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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
John Shakespeare's Testament and Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0275  Sunday, 31 May 2009

From:       Steve Roth <
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Date:       Wednesday, 27 May 2009 09:52:05 -0700
Subject:    John Shakespeare's Testament and Hamlet

Hi All:

Raising up this old chestnut again, but I hope only briefly.

I recently noticed the close verbal parallels between Article I of "John 
Shakespeare's Spiritual Last Will and Testament" and the ghost's words 
in Hamlet

"I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to 
render an account of all my transgressions externally and internally, 
and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, 
penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever . . ."

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!

I find that Eric Sams noticed on this (and commented on it somewhat 
gushingly) -- as have others, I'm sure. I also found through LION and 
Google that "blossom" and "sins" is a singular conjunction -- I don't 
find any pre-Hamlet parallels.

At first I found here support for one my fond notions regarding a 
correlation between the dates of King Hamlet's death and John 
Shakespeare's, which itself touches on the composition/revision date(s) 
of Hamlet.

But on reconsidering, these verbal parallels seem to me to give much 
stronger support to the idea that John Jordan fabricated the first 
articles of the testament -- that he knew his Hamlet, and showed it 
there. (Those opening articles do not appear in the various-language 
exempla of such testaments that are extant, and there is the issue of 
the missing first leaf or two of John Shakespeare's testament, a 
transcript of which later inexplicably appeared.)

This does not necessarily impugn the authenticity of the testament as a 
whole -- especially the latter parts which do parallel contemporaneous 
exempla -- just the opening articles.

I haven't seen this Hamlet issue raised in any writings regarding the 
authenticity of the testament, and would be interested in hearing if 
others come to the same conclusion I do.

While I'm here, I've been meaning for years to reply to one statement in 
Peter Bridgman's 2004 shaksper reply

http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2004/0818.html

to Robert Bearman's 2003 Shakespeare Survey article on the testament:

http://cco.cambridge.org/extract?id=ccol0521827272_CCOL0521827272A015

While disagreeing strongly with most of Bearman's points, Bridgman 
credits Bearman's assertion that  Robert Pearson's desire for "three or 
four thousand or more of the testaments" refers to Douay-Rheims New 
Testaments in English, not to Borromeo-style testaments:

"This is the strongest point Bearman makes in his essay, and I think he 
is probably correct."

At the time I found the assertion implausible, and still do. Were 
infiltrating Catholic priests truly hoping to smuggle thousands of 
copies of an 800-page tome into England undetected, and then somehow 
cart them around the countryside for distribution? It seems unlikely to me.

I see that Joseph Pearce makes the same argument in his 2008 book The 
Quest for Shakespeare (which -- despite its obvious 
pro-Shakespeare-as-Catholic axe-grinding -- I find on having read forty 
or fifty pages to be a well-researched, sourced, and cited, largely 
well-reasoned, and generally quite useful book).

http://books.google.com/books?id=ixXha4FNlJgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0#PPA30,M1

See page 30 for the chapter on the testament.

(I also find convincing Pearce's argument that John Shakespeare stopped 
attending borough council meetings in January 1577 as a result of 
Elizabeth's 1576 Grand Commission, which over the last half of that year 
took to energetically enforcing requirements for those in public office 
to take the Oath of Ascendancy.)

I'd be interested in hearing the thoughts of other list members on these 
issues.

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

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