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, 227)

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.  

Portrait of Camden Camden
William Camden (1609)
by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.
National Portrait Gallery



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 Matters, Volume 2 No. 4 Summer 2003, entitled, "Sleuthing An Enigmatic Latin Annotation."  See:

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:

Et Gulielmo Shakespear Roscio plane nostro

Peter, whose Latin is much more extensive than mine, suggests it reads:

And William Shakespeare our humble Roscius

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 material.  

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 entry.  

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 Annotator. 

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 <> 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! Sally-Beth          At  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 Ciceronian explanations.

"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

Edmonton, 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:

 Et 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" like.   

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 studies.

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 text.  This 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 was wrong.   

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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