The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0753 Thursday, 25 March 2004
Date: Monday, 22 Mar 2004 15:34:14 -0500
Subject: Bearman on Will
According to David Kastan in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 6,
2004), "The Catholic testament that was discovered in 1759 in the
rafters of the Henley Street house where Shakespeare was born has
recently been identified as a forgery" (p. B13). Kastan is probably
referring to Robert Bearman's "John Shakespeare's 'Spiritual Testament':
A Reappraisal," Shakespeare Survey 56 (2003): 184-202. But to accept
Bearman's argument as canonical, as Kastan does, is premature.
In an article under consideration, I propose the following points.
1) Jordan's forgery of the first leaf of the will need not be mentioned
in connection with the five leaves of the will as published by Edmond
Malone in 1790.
2) Malone's knowledge of the will was independent of Jordan's
intervention, and the will's discovery was attested by several reputable
residents of Stratford.
3) The theory that Jordan early conspired with the bricklayer to plant a
doctored will in the Henley Street is extremely unlikely for a number of
3) The discovery of a template for the will, in the Borromeo formulary,
was an astonishing confirmation of the historical authenticity of the
4) The assumption that Jordan concocted the first leaf of the will
cannot be taken for granted, despite his unsatisfactory explanation on
how he obtained possession.
5) The labeling of the entire will as "Jordan's forgery," a mistake
traditionally made by mainstream scholars, is based on an historical
myth which needs to be deconstructed.
6) Malone's late and unexplained doubts about the will can be given
various explanations and were, arguably, answered by the discovery of
the Borromeo template and other later research.
7) William Allen's reference to "testamentis" to be carried into England
refers, as is more likely, to copies of the Borromeo template, as shown
by examination of other uses of "testamento" and "testamenta" in the
Allen correspondence. (But this is a close call)
8) The conditions of persecution and concealment in the 16th and 17th
century explain the gaps in the 'geological record' of such testaments,
and also explain the behavior of John Shakespeare in hiding the will.
9) The phrasing in the will, "when I least thought of it," supposed to
reflect a later idiom, can in fact be cited in examples nearly
contemporary to John Shakespeare.
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