“The Trailing Blank”
Introduction and Chapter from Shakespeare's Beehive
Attempts to support, or reject, the conclusion of Shakespeare as annotator may fall most heavily on the evidence left behind on a single page at the back of the book: the annotated trailing blank. The blend of English and French words that are added to this page are so diverse an assortment (a visually random selection by any measure), that to discover such dazzling results in the plays wherein Falstaff appears, seems anything but a coincidence. In the most probable chronology of Shakespeare’s works, these plays – The Merry Wives of Windsor and the two parts of Henry IV – fall just prior to Henry V, where Shakespeare uses more French than anywhere else.
Most importantly, the annotations found throughout the whole of the printed book support the evidence on the trailing blank and vice versa. The wide variety in letter formation and the combination of handwriting styles that the annotator uses from beginning to end matches what is seen on this single leaf. Furthermore, the words added to the trailing blank are, almost without exception, treated with additional annotations at the point, or points, where they appear in the printed book.
The strange selection of words that the annotator commits to the trailing blank is compelling on several fronts, beginning with the fact that several of the words have multiple meanings. The argument may be extended that the annotator was unaware of all of these meanings, but it seems more likely (given the repetition of such occurrences on the page) that he was firmly aware of the various puns and double entendres that are embedded in his most improbable word salad.
As is expressed in the chapter on the trailing blank, our analysis is by no means a complete rendering of the words that appear on this page with what is found in Shakespeare. There is little doubt that new possibilities will also be suggested outside of what is touched upon in the chapter, much in the way that our own, last minute reassessment and deciphering of a French word, bouquin, led to the following:
The word bouquin is added near the top of the leaf, alongside the English word, book. There is a correlation in Middle French between bouquin and book (which is straightforward enough, hence the pairing), but there are additional Middle French etymological associations for bouquin as well, beginning with it being representative of the mouth of a hunting horn. It seems very probable that the annotator observed that the watermark on the page contains a hunting horn. Further English equivalents from Middle French include a buck (another of the words added to the page by the annotator), a buck-hare, and (defined as such in Baret) the rammish, lecherous stink of an old “he-goat”.
By itself, the evidence in this single pairing (book/bouquin) would amount to very little, but with the remaining results from the page, from top to bottom, producing similarly uncanny verbal parallels in the plays containing the character Falstaff, cries of coincidence may prove to be unacceptable, especially in light of similarly persuasive evidence (for Shakespeare as annotator) that is located in annotations that run throughout the printed book.
We encourage honest efforts to extend the trailing blank word play game, using the selections that the annotator commits to that page, to authors apart from Shakespeare, whether of his time, or of any other time. This should allow for an ongoing test to our conclusion that nowhere else will such striking parallels be found and echoes be heard.