an actor/writer, merely as a businessman
who profited on special favor.
So this annotation is
primary evidence that a well educated person living in Stratford, prior to
1623, when the First Folio appeared, knew William Shakespear as a "humble
actor" and not as a famous playwright.
This is thus a remarkable
discovery by Dr. Paul Altrocchi. It is yet another nail in the case
against the Stratford man having been the Author William Shakespeare.
Now even as I write, opinions
are coming in from all over on the annotation. Sally-Beth MacLean <firstname.lastname@example.org>
who heads up the REED team:
Hello John, With apologies for the delay in my response, I am just back
from a month's holiday, making haste to catch up with messages. The REED
crew agrees with the Huntington crew -- the word looks like 'Roscio' to 3 of
us here. Hope this is of some help in your debate!
0147 PM 8/11/03 -0400.
Meanwhile another Canadian
Scholar at the University of Alberta, Professor Stephen Reimer, wrote:
It is conceivable that this is a list of names--"planc'" could be
"Planctus," who is, like Roscio, associated with Cicero, though I
can't see how he would be connected with Shakespeare, nor is the "p-"
word in the same case (dative / ablative / vocative) as the others (the terminal
suspension would suggest a "-us" rather than an "-o"
ending). Further, if it is simply a list, why are the first three words (and
perhaps the last) in an oblique case at all (and a case not matched by the
fourth word)--the case endings suggest a sentence rather than a list.
I would argue for "Rescio" despite the fact that the second letter
is very round and "o" shaped it seems to be a round smudge rather than
a clear letter--so the second letter could be almost any vowel (though "i"
or "u" seem less likely--I'm not seeing minim strokes here--than
"a," "e," or "o"); reading it as "Rescio"
gives us a subject and verb for a sentence and doesn't leave us hunting for
"Nostro" is possible for the last word, but so many of the letter
forms there are ambiguous (all but the "o" at the end) that it is
impossible to make any claims there with confidence it looks to me as much like
"mir[c]lo" (thus my "miraculo" suggestion) as "nostro"
(I don't see the second letter as an "o" you have a series of minims
preceding the squiggle that could be an "s" or an "r"; the
minims could be "vu," "mi," "nu," "vi,"
"vu," "ni," etc., but not, I think, "no"). The
last three letters could very well be "tro," but what is the large
curled shape on the left of the "t"? That would seem an odd sort of
"t" cross stroke; it looks more to me like a suspended "c"
followed by an "l" or "s." So "vis[c]tro" is
possible, but I can't think of a word for which this could be an abbreviation.
So, I'm still puzzled,
Stephen R. Reimer, Ph.D. Stephen.Reimer@UAlberta.Ca
Associate Professor of English
University of Alberta
Canada T6G 2E5
Professor Reimer is
the scholar who suggested I forward the annotation to Professor MacLean and her
team at the Records of Early English Drama project in Toronto.
Before we close this note,
I must point out that the conservative reading is by no means certain.
The forth word contains a blotched and indecipherable second letter, that might
be either an "e" or an "o". The fifth word might
actually be "plani" and not "plane" with an accent. So
it is possible the Latin annotation actually reads:
Gulielmo Shakespear Rescio plani nostro
If it does, then it would
translate more along the lines of:
And [thus] I
know our William Shakespear to be an impostor.
So it could have been "Rescio" for "rescisco" meaning
"I know" or "I ascertain". For those who don't
follow these matters too closely the fact the initial letter is upper case is,
considering the period, meaningless. Just as Dr. Ward used an upper case
"R" in "Rate," quoted above, it had nothing to do with its
place in the sentence or with anything else. Writers from this period used
uppercase and lower case letters indiscriminately, as Yeandle and Dawson remind
us in their Style Manual. On letter shape or "silhouette"
the second letter is much more "e" like than "o"
Additionally, "plane" has what
looks like a "dot" over the last letter making it an "i" and
thus making the word "plani" and thus "a vagrant, juggler or
charlatan." And what if the first word is "Is" or
"It"? So it might translate as:
For you information I know
our William Shakespeare to be a fraud
The annotator could be
addressing himself to Camden and warning him not to include any mention of him
here. Or it could be Camden's own note to himself. I've asked
his school for a sample of his hand and sent them the annotation, but alas the
scholars responsible for the collection are on summer break, so we shall have to
wait for this gem.
Either way it is read the annotation is big news, headline news in Shakespearian
More so if we consider the
fact it has sat in plain sight for several generations without being noticed by
orthodox scholars. Was it noticed and ignored or marginalized
because it cast serious scholarly doubt on the claims advanced in the First
Folio's advertisements? Advertisements that have been proven wrong in
nearly every quantifiable or verifiable particular?
Myself I tend to doubt
it. I think Dr. Paul
Altrocchi is actually the first modern scholar to look closely at this enigmatic
generation is too intent on citing the works of their colleagues (and themselves)
to check out any primary source material.
I need to add that Dr.
Altrocchi first supposed, back in April, that the annotation read Shakespeare
was a fraud and then, on due reflection, Altrocchi reversed himself and now
agrees with the Huntington.
I say this because this is
the way real scholars work. In public and with a willingness to
reverse themselves (if need be) when the evidence suggests their first surmise
So congratulations again to Dr.
Paul Altrocchi. When the smoke clears you may have toppled the Stratman,
who according to this period annotation was in his own native Stratford known as
an actor, not as a writer. (:}) I like it. I'll take it.
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