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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: April ::
Shakespeare and Letters

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0182  Friday, 23 April 2010

[1]  From:      Bob Grumman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 16, 2010 5:39:04 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

[2]  From:      Bill Lloyd < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 16, 2010 4:46:34 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

[3]  From:      Mike Shapiro < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 16, 2010 5:26:07 PM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

[4]  From:      Eric Johnson-DeBaufre < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 16, 2010 5:26:12 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

[5]  From:      Bill Blanton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 16, 2010 6:06:13 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

[6]  From:      Eric Johnson-DeBaufre < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 16, 2010 7:49:12 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

[7]  From:      John Briggs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 18, 2010 12:37:17 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

[8]  From:      Ros Barber < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 17, 2010 1:28:38 AM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

[9]  From:      Jeanie Brink < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      April 17, 2010 6:39:51 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Bob Grumman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 16, 2010 5:39:04 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

**Similarly, does any one have any particular views about how or why Shakespeare used so many letters in his plays? In particular in his comedies?

A quick answer I'm to blah to amplify is that he used them for narrative purposes almost entirely--to make his plots go. As most prominently in Twelfth Night. Related topic might be interesting to get into, too: his use of poems by his characters.

--Bob G.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Bill Lloyd < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 16, 2010 4:46:34 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

Jennifer Ludgate, who asks various questions concerning letters in Shakespeare's plays, should check out Alan Stewart's recent book from Oxford University Press, *Shakespeare's Letter's*.

Bill Lloyd

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Mike Shapiro < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 16, 2010 5:26:07 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

I came across this blurb at a site named, "History Today" regarding early postal service during the 1500's and 1600's. It's probably nothing new for you but I thought there might be some other members who would find it interesting.

... the postal service was not originally designed for public use. It emerged haphazardly in the 16th century to provide horses and messengers in times of war for Henry VIII. A major aim was to establish a government monopoly over the gathering and censoring of information and mail. As well as controlling the flow of intelligence, it would oversee the delivery of diplomatic correspondence, support foreign and domestic policy and help to raise revenue. The king's first Master of the Posts, Sir Brian Tuke (d.1545), selected local postmasters and divided the six major roads from London into stages. 

Increased literacy, trade and an interest in news soon led merchants and the public to demand access to the post. But it wasn't until 1635 that a London merchant Thomas Witherings (d.1651) offered a proposal to organize the first postal system for public use. A Royal Proclamation for the 'settling of the Letter-Office of England and Scotland' gave Witherings the authority to establish fixed, regular posts. Each post town had its own mail bag to and from London, while foot posts carried letters further on. The central London office at Bishopsgate co-ordinated mail on the six main roads, charging 2d a letter for up to 80 miles.

Mike Shapiro

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Eric Johnson-DeBaufre < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 16, 2010 5:26:12 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

There is quite a lot that has been done on letterwriting in early modern England, so much, in fact, that my suggestions will only scratch the surface. 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, several letterwriting and handwriting manuals were published that prescribed conventions for how one should subscribe a letter, how one should superscribe it, etc. Here are a few of them:

Bales, Peter. The writing schoolemaster. London, 1590. 

Beau-Chesne, Jehan de and John Baildon. A booke containing divers sortes of hands, as well the English as French secretarie with the Italian, Roman, Chancery & court hands. London, 1602. 

Billingsley, Martin. The pens excellencie or the secretaries delight. London, 1618. 

Davies, John. The writing schoolemaster, or the anatomie of faire writing. London, 1636. 

Be advised, however, that we cannot assume that all early modern English letter writers followed these prescriptions exactly. There are several excellent articles that deal with the material meaning of letters which I will send in a subsequent email. As for how letters were sent (NB--everything that follows pertains to London residents only): Unless one was a member of government (like Lord Burghley) using the system of post-stages for conveying letters (Burghley kept many records of the post-stages--their distances from one another, the amount he paid monthly to maintain them, etc., which I can point you to if you like), one used the informal network of carriers that made regular trips from various outlying areas to the city of London. Alan Stewart has written quite a bit about this, and you can mine his bibliography for other sources of info on the carrier system. 

More later.

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Bill Blanton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 16, 2010 6:06:13 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

Jennifer Ludgate asked:

>Similarly, does any one have any particular views about
>how or why Shakespeare used so many letters in his plays?
>In particular in his comedies?<

I can address only one play, The Merchant of Venice. It contains one letter, and mentions one other.

The letter that it contains is from Bellario to the Duke of Venice. I have a rather unorthodox view of that letter, and why Shakespeare included it in the play. You may access that view, and download it as a pdf if you wish, at this site: http://public.me.com/wnblanton1. It appears as Supplement 9, Bellario and Balthasar. This discussion addresses the question you raised regarding why Shakespeare used at least this one letter.

Shakespeare also mentions another letter, but does not quote it in the play. I have remedied that oversight by concocting my own version of this letter, the one from Portia to Bellario. It appears as Supplement 11, Portia's Letter, also available at the above site. This discussion may have nothing whatsoever to do with your inquiry, or it may at least suggest something useful.

Bill Blanton

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Eric Johnson-DeBaufre < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 16, 2010 7:49:12 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

Here are a few more references on letters/letterwriting:

Steen, Sarah Jayne. "Reading Beyond the Words: Material Letters and the Process of Interpretation." Quidditas 22 (2001): 55-69.

Gibson, Jonathan. "Significant Space in Manuscript Letters." The Seventeenth Century 12.1 (1997): 1-9

Stewart, Alan and Heather Wolfe. Letterwriting in Renaissance England. University of Washington Press, 2005.

And here is some very brief information about letterwriting to keep in mind as you think about the issue of the ways letters might signify on the early modern stage.

Remember that letterwriting and receipt of letters in this period does not automatically presuppose privacy, as it tends to do today (that is, when people can be bothered to send letters). A letter writer (particularly if the person was wealthy and busy) might employ a scribe to write the letter, dictating it to him, and only add his or her signature at the end. Receipt of an autograph/holograph letter (i.e. a letter entirely in the hand of the author) might, in certain circumstances, be a very valued item. While under house arrest, Arbella Stuart begged Elizabeth for a letter or even a few lines in the Queen's own hand (Steen 59). Given the employment of scribes in the period, one cannot therefore assume that the contents of a letter were known only to author and addressee. Similarly, letters were frequently read aloud or circulated among others in a household. Thus the contents might be known by more people than the just the recipient. Remember too that reading and writing were usually taught separately: thus someone might be able to read a letter but not write one.

The physical form of a letter might make a significant statement on its own. For example, a letter writer who uses a whole sheet of paper for a letter of only a few lines in length makes a clear statement that he/she values and/or is trying to impress the recipient. Paper was expensive. To use a whole sheet for just a few lines was conspicuously wasteful, and thus testified to the writer's desire to impress.

The style in which a letter was written also signified. A writer would usually use his/her best Italic hand when writing to a superior or an esteemed friend, and reserve Secretary for more mundane affairs (of course there are exceptions to this). When John Donne found himself in trouble with his father-in-law George More over his marriage to Anne, Donne wrote a series of letters in his finest Italic hand, and placed his signature very low on the page, performing a graphic form of subjection in order to signify his desire to placate More. With intimates, one might use a more informal Italic, sometimes one that was only legible to a few people.

Finally, let's take an example from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," Maria's counterfeit letter from Olivia to Malvolio. Recall that at the end of the play Olivia attests to the similarity between her hand and Maria's. How did this occur? Does Maria's ability to counterfeit Olivia's hand cast a shadow on Maria as a character? Not necessarily. In a household like Olivia's, servants might learn their letters by using a master's or mistress's correspondence as examplars. Thus a servant might naturally come to form characters that were similar to those of an employer simply because the employer's hand was the only available exemplar.

There is a lot more one could say about this subject (or even this particular play), but I'll end here. Good luck in your research.

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre 

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John Briggs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 18, 2010 12:37:17 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175  Shakespeare and Letters

Jennifer Ludgate wrote:

Similarly, does any one have any particular views about how or why Shakespeare used so many letters in his plays? In particular in his comedies?

I would refer you to the writings of Tiffany Stern, particularly her recent book "Documents of Performance in Early Modern England".

In short, anything written on a letter could just be read by the actor and did not have to be (was not) learnt.

John Briggs

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Ros Barber < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 17, 2010 1:28:38 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

You might try Letterwriting in Renaissance England, Alan Stewart and Heather Wolfe, Folger 2004

Ros Barber

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Jeanie Brink < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         April 17, 2010 6:39:51 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0175 Shakespeare and Letters

Frederick Kiefer has written a number of articles and a book on letters in Shakespeare. Also, Arthur Kinney is currently working on a project involving letters in Shakespeare.

Hope that this is helpful.

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