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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0300  Tuesday, 15 February 2005

[1]     From:   Louis W. Thompson <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Feb 2005 16:15:26 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

[2]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Feb 2005 22:41:46 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

[3]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 Feb 2005 09:28:16 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis W. Thompson <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Feb 2005 16:15:26 EST
Subject: 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

The question was: "Was Shakespeare's wife literate?"

Literate means able to read AND write (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, CD edition)..so if she could read and not write she wouldn't
be "literate."

I wrote "....the assumption is..." because no one really knows Anne's
exact state of literacy.  There is no evidence she could write, and
there are indications she couldn't. The same with Shakespeare's father.

Louis W. Thompson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Feb 2005 22:41:46 -0000
Subject: 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

Norman Hinton writes ...

 >The number of people who could read was much larger
 >in the Middle Ages than was previously thought ...

Indeed.  Margery Kempe in early fifteenth century Norfolk said "her
mateyns" in church, "her boke in hir hand".  Margery was the daughter of
the mayor of Kings Lynn, i.e. precisely the same social position as the
Shakespeares. Eamon Duffy's 'The Stripping of the Altars' tells us that
a fifteenth century London grocer left a "primer with gilt clasps
whereupon I am wont to say my service" in his will, while the servant to
a wax chandler left his godchild "a primer for to serve God with".
According to Prof Duffy there were 57,000 Latin primers in circulation
in England at the dawn of the Reformation.

Peter Bridgman

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Feb 2005 09:28:16 +0000
Subject: 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0288 Was Shakespeare's Wife Literate?

We don't have any conclusive evidence, but Dr Laura Wright (Cambridge
University) and I published a short paper in Notes and Queries which is
related to this topic:

'Female education in Shakespeare's Stratford and Stratfordian contacts
in Shakespeare's London', N&Q, June 1996, 241/2, p. 149

The paper draws on a fascinating case in the court books of Bridewell,
centring on a woman from Stratford who had been living a somewhat
questionable life in London.  Her identity is confirmed by another
Stratfordian woman, also then living in London, who states that they had
been at school together.  One of the women (the one of good character)
signs with a mark; the other (probably a prostitute, but with friends in
very high places) leaves a signature in a fashionable Italic hand.  It
seems likely that the women would have been contemporaries of
Shakespeare's sister and/or daughters.

Jonathan Hope
Strathclyde University, Glasgow

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