Will Shakespeare’s dictionary prove to be, or not to be, authentic – that is the question

On April 6, the final day of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Daniel Wechsler, an exhibitor, asked me if I was free for dinner on Friday night. When I said I was, he replied, ”Dinner’s on me, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it and you have to bring a blank cheque.”

Five days later, sitting at the head of a table of nine, he had one more caveat. ”I’m asking you to hold onto this for nine more days. I’ve been sitting on this for six years and my life is about to change forever.”

Wechsler is 46 and tall, he has a gentle smile and real smarts. He studied history and English at Emory University, is married and has two boys. There are other strings to his bow: his documentary on the street photographer Matt Weber More than the Rainbow, will open shortly in theatres in Manhattan and his firm, Sanctuary Books, has a publishing arm.

Wechsler and fellow book dealer George Koppelman believe they have found the holy grail of English Literature: a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or a Quadruple Dictionarie, published in London by Henry Denham in 1580.

What distinguishes this copy are the thousands of annotations throughout in a contemporary hand. They believe these annotations are by William Shakespeare. If they are right, they have found the source of some of the greatest ever plays and poems. It’s not just there are no recorded copies of books from Shakespeare’s library, there are only six accepted signatures by him and, possibly, one manuscript.

The book was acquired in late April 2008. Koppelman, the owner of Cultured Oyster Books, invited Wechsler to bid jointly on a book he’d spotted on eBay. ”George said, ‘hey, do you want to buy Shakespeare’s dictionary?’ ”

They agreed on a final bid of $US4300 and, on April 28, they got the book for $US4050. Wechsler is unequivocal: ”Only $US250 separated us from never having had this experience.

”We bought the book with the possibility that it was [Shakespeare’s], but more seriously as an annotated Elizabethan dictionary.” He smiles, ”I mean, if we really thought it was his, we would have bid more than $US4300!”

Finds of this magnitude are always tainted with suspicion. However, it’s generally believed forging an entire book is simply too much trouble and will never realise the sort of return that forging a Matisse would, for example. That changed recently with the revelations of a forged copy of Galileo’s 1610 Sidereus Nuncius, the book that launched his career.

Unlike the Galileo, it doesn’t purport to be a book by Shakespeare. This isn’t a copy of the First Folio, it’s not a manuscript draft of Hamlet. It’s only through the perseverance of Wechsler and Koppelman in following the trail and patterns of the annotations themselves that it seems even possible the annotator was Shakespeare. As the story unfolded over dinner, we learnt the blank cheques in our pockets were to buy a copy of Shakespeare’s Beehive, the 300-page book Wechsler and Koppelman have just published supporting their claim.

Wechsler and Koppelman aren’t alone in noticing the relationship between Baret and Shakespeare. In 1944, Shakespeare scholar T.W. Baldwin noted that Baret’s Alvearie was the standard dictionary of the day and that Shakespeare would have ”turned many a time and oft to Baret for his varied synonyms”.

Shakespeare’s Beehive begins by explaining first how Shakespeare could have come to possess the book. His childhood acquaintance Richard Field moved to London before him and apprenticed himself to the French printer Thomas Vautrollier. It’s speculated Shakespeare probably lodged with Field in London and Field may have helped Shakespeare acquire work as a proofreader for Denham.

Additionally, the annotator seems preoccupied with two letters in particular, and he imitates the capitalised entries in the Baret. The two letters: W and S. He does it five times with the W, three times with the S and with no other letter in the alphabet.

Most important are the multitude of examples connecting the annotations to text from the plays and poems. To cite just two, they show how a small circle beside the following entry ”Forsworne, perjured, false, that hath broken his oth” leads us directly to Sonnet 152.

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworne,

But thou art twice forsworne, to me love swearing;

In act thy bed-vow broake, and new faith torne,

In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

But why of two othes breach doe I accuse thee,

When I breake twenty? I am periur’d most;

For all my vows are othes but to misuse thee,

And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

Another example is where the annotator has written beside the entry for ”Scabbard: vide sheath” the word ”vagina”, which is a Latin synonym. This immediately calls to mind one of the final speeches in Romeo and Juliet where awakening to find that her love has killed himself says:

Yea noise? then ile be briefe. O happy dagger,

This is thy sheath, there rust and let me dye.

Although sheath nominally refers to the cover for a sword, the sexual connotations of the word were not lost on Shakespeare. It’s important to recognise many of the synonyms only appear in this edition of Baret. The accumulation of annotations and the way they lead directly to the work, makes their case persuasive.

More intriguing still is the blank leaf at the end of the book on which the annotator has written 210 words in English and French. Wechsler dates the writing on this sheet to 1598 when Shakespeare was in the process of writing Henry IV parts I & II, The Merry Wives of Windsor and leading up to the writing of Henry V. Wechsler and Koppelman show how all of these words feature in the plays – and is of added significance as Henry V is the only play in which Shakespeare includes a substantial amount of French.

Despite the evidence, the fact the book is unsigned is a problem. Another potential issue is the annotations appear to be in several different hands.

However, this might not be as large an obstacle as it appears. Of the six accepted Shakespeare signatures, those known as examples B and C were signed on consecutive days and look distinctly different. Additionally, we know that in the Elizabethan period writing in a variety of hands was encouraged and seen as graceful.

From the beginning, they reached out to scholars for assistance. Wechsler says: ”They were extremely helpful giving advice but it was also clear that they weren’t going to jeopardise their reputations.”

Shakespeare biographer and scholar Stephen Greenblatt is enthusiastic about the dictionary as an unheralded Shakespeare source book. ”It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare’s passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them.”

However, he’d ”not had time to weigh the evidence” of it being Shakespeare’s copy.

Wechsler is prepared for the fact that no matter how strong the evidence, some people simply won’t believe them. He also feels opening up the dictionary to scholars will reveal further evidence. ”If George and I can see this, what will they find?”

In their official statement, the Folger Shakespeare Library thought it ”premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their ‘leap of faith’.”

Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger, feels the ”handwriting is a big problem. The annotations need to be read against and compared to the handwriting of many other early modern annotators, not just Shakespeare’s.” Having said that, she agrees the book would be ”a great addition” to the Folger’s collection.

Folger director, Dr Michael Witmore, gives further perspective: ”A deeply early modern dictionary annotated in the playwright’s hand would have to be top of any Shakespearean’s wish list. But even if this isn’t Shakespeare’s handwriting, the annotated Alvearie is exciting because it gives us a glimpse into that creative encounter between an early modern reader and words on the page.”

So what is it? At the very least, the Alvearie is a now a recognised Shakespeare source book. At most, they’ve made one of the most significant finds in the history of literature. Invariably, the question of money comes into it. Wechlser is reluctant to discuss numbers, but ”after scholars have had time to digest the possibility and go over the evidence” they are looking to sell it.

To put it in context, the last First Folio to sell at auction made £2.5 million ($4.5 million) in London in 2006.

The dictionary is kept in a secure storage facility. It can be viewed online at shakespearesbeehive苏州美甲培训

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲培训.

posted by admin in 苏州美甲培训 and have Comments Off on Will Shakespeare’s dictionary prove to be, or not to be, authentic – that is the question

Comments are closed.