Some Thoughts on Elizabethan and Jacobean
Manuscripts and Yeandle’s
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,
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."
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
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.
“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.
to John Baker's Home Page
to the Kathman Collier Essay