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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare's Handwriting
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0245  Tuesday, 11 February 2003

From:           Tom Reedy <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Feb 2003 10:51:9 -0600
Subject: 14.0159 Shakespeare's Handwriting
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0159 Shakespeare's Handwriting

Russell MacKenzie Fehr <
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 >writes,

>There's a combination of reasons why scholars suggest that Shakespeare
>was Hand D in "Sir Thomas More". First, the handwriting resembles that
>of all of Shakespeare's known writings (albeit that's only 14 words, 12
>of which are the same two words over and over). Another reason is that
>some of the weird spellings used ("argo" for ergo, "Iarman" for German,
>"a leven" for eleven) are used by Shakespeare (and, such as with
>"scilens" for silence, only by Shakespeare). Finally, in content, some
>of the form used appears in other Shakespearian work (the opening lines,
>for example, resemble the Jack Cade scenes in 2 Henry VI).

Another reason (and to my mind one of the strongest) is the presence of
what Stephen Booth calls "ideational static" in the  language of the
fragment similar to Shakespeare's.

In his article, "Shakespeare's Language and the Language of
Shakespeare's Time," in *Shakespeare Survey* 50, Booth says that a good
part of the excitement of the language of Shakespeare is due to the
rhymes, near-puns, and echoes he imbeds in his language, elements which
are often not even relevant to the content of the speech in which they
appear.  They are almost subliminal, or in any case not meant to be
registered in the consciousness of the auditor.  He says that the
subconscious of the auditor picks them up and gives otherwise
nonsensical sentences meaning.

"Shakespeare's language is exciting to the minds that hear it . . .
because what is being said in a Shakespearean sentence often comes to us
in a soup of possibilities, possibilities engendered by substantively
negligible, substantively irrelevant relationships among elements in a
syntax to which those relationships do not pertain and by which those
relationships are filtered from consciousness" (3).

In other words, with a Shakespearean sentence, you get more than the
meaning, you get elements which suggest other interpretations, even
though they don't register in the conscious mind.  In this way
Shakespeare toys with the language and imbues it with excitement beyond
the content.  Just one example used by Booth should suffice.

"Just before the Battle of Agincourt, King Henry prays:

O God of battles, steel my soldiers' hearts.
Possess them not with fear.  Take from them now
The sense of reck'ning, ere the opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them.  Not today, O Lord,
O not today, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown. (4.1.286-91)

Context makes it impossible for audiences to hear reference to theft in
the sound of 'steal' in 'steel my soldiers' hearts.'  In asking God to
'take from' his soldiers, however, the next line asks him to do
something ideationally akin to stealing. And, two lines further on, a
non-imperative, non-parallel construction presents a precise echo of the
contextually impossible sense that 'steel my soldiers' hearts' does not
convey at the beginning of the speech: 'Pluck their hearts from them.'
Note, moreover, that that unspectacular verbal event occurs in company
with even less spectacular give and take between the negated 'give' of
'Possess them not' and the effectively positive 'take' of 'Take from
them now/The sense of reck'ning.'  When the prayer continues, its topic
shifts and also does not: 'Not today, O Lord,/O not today, think not
upon the fault/My father made in compassing the crown' (289-91).  The
new topic, Lancastrian guilt, maintains and makes overt the shadow topic
of the first lines, theft: Henry Bolinbroke's fault was stealing the
crown" (14-15).

Booth says that these elements are NOT "elements that once were or
should henceforth be active elements in one's conscious experience of
the passages in which they innocently lurk" (11).  Indeed, he makes no
claim that Shakespeare put them in consciously.  He does say that they
give Shakespeare's lines added depth and texture which resonate in the
subconscious, even though they may contribute no additional meaning to
the passage.

He also gives examples of echoes and rhymes, devoting four pages to an
explication of Antonio speech in MoV 4.1.69-82.   He points out the
wordplay on hard/harder/heart, to give just one point he covers.  That
same texture and density, as hard as it is to define, is present in the
*More* fragment.

Two examples are the lines "Authority quite silent by your brawl," and
"How order should be quelled" from More's speech in the Mayday scene.
Even taken out of context, the type of wordplay Booth says is a hallmark
of Shakespeare's language is obvious.

Notice the word "quite" used to both rhyme with the following two words,
"silent by" and as a pun to play off "silent." "By your brawl" is a
rhythmic phrase of "b" and "r" sounds. Also note the "ideational"
contrast of the word "silent" with "brawl." There's also a trio of
near-rhymes, "Authority," "your" and "brawl."

In the second example, notice how the word "quelled" is used almost
exactly opposite of its usual use. Disorder, not order, is usually
quelled, but the reader and auditor don't notice how the meaning of the
word is stretched out of its usual sense.

What other playwright does this? This type of literary technique is not
taught at university or picked up through reading; this is congenital,
the hallmark of inborn literary genius.

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