Bucke-basquet, Bucket baquet, both, or neither?


Among the most heavily discussed and analyzed annotations in our copy of Baret during the first week of unveiling have been two words that appear side-by-side on the trailing blank. The busy bees responsible for bringing to the public’s attention a possible misreading are Aaron Pratt and Eve Siebert, each of whom has written a piece dissecting our transcription and our understanding of the annotations. We thank them for having taken the time to look so carefully at the annotated dictionary in question, but feel it is necessary to offer some clarification as, in each instance, only a partial screen grab has been selected and made public. The reduction of the image sells their arguments short, as well as ours.

In our chapter on the trailing blank, we discuss in some detail the words on this page and the preponderance of echoes that are heard within the select group of plays wherein Falstaff appears: the two parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. These three plays were written within a few years leading up to Shakespeare writing Henry V, the play that features, by a wide margin, the highest concentration of French usage in the canon. The fact that the annotator is fiddling with French and English usages and synonyms is only part of what makes the page so compelling. Many of the words (beginning with “bouquin” – visible in the image here) contain multiple meanings, but that is only one of the linguistic engagements at work. The annotator is demonstrably playing beyond the meanings of the words, as we attempt to make clear in our full chapter. The sounds, even the spellings are of added importance, and a careful, non-rushed analysis recognizes that the annotator’s intricate sideways glances are as significant as those glances that are direct.

Let us examine the work that was done by Mr. Pratt and Ms. Siebert and illustrate the deficiency in the cut-and-dry conclusion they both have arrived at, in part thanks to the truncated pictures they included with their analysis. With the slightly larger screen grab that we offer here, everyone can see that the word almost immediately to the left of the annotation is “bribe” and the word to the right is “cram”. Bribe and buck combine only one time in Shakespeare – Falstaff in Merry Wives; Cram and basket combine also only one time in Shakespeare, and again – Falstaff, Merry Wives. Same play, same character. And that is the play and the character that dominate the entire page.

Why then would both Mr. Pratt and Ms. Siebert choose to crop the annotation to eliminate important information? Their contention is that the annotation does not read “Bucke-bacquet” but instead reads “Bucket bacquet,” in their views, a simple English French combination with no relation to the other words on the page. But even if that is argued to be true, why eliminate what was stressed in the chapter and can be seen in the image if you allow it to slightly expand?

The question is, do the connections with bribe and cram amount to nothing but a coincidence? If the annotation has been falsely read; that is, if the annotator has simply added the French for bucket alongside the English word bucket without any further connection to the other words on the page, then the connections involving bribe and cram with buck-basket (our interpretation) must necessarily be explained away as a convenience – another coincidence to help insist on the tie between Merry Wives and the words on the page. But what are the odds of each word combining with the neighboring word only one time in Shakespeare, and in the same play, and voiced by the same character? The remaining evidence on the page offers discernable support to the contention that the annotator, whoever he was, had Falstaff and Merry Wives on the brain, with clear thoughts of the Henry IV plays and pre-allusions (our argument) to Henry V.

And yet we are accused of having “botched” this transcription, an annotation that would otherwise send a strong message connecting the trailing blank to the works in some way, given the coinage of “buck-basket” by Shakespeare and its six usages in Merry Wives. 

Mr. Pratt and Ms. Siebert read it as a simple “Bucket bacquet”, but even if the annotation began there, the annotator knows of other possibilities from looking at the annotation on the page and hearing it ring in his mind. Our argument is that the annotator can see and hear and understand things in multiplicity (it takes an active brain), and whether “Bucket bacquet” or “Bucke-bacquet,” appears in one’s own transcription of the page, the neighboring words are no accident.

To help reinforce the idea that the annotator is channeling buck-basket, we turn to the Baret itself, and note the intriguing alternate spelling in English under Baskette; a maker of Basquets. Variability in English spelling at the time raises the distinct possibility that the second half of the annotation can be interpreted as a Middle English substitute for the word basket, and that the annotator is aiming for buck-basket all along. That is, in our opinion, clearly where he ends up, but how he arrives there may indeed be through the fiddling with words that is his trademark – a constant fiddling and fascination that takes place throughout the entire book, not merely on the trailing blank. Words can achieve multiple purposes with the flick of the tongue or the slight adjustment of the quill. You see this all up and down the page: the playing with meaning and sound and even visuals. Whoever the annotator was, The Merry Wives of Windsor is at the forefront – either through coincidence or reflective linguistic choice – on this strange page we refer to as the trailing blank.

The Poet’s Hand

By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her
very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s. It is, in contempt of question, her hand.

Twelfth Night [II, 5] Malvolio

Voices from Adam Gopnik to Jonathan Bate have not been shy in publicly asserting that the hand in the Baret does not match the poet’s hand; the poet, of course, being Shakespeare. We feel it is important to clarify what components of the “poet’s hand” are being referenced.

Of all the books that Shakespeare could possibly have owned or used, not a single book with annotations is said to have survived. There are a number of volumes that have been attributed to Shakespeare’s ownership from the presence of a signature, but these signatures – and by extension the books – remain in dispute, and none contain annotations that are currently argued to belong to the poet. If Shakespeare did mark his books, books that we know he must have read, they either did not survive, or they are still out there to be discovered. One thing that we must all agree upon when referencing the “poet’s hand” when it comes to marginal annotations, and that is this: we have no means for comparison.

The “poet’s hand” is a reference to six signatures, all on legal documents, made during the later years of Shakespeare’s life, and two words, “By me” preceding one of the signatures on Shakespeare’s will. There is a fair amount of variability, even in the spelling of the signatures, and the variability – whether in spelling or in letter formation – can be ascertained even by someone who is not an expert in Renaissance paleography. And yet in spite of their differences, the six signatures are all written in what falls under the Secretary hand of the period; the “poet’s hand,” in other words, if we did ever see it written in the margins, should be compatible with this script, and not the Italic hand that would eventually take over, and with which we are today familiar.

There is one signature, however, that needs to be addressed, and our effort at highlighting this particular signature in our book has yet to be publicly considered. On back-to-back days in March 1612, two signatures of Shakespeare are recorded on mortgage documents. They are in appearance so different that Edward Maude Thompson of the British Museum felt it necessary, early in the 20th century, to explain that the second of the two signatures (“C”) was written in an unusual style as a result of the small space allotted by the mortgage seal, thereby requiring Shakespeare to use “disconnected letters”. It is with this signature – the cramped signature – that we find sympathetic comparisons with annotations from our Baret, often made within similarly sized cramped spaces.

Consider the strikingly different formation of the two “p’s” – written on back to back days – and compare the second of these (from signature “C”) with an annotation in our book.

Signatures B&C, with a similarly sized annotation from the annotated Baret

Signatures B&C, with a similarly sized annotation from the annotated Baret

The “ha” in Shakespeare’s signature “C” bears equally sympathetic comparisons with several annotations (including “Shaft” highlighted in our book and visible above the printed Shake in Baret), and a number of the annotator’s added words ending in “spe” are not dissimilar from the “spe” in the same signature.

Of course similarly generic annotations from other writers could be borrowed to the same effect. But what these examples illustrate is the extreme difficulty in eliminating an annotator based upon perceptions of how their signatures would correlate to marginal notations, even when we take from one of Shakespeare’s own signatures written in Secretary. The Folger voiced in its own blog, Collation, their agreement with our overall assessment: “As K&W (Koppelman and Wechsler) note, it is notoriously difficult to draw conclusions about a writer’s style of handwriting based on marginalia alone.”

In spite of this difficulty, the bias that argues Shakespeare would have relied on Secretary script alone persists, based not just on the signatures, but on Hand D (three pages in the collaborative, anonymous play Sir Thomas More that are thought by many to be Shakespeare’s contribution), as well as compositor errors that are felt to be a result of misreading letters written in Secretary.

But why argue that Shakespeare used exclusively a secretary script when using a variety of hands was common at the time (and still is)? Does any other writer of the period make, in his own writings, so much of the variation in handwriting as Shakespeare? Just think of the crucial scenes in some of the greatest plays, Hamlet, King Lear, and Twelfth Night, where hands are altered or confused. If Malvolio has trouble properly identifying and attributing c’s and u’s and t’s and p’s, surely the author of the play was aware that they could be made different, and may even have delighted in making them different himself. On the trailing blank, which combines Italic and Secretary, cursive and non-cursive, the annotator pens no fewer than six distinctly different p’s.

Why not allow Shakespeare, the ultimate example of a person mesmerized by words, to share the same excitement for letters? Letters are, after all, the stuff that words are made of.

Welcome to the Shakespeare’s Beehive Blog

The last chapter in our book, “My Darling” (followed by an Afterword, a citing of sources, and concluding notes), ends with the bold assertion that, when it comes to our Baret, “we are confident that it is capable of yielding a great deal more.” Of course, we must admit, that there will also, on occasion, be less. Possible misreadings of annotations, and our own enthusiasm for commonplace word pairings, will be strongly emphasized by those who disagree with our conclusion, as well as by those who may come to support it. As we state several times over in our study, the representation of what we have selected to best support our argument is merely a parceling out from the whole that we managed to uncover. In making our choices, we surely left out many collected examples that were especially good, and included others that might easily have been dropped.

But most importantly, there must be new and wonderful things beyond our own findings, and once the dust has settled a bit following this most surprising announcement, perhaps there will be equal enthusiasm at the sharing of positive discoveries, whether connecting the printed language in Baret and this copy’s annotations to the works of Shakespeare, or to the work of other writers of the period, or even, as we are hopeful, to the hand of Shakespeare himself.

The purpose of this blog is to allow us to selectively respond to what others have written, tweeted, or otherwise made public through communication with the media.