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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0288  Monday, 14 February 2005

[1]     From:   Jeffrey Myers <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Feb 2005 08:55:00 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

[2]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Feb 2005 09:05:56 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

[3]     From:   Norman Hinton <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Feb 2005 11:14:46 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

[4]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Feb 2005 22:58:14 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

[5]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Feb 2005 15:09:02 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeffrey Myers <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Feb 2005 08:55:00 -0500
Subject: 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

 >Shakespeare's wife signed her name with an "X" so the
 >assumption is that she was not able to read.
 >
 >Louis W. Thompson

So, Shakespeare's father would also have been illiterate under that
criterion?

Jeff Myers

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Feb 2005 09:05:56 EST
Subject: 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

Dear Friends,

If one carefully tracks the careers of women who can read in
Shakespeare's plays I think that one must come to the conclusion that
the bard regarded female literacy as a socially destabilizing force. It
was certainly recognized by his male-centered society that literacy
empowered women while illiteracy was a form of bondage and tended to
reinforce women's subservience.

Shakespeare had no hand in Anne Hathaway's early education. A more
relevant question is whether Shakespeare's daughter Susannah could read.
I'd be glad to learn of opinions on this.

Hope this helps.

Steve Sohmer

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norman Hinton <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Feb 2005 11:14:46 -0600
Subject: 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

 >Shakespeare's wife signed her name with an "X" so the assumption is that
 >she was not able to read

This is an unwarranted assumption. As has been pointed out by a number
of medieval scholars, the techniques of reading and of writing are quite
different from each other, and for centuries, ability to read did not
imply ability to write.  (See, for instance, M. Clanchy, _From Memory to
Written Record_).  The number of people who could read was much larger
in the Middle Ages than was previously thought -- the ability to write
was not. (After all, one could hire a scribe.)

So we can't assume anything about Shakespeare's wife's ability to read.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Feb 2005 22:58:14 -0000
Subject: 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

Louis W. Thompson wrote:

 >Shakespeare's wife signed her name with an "X" so the assumption is
 >that she was not able to read.

That is NOT a safe assumption.  Certainly, it has been noted that more
women than men signed with a mark, and it has been suggested that girls
were usually taught to read but not to write.  Alternatively, it has
also been noted that people who are known to have been able to read and
write perfectly well sometimes signed with a mark.  It may well be that
the preparers of legal documents were reluctant to allow people unused
to signing their name to make a mess of it!

John Briggs

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Feb 2005 15:09:02 -0600
Subject: 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0273 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

I remember reading somewhere -- perhaps on this list -- that it was not
uncommon even for literate people to sign their name with an X.

Is this true?

don

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