Some Thoughts on Elizabethan and Jacobean  Manuscripts and Yeandle’s
Style Manual


We have been thinking together about Elizabethan manuscripts. I have before me the always useful style manual _Elizabethan Handwriting_ by the Folger authorities, Dawson and Kennedy-Skipton, now Yeandle. Oddly it opens with a partisan defense for the absence of Shakespearian manuscripts.  Oddly because the Folger owns one.  And oddly because the reasons cited are either false or mistaken.

  For example they write:

  "Of Shakespeare's plays…no manuscript in his autograph is known, and much the same is true of the productions of the other playwrights who worked in the great period of drama from 1580 to 1642.  No manuscript of any play has survived in the autograph of Kyd, Greene, Jonson, Chapman, Dekker, Heywood, Marston, Webster, Beaumont, Fletcher or Ford---to name only the better known dramatists." (3)

  As a matter of fact, there are manuscripts, in whole or in part, in the hands of Jonson, Dekker, Heywood, Middleton, Munday, Drummond, Marston, Daniel, Harvey, Massinger, Nashe, Peele and Fletcher (?), not to mention Marlowe.  Indeed many claim hand D to be Shakespeare's in the manuscript of Sir Thomas Moore.  

  Yet these Folger authorities continue:

  "No play by a professional playwright which was successful on the stage and which was printed before 1642 is known to have come down to our time or near it. "

  While the sentence does not say it, they mean "no play in manuscript."   Yet this too is not true.  Greg provides a partial list of known Elizabethan play manuscripts numbering twenty-four in his Editorial Problems.  Greg’s list, curiously, does not include the manuscripts of Arden, Timon, Massacre at Paris and Henry IV, to mention just four.  Arden was a very successful play of this period.  The Huntington Library houses the manuscript suggesting it Shakespeare’s.  Henry IV was a very successful play, for which a manuscript survives. Numerous college plays also endure.  Ironside, ms. seems to have been successful, has been argued as Shakespeare by Eric Sams and survives.  Cardenio, (misclassified as the Second Maiden’s Tragedy), ms., said Shakespeare's on its title page, as well as by Charles Hamilton and myself, survives.

  So we must ask ourselves what sort of paradigm blindness led these two world authorities to make such obvious blunders?  I think it is the fact that generally speaking they are correct.  Most of the manuscripts for printed plays from this period are missing.  This adds a great deal of credence to anything they might have to say on this subject, even if what they say proves either false or mistaken. 

  As to why. these authorities offer several plausible explanations, but miss the most obvious and logical one, if we must look to factual causes.  Most of these manuscripts were written, produced and preserved in London, which was nearly razed by a great conflagration in the mid 1600s, a circumstance hardly favorable to the survival of manuscripts.   So it is to the great London fire (and other smaller ones, such as Jonson’s and the Herberts') that we owe the absence of so many Elizabethan playbooks and manuscripts.

  There is, of course, another paradigm problem, which comes into play here.  Yeandle and Dawson are or were curators at the prestigious Folger Shakespeare Library and are thus focused on maintaining the consensus or status quo view of Shakespeare as the rustic, slenderly educated and untraveled bumpkin from Stratford.  The sort of lovable chap that Shakespeare describes Bottom and Pence as, i.e., as “hempen homespuns,” or more darkly in Lear as “Bedlam beggars,…from low farms, poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes and mills, sometimes with lunatic bans, sometimes with prayers enforce their charity.”

  They were thus primarily interested in explaining the lack of papers relating to Shakespeare in the merger life of the rustic from Stratford, who they believed the same individual.  So much so that they open their book on Elizabethan handwriting with what stands as a incredibly partisan barrage, not about handwriting but about the absence of Shakespearian manuscripts, both in Stratford and London.  A barrage designed to level future critics such as Diana Price, who have pointed out that Shakspere, alone of Elizabethan writers, was unconnected to his works during his lifetime. 

  Other Elizabethan writers were connected by their contemporaries and/or by a "paper trail" to their works, whereas the actor William Shakspere was not.   It is a curious fact that cannot be gainsaid by the likes of Dawson and Yeandle's salvo. 

  In their zeal to explain why there are no manuscript connections to Shakspere or Shakshaft, they go so far as to suggest the social conditions in Stratford, particularly in Shakespeare's ill-bred family, were responsible for the absence of any historical record of him, as a writer, in that community.  They suggest,

  "By 1597, when he was thirty-two and his greatest successes lay ahead of him, he was able to buy [The] New Place, the biggest and most imposing house in Stratford.  In this house he spend his last years and died in 1616, and the property passed to his heirs, the last of whom-his last surviving descendant---died in 1670.  New Place then passed into alien hands, and about 1702 it was rebuilt and in 1759 was pulled down.  Members of the Shakespeare family had lived in Stratford for a hundred and twenty years and in one house for seventy-three.  This was obviously neither the kind of house nor the kind of family favorable to the preservation of manuscripts."  (6)

  The phrase "alien hands" advises that The New Place hostel, which had been in disrepair since at least 1559 when Shakspere's father and Master Clopton were fined for not keeping its gutters clean, were somehow responsible for the destruction of Shakespeare's library and papers. 

As a matter of fact Yeandle and Dawson have described the sort of home that was quite suitable for the preservation of papers.  By their own account The New Place remained in family hands for nearly fifty years after the death of Shakspere, providing heirs and community members with ample opportunity to arrange his papers for public view. 

Since the large dilapidated home seems to have been used as a hostel, hotel or rooming house, they would have surely been placed on display there, where travelers and other "aliens" might marvel at them when they lodged there. Maintaining a writer's birthplace is hardly a modern phenomenon.  The papers of Cintho are still persevered at his home, as are the papers of Jefferson and Washington.   

During this fifty year period when the home remained in family hands, Dr John Ward, who was also the Revered or Vicar of Stratford, took over what was left of Dr John Hall's practice. Hall was Shakspere's son-in-law.  Yet not only did Ward find no books or manuscripts relating to the author Shakespeare, he discovered that Shakspere had been "without any art at all."  Local who knew him told Dr Ward he'd never gone to school and had run away to "frequented ye plays all his younger time."  Ward also discovered Shakspere  was a producer of plays, not a writer, Ward wrote, he "supplied ye stage with 2 plays every year."  Supplied, not wrote.  Ward found out he'd been well paid for this, "for yt had an allowance so large, yt hee spent att ye Rate of a l,000l. a year, as I have heard."   Stratfordians don't dare make this account the cornerstone of their lives on the actor.  But there it sits in the record.

  No we must search deeper and further to understand what happened to Shakespeare's library.  For example a first edition of Venus and Adonis bearing the autograph of Francis Wolfreston and the phrase "her bouk" is the only known copy of that edition.  Ms. Wolfreston, the wife of a country squire with far less literary credentials than Shakespeare, had an extensive library which survived more or less in tack until in was sold at Sotheby's on 24 May 1856, several lists or catalogues of it survive until this day.   Sir Edward Dering, who owned the manuscript of Henry IV, had a huge collection of Elizabethan playbooks and manuscripts numbering over 250 which remained more or less intact until the late 1800s, when his collection was sold by Sotheby's, as Yeandle and Dawson must know since they ended up with not only the manuscript of Henry IV, but with several of his other treasures as well.

  This means the most obvious reason for the lack of books and manuscripts in Stratford and the neglectfulness of that community to recognize Shakspere, as Shakespeare, must be accounted for on other grounds.   The most likely explanation is that the hempen homespun wasn't the Author, as Dr Ward found out.  And, thus, that there weren't any books or manuscripts of his in Stratford to preserve.   His will does not mention them.  Nor does any inventory of his estate.  Nor his there any mention of them in the wills of his heirs.  His daughters being illiterate would not have been able to read them, but this doesn’t imply that they couldn’t have treasured and preserved them, as illiterate caretakers manage all over the world.  Dawson and Yeandle, as spokespersons for the consensus, do not, indeed, cannot consider the obvious and offer instead well-worn and thus patiently transparent alternatives. 

Indeed given the fact that the First Folio is known to have been set from carefully annotated quartos, in many cases carefully collated against manuscripts, the Author's collection of quartos and surviving manuscripts alone would have been extensive.   It is a thesis point of the Yeandle/Dawson team that once published manuscripts became obsolete and worthless.  They write,

“If the autograph manuscript of Hamlet possessed no value as  relic, it did posses value as paper, [i.e. as waste paper]…in A King and No King, Bessus, boasting of the number of challenges he received, says that he makes a profit by selling the paper they are written on to the grocers." (6-7)

  While we do not doubt that waste paper had a value in Jacobean times, we do doubt that the manuscript of Hamlet  was waste paper.  Jagard in defending himself from the charge that he had blotched the printing of his Catalogue and Succession of the Kings... "crowed he still retained the original manuscript and could prove" the mistakes were the author's.  Most manuscripts according to Simpson were carefully returned to the author. (See: Proof-Reading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries, by Percy Simpson)

Indeed the bibliographic record is as certain as these things can be that the printers of the FF collated recently published quartos with long surviving manuscripts to create the unique editions of the First Folio. (Greg)  This could simply not have happened if the manuscripts had been considered waste as soon as the printed book appeared.

Even if we are to suppose the bulk of his papers were destroyed during the fire at the Globe on 29 June 1613, are we to imagine that he did not replace his own copies and transport them safely to Stratford?  Someone certainly replaced them and gained access to his manuscripts if we are to judge from the First Folio.  Indeed this process took place on the face of the 1622 edition of Othello, which appears in a revised edition in the First Folio of 1623.  Who made these revisions?  Where is the quarto upon which they were written?  Were are the other dozen or so annotated quartos?  An annotated copy of the Second Folio published in 1634 survives in a hand that learned its letters in the middle to late 1500s, a copy Dawson attacked as a John Paine Collier forgery, but which has been proven by modern forensic analysis to have been authentic.

I would again suggest that the most likely explanation is that the Author's library was destroyed in the great fire that consumed large portions of London in 1655.

This said we can now turn to some important examples of Elizabethan manuscripts which were not destroyed in that conflagration.   Several of them are of enormous importance for Shakespearian scholars.  They are the Timon, ms., long acknowledged the source of Shakespeare's play of similar title, the manuscript of Woodstock, long known as Part One of Richard II,  the Ironside, ms,  the Cardenio, ms. , the Massacre at Paris, ms., and, of course, the manuscript of Henry IV.  We must also mention the manuscript of Sir Thomas Moore.    It is only by excluding these manuscripts from a discussion of Shakespeare and his development that scholars can pontificate that  "no manuscript in his autograph is known." (3) When these manuscripts are considered the case is my no means unequivocal.   The Henry IV manuscript bears unmistakable references to the printed text; quite likely in the author's own hand, and the presence of its unique readings in some of those editions, including the First Folio, suggest it was collated with the printed texts in exactly the fashion suggested by bibliographers including Pollard and Greg.

Return to John Baker's Home Page

Return to the Kathman Collier Essay