The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.205 Wednesday, 23 April 2014
Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Subject: John Baret’s Alvearie or A Quadruple Dictionarie
The release this week of George Koppelman’s and Daniel Wechsler’s Shakespeare’s Beehive, their web site <http://shakespearesbeehive.com>, and the New Yorker story about their findings have made big splashes in newspapers and blogs around the world. William Sutton asked me about it on the SHAKSPER FB page.
As my birthday gift, I am providing some excepts of the controversy: Has Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary been found?
THE POET’S HAND
Why do we still search for relics of the Bard?
by Adam Gopnik
APRIL 28, 2014
Although the Upper West Side, like every neighborhood in Manhattan, has lost a little of its distinctiveness over the past twenty soul-crushing, real-estate-lifting years, some specific, residual flavor of the place clings to its odd corners and company. Only a few decades ago, it was a gray place of strange, sober quest—the Village-dwelling Jane Jacobs called it “a surly kind of slum”—where documentary filmmakers filled vast basement spaces with editing chambers, and self-taught philosophers pursued solitary studies in the local cafeterias. Now its streets are mostly condo and co-op corridors, where the prices go up and the well-heeled, pushing their kids in broad-shouldered strollers, go by.
For the past six years, though, in an eighth-floor apartment on Eighty-sixth Street, around the corner from Barney Greengrass, something of the old bookishly quixotic spirit of the place has been kept alive, as two Manhattan rare-book dealers have been spending their days studying, line by line and word by word, a sixteenth-century quadrilingual dictionary that they bought one night on eBay. They have managed to convince themselves, and hope soon to convince the world, that it was once the favorite reference book of the poet and playwright William Shakespeare. They believe that he kept it on his desk and scribbled in its margins, learned French by turning its pages, and was inspired to poetic flights by delving among its Latin synonyms.
George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler are the two book dealers, and their knight-errantry with Shakespeare began on the morning of April 29, 2008. “It was right here in this room,” Koppelman said one recent afternoon in the library of his bright, lived-in six-room apartment, “because we have our late breakfast here. I’m retired, though I work, and my wife is retired, so around about nine-thirty or ten I got up, as I usually do, and got on the computer, and I went to eBay for some reason. I don’t know what I entered, but up popped this current auction for ‘an early Elizabethan dictionary with contemporary annotations.’ ”
[ . . . ]
Some of the connections they espied between the Baret and the Bard seem a little far-fetched. For instance, alongside the word “Faine” the annotator has added, in his cramped hand, the phrases “We are faine to use” and “I was faine to seeke.” Koppelman and Wechsler are impressed that the three words “fain,” “use,” and “seek” are found together in a passage from “Much Ado About Nothing.” (“We have beene up and downe to seeke thee; for we are high proofe melancholie, and would faine have it beaten away, wilt thou use thy wit?”) They add that this “may or may not be a coincidence.”
But some of their finds are genuinely arresting. Scholars have puzzled over Hamlets lines “Oh that this too too solid Flesh, would melt,/Thaw, and resolve it selfe into a Dew,” because its odd that “resolve” should indicate what happens to something that “melts.” In Baret, “Thawe” is defined specifically as “resolve that which is frozen”—and the annotator has made a clear “mute” annotation beside its suggestive poetic pairing.
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Holy Shakespeare! A Rare Find Shakes An Industry
George Koppelman and Dan Wechsler may have found the Holy Grail of rare books—a dictionary they claim was owned and annotated by William Shakespeare. If their assertion is true, this book could provide amazing insight into how Shakespeare crafted his plays, poems, and sonnets, all of which feature his highly inventive wordplay and have thus shaped how modern English is used today. Even if the scholarly community does not back their claims, their find will undoubtedly inspire further research and vigorous debate, and the book, Baret’s Alvearie (1580), will still be considered an important 16th century artifact with valuable Elizabethan-era annotations.
Anticipating skepticism from academics and laypeople alike, Koppelman and Wechsler spent the last six years researching Shakespeare’s works and connecting with other experts. They have completed a careful analysis of the handwriting, paying special attention to “personal markers” left by the annotator. The majority of their claim for Shakespeare’s dictionary lies in their analysis of the linguistic elements, the annotations that show uncanny correlations to the Bard’s body of work.
As booksellers, this is the kind of find Koppelman & Wechsler have been waiting for– an important discovery that will put them at the forefront of Shakespeare research (and hopefully bring a big payday). For any entrepreneur, here’s a how a great find or new invention within your industry can impact your business: It Changes Everything
For the world of rare books, finding Shakespeare’s dictionary would be akin to the invention of the compass: it would provide guidance and a point of reference for something we previously thought we understood. To continue with the invention reference, consider the impact of the printing press, widely considered to be one of the most important inventions of mankind. When the first book was pressed, the Gutenberg Bible around 1450, it represented a faster and cheaper way of disseminating knowledge. When information can travel faster and cheaper, expect revolution.
[ . . . ]
From The Sidney Morning Herald:
Shakespeare’s dictionary? Caution greets discovery claim
April 22, 2014 - 3:24PM
The Folger Shakespeare library in Washington has issued a cautious though enthusiastic response to two scholars’ claims that they have discovered William Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary. The Folger’s reservations are mostly to do with the handwriting itself.
New York antiquarian booksellers Daniel Wechsler and George Koppelman believe they have found William Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary on eBay. They placed a bid of $US4300 and got it for $US4050 in late April 2008.
Not in dispute is that fact that the dictionary, John Baret’s Alvearie or A Quadruple Dictionarie (1580), has over 4000 contemporary manuscript annotations throughout, many of which point directly to the composition of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Daniel Wechsler and George Koppelman, however, contend that the nature and content of the annotations suggest that Shakespeare himself is the annotator.
The Folger’s manuscripts curator, Heather Wolfe, along with director of the Folger, Dr Michael Witmore, posted their response on the Folger’s blog, collation.folger.edu. The Folger is considered the library of record for works concerning Shakespeare.
They declared it too early to judge whether the dictionary might be Shakespeare’s own copy, but do not dismiss it outright. Witmore says “scholars will be excited, as almost anybody would be, to hear that this book has surfaced, but will want to see a number of questions answered before they believe the claims in Shakespeare’s Beehive.”
One concern is that the annotations might be by “someone revising for another edition, adding words and cross-references to make the book more up-to-date and user-friendly”.
They also note that the “surviving snippets of Shakespeare’s handwriting … are in secretary hand, while the majority of annotations in the Alvearie are in an italic script”. Secretary hand is a style of handwriting that got developed during the 16th-century specifically for government, administrative and business affairs. It was supposed to be easily legible and was used throughout Western Europe into the 17th century.
[ . . . ]
From The Guardian:
Shakespeare’s dictionary is a possibility that makes me look up:
Claims that a rediscovered copy of John Baret’s Quadruple Dictionarie belonged to the playwright are unproven – but very exciting
If ever there was a claim which I would love to see be proved true, it is this one. In time for Shakespeare’s 450th birthday – marked on Wednesday with a wealth of quizzes and “10 things you didn’t know about’s and idiotic “Shakespeare would have liked Twitter” press releases – rare booksellers in New York have announced that they believe they have purchased the playwright’s own dictionary.
Before we go into the whys and wherefores of it all: just imagine if it turns out to be true. Shakespeare’s dictionary! It doesn’t seem possible; it makes him seem all too human.
Anyway, here are the details. The booksellers, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, bid on eBay in 2008 for a copy of John Baret’s Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, printed in London in 1580. Winning their bid, they examined the book closely, and came to believe – over the course of a six-year study – that “in the course of his intellectual development, Shakespeare did turn to Baret, not once or twice, but ‘many a time and oft’, and that the copy of the Alvearie they had acquired was, indeed, his own.”
Koppelman and Wechsler have just published a book about their findings, Shakespeare’s Beehive, and have also just launched a Shakespeare’s Beehive website, which includes high-resolution facsimiles of every page from the 1580 edition of Baret’s book, showing all the annotations, as well as their insights into what they believe were Shakespeare’s methods.
“Over the course of discovery, it became impossible for us to neglect a host of personal markers that run throughout the annotated book – fingerprints left by the annotator that reveal a personality and hint at an identity,” they say, citing “verbal parallels and echoes” throughout their edition of the dictionary, and “idiosyncratic renderings by the annotator of the letters ‘W’ and ‘S’”.
“In addition, there is a preponderance of natural history annotations, interest in the language of clothing and costume of the period critical to stagecraft, and annotations that connect with our understanding of Shakespeare’s father and his profession,” they say.
The website is hugely thorough, and the dictionary itself is rather stunning. Experts are just getting started on their analysis; so far the Folger Shakespeare Library isn’t convinced, and has laid out a series of proofs which need to be met.
[ . . . ]
From The Collation: The Folger Shakespeare Library blog:
Buzz or honey? Shakespeare’s Beehive raises questions
21 April 2014 by Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe
Shakespeare’s birthday week begins with a bang: two New York booksellers, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, announced that they have found Shakespeare’s dictionary. In their new book, Shakespeare’s Beehive, Koppelman and Wechsler present their reasons for believing that William Shakespeare is the annotator of their copy of John Baret’s Alvearie, a 1580 dictionary that scholars have linked to Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Because Koppelman and Wechsler are claiming to have discovered something new about Shakespeare, their ideas will receive significant attention in the popular press. Adam Gopnik’s recent story in the New Yorker, “The Poet’s Hand,” provides eloquent testimony to the ongoing interest in discoveries about Shakespeare, an interest that led our founders, Henry and Emily Folger, to establish the Folger Shakespeare Library here in Washington.
Even the most skeptical scholar would be thrilled to find a new piece of documentary evidence about William Shakespeare. Scholars, however, will only support the identification of Shakespeare as annotator if they feel it would be unreasonable to doubt that identification. This is a fairly high evidentiary standard, since it requires one to treat skeptically the idea that this handwriting is Shakespeare’s and to seek out counterexamples that might prove it false.
As the library of record for Shakespeare and the leading documentary source for his works, the Folger will be one of the places where Koppelman and Wechsler’s claims are evaluated by scholars. Those unfamiliar with early modern books and manuscripts will be curious about the techniques that scholars at the Folger and elsewhere hope to use to explore the identity of the Alvearie annotator.
At this point, we as individual scholars feel that it is premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their “leap of faith.” Having ourselves worked extensively with collection materials and digital corpora, we have written this blog post in order to highlight research methods that we expect will be used to evaluate Koppelman and Wechsler’s claims. Regardless of the identity of the annotator, the book that Koppelman and Wechsler (hereafter K&W) have turned up is fascinating. The person who annotated this copy of Baret was clearly interested in the poetic and associative possibilities of English, French, and other languages, an interest that reflects the more widespread humanist practice of “commonplacing” one’s reading. (Commonplacing refers to the practice of recording words or phrases that a reader feels can be saved for later use in composition.) The marks in this copy of the Alvearie are consistent with this collecting or “commonplacing” impulse; they could also be the marks of someone revising for another edition, adding words and cross-references to make the book more up-to-date and user-friendly.
What is new or controversial about K&W’s claim? They are not simply saying that Shakespeare consulted Baret’s Alvearie at some point in his life. As they note in their study, T. W. Baldwin made this argument some time ago, with real success.1 We know that Shakespeare and other early modern writers used source books like the Alvearie to fire the imagination. Shakespeare’s fascination with proverbs in his plays, for example, can be traced back to some of the printed proverb collections that were becoming popular in the sixteenth century. As the lexicographer John Considine has demonstrated, dictionaries were an important source of proverbs during this period, since they offered up proverbial sayings to illustrate the meanings of words.2 We should not be surprised, then, to learn that Shakespeare read and perhaps was influenced by a book such as Baret’s Alvearie: it supplied him with a trove of sayings, associations, and conceits that many writers trained in the humanist tradition would have been keen to mine for their own texts.
What is new here is the idea that a particular copy of Baret was annotated by Shakespeare and that his annotations are distinctive enough to provide (1) a paleographic link with other known examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting and (2) a kind of associative map to verbal patterns in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. K&W focus on the character, content, and arrangement of the marks on the pages of this book, since they are claiming that this annotator, by highlighting certain words in the text or reacting to them in marginal annotations, gives us a unique pattern of associations that identify him as Shakespeare. That identification is possible on the basis of a number of similarities—of handwriting, of words, and of associations—which are assumed to link the marks in this book to published works or autograph manuscripts of Shakespeare. If scholars find these similarities compelling, they will be looking to provide good answers to the following questions.
1) Paleography. Can we reasonably exclude other, non-Shakespearean candidates for annotator based on the writing that appears in this book? Is there enough of a sample of William Shakespeare’s writing to exclude these other possibilities? As K&W note, it is notoriously difficult to draw conclusions about a writer’s style of handwriting based on marginalia alone. Further compounding the problem of identification is the fact that all surviving snippets of Shakespeare’s handwriting—his signatures and possibly a few pages from a collaboratively-written play manuscript—are in secretary hand, while the majority of annotations in the Alvearie are in an italic script. However, there are thousands of examples of books annotated in a mixture of italic and secretary scripts, and scholars will need to test the Alvearie against these.
2) Rare and peculiar words. How many of the words underlined or added in the margins of this copy of the Alvearie are used by Shakespeare and Shakespeare alone, as opposed to other early modern writers? Further, how many of the words that are not marked or underlined in this copy of Baret are nevertheless present in Shakespeare’s works? Are these proportions different, and to what degree?
3) Associations. K&W write of “textual proximity in Baret mirroring textual proximity in Shakespeare” (107). As we know from studies of other resources used by early modern writers, it is in the nature of a dictionary to list commonly associated words (including synonyms and words that co-occur in proverbs or adages). How likely is it that Baret’s Alvearie—as opposed to proverbial wisdom and common association—is the only possible source for Shakespearean associations? Again, following the line of questioning above, how often do spatially proximate combinations of words that are not underlined in Baret nevertheless co-occur in Shakespeare’s works? How often do the proximate marked words in Baret occur near one another in writers other than Shakespeare?
4) Marginalia. How typical or unique are the annotator’s use of slashes, circles, trefoils, and underlinings? Is the cross-referencing, translation, and supplementation suggestive of revision for a later edition or of creating a treasury of words for personal use? How do the annotations compare to those of well-known Elizabethan annotators such John Dee, whose marginalia is the subject of a major study by Bill Sherman, or Gabriel Harvey, whose marginalia has also been the subject of book-length studies and critical enquiry?3 Are there links between those annotations and those of other annotators whose books have not been introduced for comparison?
Many resources will be brought to bear on these questions, resources that are used daily in a research library like ours. Other annotated early modern dictionaries and other printed books will surely be consulted for comparison, as will digital databases that record uses of words in early modern books and manuscripts. The latter resource will allow for systematic proximity searches and comparisons of “nearby words” found both in Shakespeare and in texts by other early modern writers, including those who are not writing for the theater.
All scholars of early modern books and literate culture should be interested in Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of Baret’s dictionary. The owners of this book have done the world a service by creating a website where these annotations can be studied. Whatever their source, the annotations in Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of Baret’s Alvearie provide a rich picture of one person’s reaction to the formidable textual resources that were becoming available to English readers with the growth of printing and humanist culture. Everyone has a reason to celebrate the survival of this book, and indeed, all early modern books that have been preserved to illuminate this remarkable moment in our past.
T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespeare’s small Latine & lesse Greeke (U Illinois P, 1944).
John Considine, “Wisdom-literature in Early Modern England,” Renaissance Studies 13:3 (1999): 325-342.
William H. Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (U Massachusetts P, 1997); Virginia F. Stern, Gabriel Harvey: His Life, Marginalia, and Library (Clarendon P, 1979).