Holiday Greetings / What’s In a Name?

Before there was digital technology that allowed for easy cutting and pasting of text, you had to do it the hard way. Hundreds of times over, our annotator demonstrates the old fashioned way of taking text from one place and adding it to another.

In this example from our chapter “What’s In a Name”, newly added to our second edition, we find a possible connection to one of the most memorable comic scenes in all of Shakespeare. It is just one of many new additions that appear throughout the second edition of Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light.

We continue to encourage members of the Beehive community to read our study and to share with friends the wonderful possibility that it argues for. Still thinking of the perfect gift for yourself or your fellow Shakespeare fan? Look no further!

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There is example for’t: the Lady of the Strachy,
married the yeoman of the wardrobe.
Twelfth Night, Malvolio, Act 2, Scene 5


“The evidence, at all events, is insufficient to justify an excision of the sentence, however one might wish to justify excision and to leave no longer in the text a passage of complete incomprehensibility to reader, actor and audience alike.”
– C. J. Sisson. New Readings in Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956. p. 191.

Malvolio’s line containing “yeoman of the wardrobe” is a fine example of a Shakespearean text that links in a rather extraordinarily direct way to our annotated Baret:  Y26. annotator adds yeoman vide warderobbe in margin.

The text here referenced by the annotator is unmarked at W63.
Wardrobe: yeoman of the robes, or that keepeth the wardrobe chests.

Four distinct elements from this text appear in back-to-back lines in Sonnet 52:

So am I as the rich whose blessed key,
Can bring him to his sweet vp-locked treasure,
The which he will not eu’ry hower suruay,
For blunting the fine point of seldome pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so sollemne and so rare,
Since sildom comming in the long yeare set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captaine Iewells in the carconet.
So is the time that keepes you as my chest,
Or as the ward-robe which the robe doth hide,
To make some speciall instant speciall blest,
By new vnfoulding his imprison’d pride.
    Blessed are you whose worthinesse giues skope,
    Being had to tryumph, being lackt to hope.

Any argument for these being simple words of little consequence collapses under the awareness that both keep and chest and robe and chest are combined in Shakespeare only in Sonnet 52. Such textual observation charmingly reinforces the pattern we observe throughout, but is nothing compared with the possibility that the long-standing confusion over the name Strachy could be resolved. Let us bring back, this time with the visual from the Baret, the annotation: yeoman vide warderobbe.

Y26. Yellow, adds yeoman vide warderobbe

Y26. Yellow, adds yeoman vide warderobbe

The neighboring word to the annotation, yellow, lands directly and symbolically in the scene where Malvolio speaks the “yeoman of the wardrobe” line. Moments after using this phrase he reads Maria’s letter (mistaking the handwriting as Olivia’s) that requests for him to appear, forever to the delight of audiences, in yellow stockings. The annotator’s entering of yeoman vide warderobbe alongside Baret’s printed entry for yellow matches the mind of an author who has a character utter “yeoman of the wardrobe” while knowing (before anyone else does) that this very character, his creation, will soon be wearing yellow. It would be one thing if Shakespeare used yeoman and wardrobe together on a regular basis under varying circumstances. But he does not. The one time he has a character use these words together, there is absolutely no hiding from the fact that it immediately sets in motion the brightest, most repetitive (9 of 29 usages), and most memorable presence of yellow to appear anywhere in the canon.

The connection to the name Strachy is less immediately apparent, but if we examine scholarship that extends from the late eighteenth century to the present, the relationship between the annotation and the printed text is truly uncanny.

George Steevens was the first editor to argue that the name “Strachy” could in fact be “Starchy.” Just recently, David Frydrychowski follows Steevens’s suggestion and takes it a step further, making a case for Shakespeare referencing Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset, “whose household was linked in the popular mind with a certain fashion of yellow starch” (emphasis added).[i]

Frydrychowski further deconstructs the puzzle, thusly: “Given the hard pronunciation of ‘ch’ that survives in some instances from Middle English, an aspirated schwa or neutral vowel following the ‘ch’ might have formed part of the usual pronunciation; it is possible that the intention is simply to render what a modern reader would parse as ‘Lady of the Starch.’ [Interestingly, if the actor playing Maria gave a similar pronunciation when talking of the gulling of the hapless steward, the (doubtlessly intended) ‘yellow stockings’ would have been aurally indistinguishable from ‘yellow starchings.’]”[ii]

It would, no doubt, represent something different had our annotator added “Starchy” below yeoman vide warderrobe. Such an annotation would imply either a later reader or the writer actively working. But what we have is, we believe, even better. It is the future writer working as a reader.

[i] David E. Frydrychowski, “ ‘Some Old Story’: A Conjecture on Malvolio’s ‘Lady of the Strachy.’ “ Unpublished manuscript, April 22, 2009, abstract,

[ii] Ibid, 6.

Henry Denham and Abraham Fleming

In our study, Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, we raise the possibility that if Shakespeare did come into contact with Henry Denham vis-à-vis employment (as was once previously claimed), he may well have had access to the preparation behind the issuing of Holinshed’s Chronicles in 1587, which, as with the 1580 Alvearie, was printed by Denham. The 1587 edition of Holinshed, the second edition, was the version Shakespeare consulted and drew from throughout his career as a writer, most notably as the primary source for the English Histories over the early portion to middle point of his career, but also as a reference for later works, including the great tragedies, Macbeth and King Lear.

In the time since the release of our study, and the first reporting of our claim in The New Yorker, we have examined more carefully the striking parallels between the Holinshed of 1587 and the Baret of 1580.

The principal participants in revising and ushering forth these two source books (one long famous, the other still largely unheralded) are identical. Both works are second editions printed by Henry Denham, published after the original main compiler has died (Holinshed in 1580, Baret in 1578), and on each occasion, during the process of expanding and polishing the work, Abraham Fleming is hired as the editor. Fleming (1552?-1607) is known today by few people, even academics familiar with the period, in spite of having carved out a busy and distinguished career as a clergyman, writer, translator, editor, and poet. There is a good chance that Fleming was present at, and even conducted a portion of, Christopher Marlowe’s funeral, reasoning that is based on his position as curate in the parish of Deptford during the time when Marlowe was murdered and buried there. That was in May of 1593, and is mentioned more for curiosity’s sake. Fleming’s most important and lasting contribution was the job he performed on the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles, a job that began in 1584 when the project commenced. In addition to serving as the primary editor and proofreader, Fleming contributed with his own extensive enlarging of the third volume and the creation of detailed indexes.

Denham, who we may assume appointed Fleming as the Holinshed revisions got underway, must have been impressed with how Fleming had previously embellished Baret’s Alvearie. Among these contributions were the assembling of over 200 proverbs not printed in the first edition, the inclusion of a proverbial index, and the addition of Greek, transforming it from a triple dictionarie to a quadruple dictionarie. Granted, the fact that the two individuals most responsible for the second edition of Baret’s Alvearie were central in the development and release of Shakespeare’s most famous source book may indeed be nothing more than a coincidence, but it does contribute as a part of the backdrop in making our argument and reconstructing how Shakespeare would have originally acquired a copy and in what context.

Taking the stance that Shakespeare worked for Denham, without hard proof, can give rise to grumbling, especially considering the bold (some might contest, dreamy) assertion we make in our study: that Shakespeare acquired our very copy through this connection and began annotating the volume during his early years in London (possibly under the umbrella of initially helping to create a third and never completed edition), before squirrelling it away amongst his favorite books, where it could still prove useful as an occasional reference tool. Charging this conclusion to be conjectural and self-serving is one thing, let us remove our particular copy of Baret from the equation, and ask a relevant question: How would Shakespeare, the boy from Stratford, been expected to get his hand on a set of Holinshed? Although there is no generally accepted consensus as to when exactly Shakespeare arrives in London and soon after begins a life in the theater, we can be sure that there was no set of Holinshed stuffed in with his belongings upon arrival. Baret’s Alvearie, as anyone who has handled a copy knows, is a big book, roughly 1,000 pages thick and measuring approximately 12” x 8”. Holinshed was considerably bigger still, and issued in two or three volumes depending upon the binding. Given the relatively slender time frame between the publication date (1587) and the composition of the first group of plays (the three Henry VI plays, 1590-1) indebted to this source, Shakespeare must have, at the very least, had access to a copy not long after publication. Gaining employment via the world where books were being prepared for print is hardly outlandish, and would make sense for someone who was hungry for books, and would be so reliant upon them to aid his writing process. An alternative, that Shakespeare had access to the library of a patron, is possible, but such a benefit would more likely have occurred at some point later, after his talents in the theater had emerged (not something that happened overnight) and he had settled into a life of writing and acting. It seems more believable that the reading and acquisition of books, so necessary to his development, already had to some degree begun in earnest prior to the involvement of a patron such as Southampton. The library of a preexisting friend is a possibility, especially if we imagine Richard Field as that friend; certainly an awareness of his being in London, and a connection to Field from their days together in Grammar school, would have facilitated for Shakespeare an opportunity in gaining access to the book/print world.

If, at some early moment in London, Shakespeare did get in with Henry Denham and his associates, the connection would have given him some necessary parts (including Holinshed and Baret) of the toolkit (to borrow from Henry Wessells) that he took along once he entered the theater and began to make a name for himself. The sourcebooks themselves were not liable to be lying around at the entrance to the theater. If we take Holinshed as one example, either Shakespeare managed quick and repeated access to someone’s library to begin absorbing the material, or he could have gotten a jump-start on his reading while working on a copy as it was being prepared. There were later editions of Cooper’s Thesaurus (another book thought to have been used by Shakespeare and printed by Denham) but no later Barets. So perhaps the examples of proofreading in our copy represent the beginning of a 3rd edition that never came about. We suspect Shakespeare was a part of a “proofing” group, and acquired his copies of Baret and Holinshed through the book world, an introduction to which he was likely given by Field.  Thus were registered some of the initial deposits into Shakespeare’s library.

An Evening with George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler

George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, authors of Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, will share the intellectual adventure story of their discovery of and subsequent research into a heavily annotated dictionary that they argue to be William Shakepeare’s own.

June 17, 2014 from 6 to 8pm
Swann Auction Galleries
104 East 25th Street, sixth floor
New York, NY 10010

Space is limited, please RSVP to attend:
(212) 254-4710 ext. 305




Baret’s Alvearie: The Biblical Annotations

In our study, Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, we reference twelve biblical annotations as among the most significant of the spoken annotations for several reasons, none more critical than the fact that they have all been born out of the annotator’s memory and do not appear printed in Baret. In comparing the English Bible translations of the period, we observe that, without exception, whenever a translation differs, our annotator’s biblical citations are closer to the Great Bible translation (1540) and the Bishops’ Bible translation (1568). That neither the Geneva (Shakespeare’s clear Bible of choice in the second half of his career) nor the yet-to-be printed King James Bible (1611) were in the annotator’s head is significant, improving our ability to narrow the time frame to which the annotations date.

As far as Shakespeare is concerned, after the composition of Henry V, the biblical allusions turn sharply to the Geneva Bible,[i] but before 1600 the echoes are notably not from the Geneva translation. According to Jonathan Bate, an allusion to the officially sanctioned Bishops’ Bible over the Geneva “would have come from the memory of listening in church.”[ii]

In Shakespeare’s Religious Background, Peter Milward writes, “when he uses the phraseology of the Psalms, it has been noted that Shakespeare follows the Great Bible, as used for the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer.”[iii]

Our annotator has not copied his biblical citations out of a printed book, as there are frequent minor differences in spelling or wording. It reinforces the very critical point we argue and emphasize when discussing them at various times in our study: these annotations installed in the margins are memories specific of hearing the Great Bible and Bishops’ Bible being read in church. This is essential information when considering the proposed dating of the annotations. In lieu of the inexact science that is paleography, a calculation for the annotations being from a time after the First Folio is highly questionable on the basis of the biblical annotations alone.

We very recently discovered a thirteenth biblical annotation, this one referencing the 32nd Psalm, and it too fit the pattern of echoing the Great Bible and Bishops’ Bible over the Geneva and King James translations. Unlike most of the others, it does not receive a citation of chapter and verse. Let us look at the annotation in our Baret, and the phrase as it appears in the four translations.

D1321. adds “drought in sommer”
Great Bible: “Drouth in Sommer”
Bishops’ Bible: “Drouth in Sommer”
Geneva Bible: “Drought of Summer”
King James Bible: “Drought of Summer”

The use of “in” (Great Bible, Bishops’ Bible), as opposed to “of” (Geneva Bible, King James Bible), may on the surface seem small, but only if one is inclined to dismiss the importance of the biblical translations can it ultimately be argued as such. While we missed including it among the biblical annotations recorded in our study, we did make note of the line receiving a twist in the very early work, Titus Andronicus, not realizing at the time of our recording the echo of Psalm 32.

Titus Andronicus. Titus(3.1.16–22; Q1594, E3–E3b)

O earth I will befriend thee more with raine,
That shall distill from these two auntient ruines,
Then youthfull Aprill shall with all his showres
In summers drought, Ile drop vpon thee still,
In winter with warme teares Ile melt the snow,
And keepe eternall spring time on thy face,
So thou refuse to drinke my deare sonnes blood.

A number of the other twelve biblical annotations from the margins of our Baret are discussed in our study. One in particular that we expected would raise more eyebrows than it has, at least to this juncture, is the one from Psalm 46 that is added in the left margin at K87: “he knappeth the speare in sunder”.

We decided that it would be disingenuous not to mention it specifically, because of the whimsical but widespread speculation surrounding a particular set of coincidences that are found in the translation of that psalm as printed in the King James Bible published in 1611. These involve the number “46” as well as this particular passage that our annotator has added in the left margin at K87.

A word that is being remembered and recorded by the annotator (in this case, “knappeth”) is again most critical, as it eliminates both the Geneva and the King James Bible being in the ear at the time of annotation, because both of these translations use cutteth in place of knappeth that is recorded in both the Great Bible and the Bishops’ Bible.

Great Bible (1540) “He breaketh the bowe & knappeth the speare in sonder”

Bishops’ Bible (1568) “He breaketh the bowe, & knappeth the speare in sunder”

Geneva Bible (1587) “He breaketh the bowe and cutteth the speare”

King James (1611) “He breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear asunder”

We expected this would spark attention to a possibility that has been suggested for many years – namely, that in 1610, as the King James Bible translation was nearing completion, many of the celebrated poets of the period may have been consulted informally by the committee of translators for help with the more poetic passages of the Hebrew Bible such as the Psalms and the Song of Solomon.

Because of the set of coincidences in the 46th Psalm, attention especially falls on Shakespeare. If he had been among the poets chosen, and given the 46th Psalm, could he have taken the opportunity to adjust the exact placement of shake (as the 46th word from the beginning) and spear (as the 46th word from the end) as a hidden “signature,” made even more intriguing because he would have been 46 years old at the time? This theme of poets used as KJB translators was even taken up by Rudyard Kipling in his last published story, “Proofs of Holy Writ,”[iv] which portrays Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare happily imbibing in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford one afternoon and becoming more and more inebriated as they work together to improve the translation of Isaiah 60 that had just been brought down to them by a messenger on horseback from Oxford.

If our annotator did participate in the KJB translation of the 46th Psalm, he obviously then was already familiar with the Bishops’ Bible version and would seem to have chosen to retain the word cutteth from the Geneva Bible in place of the Bishops’ Bible’s knappeth.

As evidence that the 46th Psalm is still a debatable topic, the TLS recently printed a lively exchange on the matter across three issues from December 2011, to January 2012. Their reviewer, who initiated the discussion, concluded, after an exchange of letters, by saying, “No one, certainly not I, would seriously argue for anything except coincidence in all this. Nevertheless, as a matter of logic, it surely has to be either ‘improbable chance’ or ‘improbable design.’”[v] We are in accord and certainly feel, given the recent illuminating scholarship regarding the known translators of the KJB,[vi] that, at most, with the discovery of our annotated Baret, we may have moved the matter to a chance of slightly less improbable design. That said, it would be difficult to argue the improbability of finding that piece of that psalm in almost any annotated book of the period, let along finding it this annotated copy of Baret’s Alvearie, printed in London in 1580, along with all the other compelling evidence that it holds.


[i] John W. Velz, “Shakespeare and the Geneva Bible: The Circumstances.” In Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson: New Directions in Biography, ed. Takashi Kozuka and J. R. Mulryne (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006).

[ii] Bate, Soul of the Age, 138.

[iii] Peter Milward, Shakespeare’s Religious Background (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1973), 86.

[iv] The Strand magazine, April 1934. “Proofs of Holy Writ” was completed too late to be included in Kipling’s last collection, Limits and Renewals, published in April 1932. It later appeared in The Sussex Edition of the Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling (35 vols.) (London: Macmillan, 1937–39).

[v] Stephen Prickett, “Psalm 46,” TLS, January 13, 2012. The series of comments began in the TLS issues of December 23 and 30, 2011, in Prickett’s review of Harold Bloom’s 2011 publication The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible.

[vi] David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). This is an example of the scholarship that is currently being devoted to the making of the KJB. The unlikeliness of the notion that the KJB translators who were selected from the leading members of the Anglican and Puritan clergy would have been receptive to including the work of poets who wrote for the theater can be seen in the list of publications of John Rainolds who, in 1599, published Th’ overthrow of Stage-Playes, . . . wherein all the reasons that can be made for them are notably refuted . . . as that the iudgement of any man, that is not froward and perverse, may easelie be satisfied. Wherein is manifestly proved, that it is not onely vnlawfull to bee an actor, but a beholder of those vanities. John Rainolds or Reynolds (1549–1607), president of Corpus Christi College, was the leader of the Puritan delegation to the Hampton Court conference (1604) that set the procedures in place for the new translation. Another aspect of recent scholarship is the inspection of the extant and identifiable books from the translators’ libraries. Much can be revealed, of course, by marginal addenda, but also, in at least one case, by the overall contents of the library itself. Greek scholar William Branthwaite left an enormous library of 1,405 books that is almost intact at Gonville and Caius College; in it one finds, surprisingly, an almost complete lack of English literature. Although not mentioned by Norton, this would seem to open the door, if only slightly, to the possibility that informal contact with leading poets might have been advisable as the translation was drawing to an end.

Why the Interest in the Yew Tree?

One of the words that captured the greatest amount of attention, and possibly even the imagination, of the annotator of the Baret is the “Yew” tree.   In our study, we interpreted three of the annotations that are penned beside the variant spellings as “IHS” monograms, entered to imply the association with Christ and the wood used for the cross.




In the first posted reply to the Folger’s Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe’s piece, “Buzz or honey? Shakespeare’s Beehive raises questions,” Erin Blake correctly notes that the French word “If” means “Yew” tree. In the first of the three images shown, one can see that the French “If” is printed in Baret under the “Yew” spelling (but not under the “Ugh” and “Ewe” spellings). This was an oversight on our part and we are grateful to Erin for having pointing it out.

The second and third annotations have been revised to now read “If”. The second annotation is the clearest representation of the “If” intended as the French equivalent word, as it is followed by the Latin and Middle English “arbor” (arbour) for “tree”, and also mimics the typography of the entry (“1f”) as printed under “Yew” (see first image). These second and third annotations follow the pattern of the annotator occasionally adding the French at either a “Vide” word synonym, or an alternate spelling of the same word, when it is printed in one location but not at another.

In the first annotation, however, the annotator does not seem satisfied with leaving the “If” to complete the thought, and, in fact, it would be redundant to place such an annotation there at all, as the word is already printed in the Baret as part of the definition, and therefore it would not bear duplicating the entry within the column. In this most carefully executed annotation, there looks to be a concerted effort to create an IHS monogram, or even to transform the “If” into an “IHS”. Regardless of whether one is convinced by this argument, both the care and the dots added to each side of the annotation (a common practice by early modern annotators, but not in any way used systematically by our annotator), reflect considerable playfulness, as does the fact that each of the three entries not only receives attention, but is treated with variable approaches.

Why should the annotator be so concerned with the yew tree? Of course, there could be many reasons, but the attention is clearly indicative of serious interest, whether or not the extra care given to the one annotation in particular further supports the possibility that it was intended as a religious marker with personal meaning. If the intention was to create an IHS monogram, the cross above the letters that is usually found in the Jesuit usage of the monogram is absent, but perhaps can be represented by the yew tree itself.

Shakespeare uses “yew” six times in the works, including the famous brew of the weird sisters at the start of Macbeth:

“Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse…”

A yew tree was said to have grown in his yard in Stratford. No doubt Shakespeare was familiar with both its medicinal properties and the association with Christ and the wood used for the cross. “Hebana” or “henbane” was an alternate word for yew, and this word in the Baret has been marked by our annotator with a slash at H391: / Henbane herbe.

In a detailed book that explores botanical usages in the works, The Plant Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare (1896), Henry Ellacombe relates this alternate word for yew with the depiction of poisoning from the plant that Hamlet hears from his father’s ghost (“..with juice of cursed hebona…”). Ellacombe writes:

“It may well be asked, how could Shakespeare have known of all these effects, which (as far as our present search has discovered) are not named by any one writer of his time, and some of which have only been made public from the results of Yew-poisoning since his day? I think the question can be answered in a very simple way. The effects are described with such marked minuteness that it seems to me not only very probable, but almost certain, that Shakespeare must have been an eye-witness of a case of Yew-poisoning, and that what he saw had been so photographed on his mind that he took the first opportunity that presented itself to reproduce the picture. With his usual grand contempt for perfect accuracy he did not hesitate to sweep aside at once the strict historical records of the old king’s death, and in its place to paint for us a cold-blooded murder carried out by means which he knew from his personal experience to be possible, and which he felt himself able to describe with a minuteness which his knowledge of his audiences assured him would not be out of place even in that great tragedy.”[i]

Whether or not Shakespeare ever witnessed for himself the results of yew poisoning as Ellacombe intuits, the most serious potential interest here, as far as Shakespeare’s life is concerned, falls into the Catholicity debate, sometimes characterized as Lancastrian Shakespeare.[ii] To make matters potentially more complicated still, beyond whether the annotation beneath the “Yew” tree entry at Y31 is to be seen as an IHS monogram or a reworking of “If” into an IHS monogram, the annotator draws a slash line at S191 above the printed word Shake and enters “shaft,”producing the intriguing composition Shakeshaft.


The speculation behind the theory of Shakespeare as schoolmaster in Lancashire under the name “Shakeshafte” is part of the scholarship related to Catholicity, and Shakespeare’s possible recusant sympathies. Commentators have suggested that if indeed William Shakeshafte was William Shakespeare, the use of the name Shakeshafte was itself a sign of his wariness and the distance he preferred to keep from the Cottam and Campion circles. We do not find other annotation evidence in our Baret that would hint at any further connections, but feel there has been enough intrigue raised by scholars to warrant those annotations discussed here as being deserving of attention.

[i] Henry N. Ellacombe, The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare (London: Edward Moxon, 1896), 125.

[ii] The most comprehensive survey of the Lancastrian Shakespeare discoveries can be found in Richard Wilson’s Secret Shakespeare: Studies in Theatre, Religion, and Resistance (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2004).

Please also see:      

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.