Shakespeare’s Will

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.238  Friday, 22 July 2016

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, July 22, 2016

Subject:     Shakespeare’s Will

 

http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/shakespeares-will-new-interpretation/

 

Shakespeare’s Will: A New Interpretation

 

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Amanda Bevan

 

As head of legal records at The National Archives, I’ve been looking in detail at one of our treasures: Shakespeare’s original will, full of amendments, which was left in the probate court by his executor.

 

Shakespeare’s will was first discussed in 1747 by the Stratford antiquarian Joseph Greene. He was disappointed by it, as has been almost every other commentator since. It seems an oddly unfeeling and unsympathetic document, and is often interpreted as proof of the unsatisfactory nature of Shakespeare’s character, last years and family life.

 

I’ve come to two new conclusions, which are important for our knowledge of Shakespeare and his family:

  • I have redated parts of the 1616 will to three years earlier, with implications for how we understand Shakespeare’s last years.
  • I have placed in context those parts of his will which are cited as evidence that he was unkind towards his family, and offer a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s intentions.

 

Handling the will

In 2013, the artist Anna Brass made two films about Shakespeare’s will for us. We looked at his original will, but –like everyone else – were not allowed to handle it. So Anna recreated the original will from a digital image, printing it full size in A3 and in colour, trimming it back to the ragged edges of the original paper, and folding it along its old fold-lines.

 

Carrying the facsimile around, I read it and reread it, examined the layout and the alterations, considered the different shades of ink, and created a new transcription.

 

And gradually I came to think that perhaps the accepted date and interpretation could be wrong.

 

Redating the will

Easter was early in 1616, falling on 31 March. It was a hard time for the Shakespeare family. On 25 March William Shakespeare, apparently ill, revised his will. The next day his new son-in-law, Thomas Quiney, confessed in church to fathering a child with another woman. In the next month, the family suffered two deaths: his brother in law on 17 April, and William Shakespeare himself on 23 April.

 

In late June, John Hall (William’s other son-in-law and joint executor) travelled to London with the original will to get a grant of probate. The probate court made a copy for John to take back to Stratford upon Avon, as authority to collect debts and distribute bequests, but kept the original to make an official copy in the register of wills. 

 

Both copies accepted the changes written throughout the original, creating the impression of one smooth text. But the original will, with all its amendments, gives us a glimpse of Shakespeare in action.

 

The original three-page will is dated 25 January 1616, with January crossed out and replaced by March. A common view is that a new page one, altered from the old, was written in March (with January initially copied by mistake).

 

I’m adding another date to the mix: April 1613. I have identified page two as a page reused from a previously unknown will, written probably three years earlier when Shakespeare invested in a substantial London property, the Blackfriars Gatehouse.

 

I also argue that the other two pages were rewritten in January 1616, and that all three pages were slightly amended in dark ink in March 1616.

 

[ . . . ]

 

 

 

World Shakespeare Congress

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.237  Wednesday, 20 July 2016

 

From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Subject:    World Shakespeare Congress

 

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

 

Because of on-going complications with my medical condition, to give me more time to recover from all that I have been through, and to heal the wound more, I have decided reluctantly not to attend the World Shakespeare Congress. I have cancelled my housing reservations and my plane ticket, but I still have tickets to the RSC and the Globe Theatre.

 

The RSC tickets have been sent to me, so if you would like one of those, you will need to get to me quickly so I can mail it or them to you. The Globe tickets are in my name and can be picked up at the box office. 

 

My desire is not to see these tickets go to waste, so I am not asking any compensation for them, unless you would care to send me anything you would like to the PayPal giving app on all SHAKSPER.net web pages. This will be first come first serve to be fair to all.

 

Here is the list:

 

RSC Order Details:

 

Order Number: 8620789

Customer: Mr Hardy Cook (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

 

Tickets

Cymbeline: 1 August 2016, 7:15pm Royal Shakespeare Theatre D76 (Stalls) £38.00 (Over 60's Rate) £38.00

 

Hamlet: 2 August 2016, 7:15pm Royal Shakespeare Theatre D13 (Stalls) £34.00 (Over 60's Rate) £34.00

 

The Alchemist: 3 August 2016, 1:30pm Swan Theatre AA29 (Ground) £38.00 (Delegate) £38.00

 

 

The Globe Theatre

 

BOOKING REFERENCE: 3301901

Please quote in any enquiries relating to this booking. 

 

Shakespeare’s Globe Customer Number: 809237

Name: Prof Hardy M Cook

 

Purchase Details: 

A Midsummer Night's Dream 

at Shakespeare's Globe

29 June 2016 at 19:30

Ticket: D35 

BAY H, MIDDLE GALLERY

1 ticket - Price A MIDDLE GALLERY at £45.00

 

The Taming of the Shrew 

at Shakespeare's Globe

05 August 2016 at 19:30

Ticket: A39 

BAY L, LOWER GALLERY

1 ticket - Price A LOWER GALLERY at £45.00

 

Macbeth 

at Shakespeare's Globe

07 August 2016 at 18:30

Ticket: A19 

BAY E, LOWER GALLERY

1 ticket - Price A LOWER GALLERY at £45.00

 

CUSHION VOUCHER

1 X -CUSHION HIRE VOUCHER

at £1.00 each

 

I just spent the past week and a bit with a virus like condition that knocked me out. I have a lot to catch up with and will get to my inbox tomorrow.

 

Best wishes,

 

Hardy

 

MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.236  Friday, 8 July 2016

 

[1] From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         June 12, 2016 at 2:48:00 AM EDT

     Subject:    MV Dialog 

 

[2] From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         July 1, 2016 at 11:41:10 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog 

 

[3] From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         June 15, 2016 at 4:39:46 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog

 

[4] From:        Sidney Lubow <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         June 13, 2016 at 3:12:45 PM EDT

     Subject:    The Merchant of Venice 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 12, 2016 at 2:48:00 AM EDT

Subject:    MV Dialog

 

I find Bill Blanton’s attempt to anchor The Merchant of Venice in a historical analogy with the details of Elizabeth I’s reign fascinating, but not wholly plausible. There have been a number of attempts to approach Shakespearean texts in this analogous way, e.g. Carl Schmitt’s Hamlet and Hecuba that sees that play as referring to the Mary Queen of Scots narrative. Of course, if you read these texts primarily with a view to establishing analogies, then you are inclined to find persuasive any narrative that might fit. Let us go back to the text of Shakespeare’s play. 

 

John:

I am honored to be mentioned in the same paragraph with the respected jurist and scholar Carl Schmitt, and relieved to learn that others have noticed what you call “historical analogies” in some of Shakespeare’s plays. I am happy that you have found my analysis fascinating.

 

However, it has never been my intention to read The Merchant of Venice primarily with a view to “establishing analogies.” In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

 

As a retired litigator, I became intrigued with the Trial Scene and studied it as thoroughly as I knew how, focusing — as you suggest — on the text (First Folio). I concluded that Shakespeare had written it in such an absurd manner that his audiences and potential readers would have known that the trial could not possibly have been real.

 

I wrote an article analyzing the Trial Scene in detail and posted it at shylocke.org. So far, no one has contradicted a single element of that analysis. However, nearly all editions, stage and film performances, and scholarly articles treat the Trial Scene as if it were a regular and serious trial. Which it decidedly is not. 

 

So I posed the question: if our understanding of this crucial scene has been so mistaken, then just what is really going on here? I asked that question in the hope that some scholars might answer it.

 

To date, no one has done so. Your kind agreement to engage me in a dialog provided the impetus to try my inadequate hand at it.

 

We will be discussing the law and the Trial Scene in detail later. Stirling teaches law. The course director is Lorraine Wilson    www.stir.ac.uk/arts-humanities.

 

Perhaps you could send a link to my article to an appropriate professor and to a barrister. If they agree with my analysis of sixteenth century English law and procedure, and with the practical dynamics of the Trial Scene, our future discussion will be more fruitful.

 

1. Portia is governed by the ‘law’ of her dead father.  Elizabeth was not.

 

You’re right. My bad.

 

2. She is a lady ‘richly left’ and this is what attracts Bassanio. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he might be a version of Philip II of Spain. In practical terms Portia rules her ‘household’ but she does not rule herself (see I.2.)

 

Bassanio represents the Earl of Essex on the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension of meaning. It seems to me that Portia rules herself, her household, and everybody else just fine.

 

3. The issues that the play weaves together are ‘usury’ and mercantile activity. But the play weaves an even more complex web of relations between what Aristotle would have called chrematistics and the larger economy of the ‘household’, and male/ female and male/male friendship. 

 

Interesting word chrematistics: “the art of getting rich.” 

 

Usury — understood as lending money at interest — plays very little part in Merchant. The only loan involved in the play was expressly free of interest. Shakespeare used this word on the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension in its sexual meaning: prostitution. Same with the word use.

 

Mercantile activity also plays a very minor role. Antonio’s argosies play a part only insofar as Salarino thinks that they may be the source of Antonio’s sadness, just as he himself would worry about the fate of his own “wealthy Andrew.” These argosies do represent the reason why Antonio must take out the fateful loan, and their failure to come in on time does result in Antonio’s default. Where else do you find mercantile activity?

 

Much more than friendship, as I read it. 

 

4. This is all tied up with what the Elizabethans thought about Venice, its republican freedoms, and what Patrick Collinson in 1987 called ‘The Monarchical republic of Queen Elizabeth I’ 

 

I have already expressed my view that Venice is really London on the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension.

 

What Bill Blanton does (and he’s by no means alone in this) is to offer a kind of revisionist historicism that operates primarily through analogy: if X happened in reality then Y (the play or the fictional narrative) must refer to it directly and must limit itself to it. Or to put the matter a little more polemically, this seems to me to be a wrongheaded approach to Shakespearean texts. Yes, we might expect to find occasional references to contemporary events in these plays, and we can test them against protocols of historical probability and likelihood. But the appeal of a play like The Merchant seems to me to be far wider than a limited narrative of actual historical events would suggest, or that an even more limited appeal to ‘source’ study as it has been traditional practised would dictate. 

 

I agree. Which is why I have identified several dimensions of meaning, although I suspect few of them qualify in your view. But more on those later.

 

Of course, fur us, reading is a democratic process, and as readers we can think what we like. What we can be certain of is that The Merchant of Venice is not about Leeds United (what used to be a very successful English football team).  Bill Blanton’s reading, of course, is more plausible than that, but not, I would suggest, plausible enough.

 

I intend to demonstrate that my “historical analogies” and other similar observations are so numerous and cogent that you would find them plausible, even — dare I say it? dare I even think it? — convincing.

 

Bill Blanton

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 1, 2016 at 11:41:10 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog

 

MV Dialog: Portia as Elizabeth [cont. 1]

 

In the last post we discussed the first installment of Portia as Elizabeth. We focused on the changes that Shakespeare made to the Source dimension in order to make Portia a better representative on the Story dimension for Elizabeth on the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension.

 

We shall now discuss those matters in the text of the play — the Story dimension — indicating that Portia represented Elizabeth.

 

As I was studying The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that Shakespeare used allusions to Greek and Roman mythology for specific purposes. Heretofore I had thought that such allusions were merely ornaments, included to give the play a degree of gravitas and to show off both Shakespeare’s education and his ability to incorporate that knowledge into the play. We should pay close attention to those allusions because Shakespeare used them to identify certain characters as well as to comment upon these individuals.

 

5. Portia: If I live to be as old as Sibyl, I will die as chaste as Diana (1.2.101)

 

As chaste as Diana. 

 

Elizabeth was often compared to Diana, and had even played the role of Diana in a court masque. Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt (Elizabeth enjoyed hunting), the Moon (to which Elizabeth was often compared), and chastity (Elizabeth made a big deal of her virginity). Diana was known to the Greeks as Artemis, who goddess of the Moon, the hunt, and chastity. Cynthia, to whom Elizabeth was also compared, was also a goddess of the Moon. 

 

Merchant contains numerous references to the moon and to moonlight. In one instance, Portia says,

 

Peace, how the Moone sleeps with Endymion

And would not be awaked. (5.1.108-10)

 

Endymion was a play by John Lyly, and was a significant influence on Shakespeare. This play is allegorical, with Cynthia representing Elizabeth. The mortal Endymion could not marry Cynthia because, as a goddess, she was too much above his station (much like Elizabeth was too much above both Essex and his stepfather, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester).

 

If I live to be as old as Sibylla.

 

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Sibyl was a mortal woman who had asked Phoebus for as many years of life as the number of grains of sand in a certain pile, in exchange for surrendering her chastity. Phoebus granted her wish, but she reneged on the deal. Phoebus pointed out that she had forgotten to ask for unaging years. As a result, she lived for a long time but continued to age, telling Aeneas that she was over 700 years old. (Book XIV 196-208) 

 

By late 1596, Elizabeth was 63 years old, and showing her age. To Shakespeare and the Earls of Essex and Southampton, Elizabeth was like the Sibyl: she just kept on living whereas they desperately needed a regime change.

 

6. Sometimes Shakespeare was quite obvious in his references to people and matters on the other dimensions of meaning. We should pay close attention to the words that Shakespeare used and should recognize how deliberately he used them. For example, when Bassanio had won the lottery, Portia declared:

 

…But now, I was the lord

Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,

Queen o’er myself… .(3.2.167-169)

 

The Elizabethan audiences listened very closely to plays, and would have picked up on this, the first and only reference to Portia as a Queen.

 

7. Bassanio’s praise of Portia’s sunny locks which hang on her temples like a golden fleece (1.1169-70) referenced Elizabeth’s blonde (or reddish-blonde) hair ( at least when she was younger).

 

8. In his rant on appearances, Bassanio states:

 

… Look on beauty,

And you shall she ’tis purchased by the weight,

Which therein workes a miracle in nature

Making them lightest that weare most of it: 

So are those crisped snakie golden locks 

Which makes such wanton gambols with the winde 

Upon supposed fairnesse, often knowne

To be the dowrie of a second head, 

the scull that bred them in the Sepulcher. (3.2.88-96)

 

A commentary on the practice of wearing make-up. After she became Queen, Elizabeth famously wore white make-up (a mixture of white lead and vinegar). Shakespeare called Elizabeth the lightest because she wore the whitest and the most make up. Light was also an unflattering sexual reference.

 

Crisped snakie golden locks. Crisped referred to the frizzy hair fashion favored by Elizabeth, who used hot tongs to curl her hair. Snakie is an unflattering comparison to Medusa (Ovid Metamorphoses Book IV: Who cut off ougly Gorgons head bespred with snakish heare). 

 

Dowrie of a second head referred to wigs, of which Elizabeth had a great many. There is a 1592 portrait of her wearing a blond wig.

 

9. Portia says,

 

If to doe were as easy as to know what were
 good to doe, Chappels had been Churches, and poore
 mens cottages Princes Pallaces….
(1.2.201–203).

 

In Shakespeare’s England, and according to Roman Catholic Canon Law, a chapel or oratory was a building or a part of a building dedicated to the celebration of services — particularly the Mass — which is not a parish church. It also may be a private chapel. Elizabeth made the celebration of Mass illegal, even in private homes. Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, 1559. Some private homes had chapels where the family and their friends could secretly celebrate Mass, perhaps with a Jesuit priest.

 

Princes Pallaces referenced Elizabeth, who referred to herself as a Prince and who lived in several palaces. 

 

To be continued.

Bill

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 15, 2016 at 4:39:46 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog

 

PORTIA AS ELIZABETH CLARIFICATION

 

John is correct that Elizabeth as Queen was not burdened by any conditions on marriage. However, Elizabeth was burdened with such conditions before ascending to the throne. The will of the Lady Elizabeth was in fact curbed by the will of the dead Henry.

 

The Second Act of Succession declared both Mary and Elizabeth to be bastards, and vested the Succession in any future offspring of Henry and Jane Seymour, which turned out to be Edward.

 

Third Act of Succession 1543 and  Last Will Henry VIII December 1546

 

This Act and the King’s Will placed Mary and Elizabeth back into the line of succession — not as royal princesses but rather as Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth. Neither Lady Mary nor Lady Elizabeth could marry without the approval of the Privy Council, on pain of being removed from the line of succession.

 

The will provided as follows:

 

As to the succession of the Crown, it shall go to Prince Edward and the heirs of his body. In default, to Henry's children by his present wife, Queen Catharine, or any future wife. In default, to his daughter Mary and the heirs of her body, upon condition that she shall not marry without the written and sealed consent of a majority of the surviving members of the Privy Council appointed by him to his son Prince Edward. In default, to his daughter Elizabeth upon like condition. In default, to the heirs of the body of Lady Frances, eldest daughter of his late sister the French Queen. In default, to those of Lady Elyanore, second daughter of the said French Queen. And in default, to his right heirs. Either Mary or Elizabeth, failing to observe the conditions aforesaid, shall forfeit all right to the succession.

 

Apologies for any confusion.

Bill Blanton

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Sidney Lubow <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 13, 2016 at 3:12:45 PM EDT

Subject:    The Merchant of Venice

 

SHYLOCK

Oh, no, no, no, no: my meaning in saying he is a

good man is to have you understand me that he is

sufficient. Yet his means are in supposition: he

hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the

Indies; I understand moreover, upon the Rialto, he

hath a third at Mexico, a fourth for England, and

other ventures he hath, squandered abroad. But ships

are but boards, sailors but men: there be land-rats

and water-rats, water-thieves and land-thieves, I

mean pirates, and then there is the peril of waters,

winds and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding,

sufficient. Three thousand ducats; I think I may

take his bond.

 

How interesting that MiCHAEL LOK goes over the heads of the Masters of Stylometrics who cannot  recognize a pun from the mind of Shakespeare. Do we need a poke in the ribs to recognize the RATS

 

In the word piRATeS?

 

Sid Lubow

 

 

 

District Merchants: An Appropriation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.235  Friday, 8 July 2016

 

From:        Ellen Moody <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 3, 2016 at 11:02:36 PM EDT

Subject:    District Merchants: An Appropriation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

 

I don’t know how people on this listserv feel about adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, but I thought this one, at times crude and preach-y was successful and recommend going if it comes near you:

 

https://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/themerchantofveniceasdistrictmerchants/

 

Ellen Moody

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

Actor. Playwright. Social Climber

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.234  Friday, 8 July 2016

 

From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 30, 2016 at 7:39:13 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare Coat of Arms 

 

[Editor’s Note: From The New York Times. Use link to see photographs associated with the article. –Hardy]

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/30/theater/shakespeare-coat-of-arms.html?emc=edit_th_20160630&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=9890473&_r=1#story-continues-1

 

Shakespeare: Actor. Playwright. Social Climber.

By Jennifer Schuessler

June 29, 2016

Shakespeare biography has long circled a set of tantalizing mysteries: Was he Protestant or secretly Catholic? Gay or straight? Loving toward his wife, or coldly dismissive?

 

That the man left no surviving letters or autobiographical testimony has hardly helped, ensuring that accounts of his life have often relied on “one halfpenny worth of fact to an intolerable deal of supposition,” as the scholar C. W. Scott-Giles once lamented.

 

Only a few scraps of new material relating to Shakespeare in his lifetime have surfaced over the past century. But now, a researcher has uncovered nearly a dozen previously unknown records that shed clearer light on another much-discussed side of the man: the social climber.

 

The documents, discovered by Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, relate to a coat of arms that was granted to Shakespeare’s father in 1596, attesting to his and his son’s status as gentlemen.

 

Considered with previously known records, Ms. Wolfe argues, the documents suggest both how deeply invested Shakespeare was in gaining that recognition — a rarity for a man from the theater — and how directly he may have been drawn into colorful bureaucratic infighting that threatened to strip it away.

 

The new evidence “really helps us get a little bit closer to the man himself,” Ms. Wolfe said. “It shows him shaping himself and building his reputation in a very intentional way.”

 

James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar at Columbia University who has seen Ms. Wolfe’s research, said her discoveries help illuminate what mattered to Shakespeare. “It’s all about trying to figure out, what was he like?” Mr. Shapiro said. “Anytime we can substitute something solid for speculation, that’s significant.” 

 

The new documents, Mr. Shapiro added, also come with a nice bonus: they clearly refute skeptics who continue to argue — to the deep exasperation of most scholars — that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not actually the author of the works attributed to him.

 

“It’s always been clear that Shakespeare of Stratford and ‘Shakespeare the player’ were one and the same,” Mr. Shapiro said. “But if you hold the documents Heather has discovered together, that is the smoking gun.”

 

Ms. Wolfe’s discoveries began in the archives of the College of Arms in London, home to 10 heralds who are still charged with researching and granting coats of arms — arcane territory where many literary scholars might fear to tread.

 

“Looking through the minutiae of the College of Arms is, even for Shakespeare scholars, almost unbearable,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We really owe Heather a debt of gratitude for wading in.”

 

Ms. Wolfe said she began wondering if there wasn’t fresh material to find there when she looked through a book edited by Nigel Ramsay, a historian at University College London, with whom she curated an exhibition on heraldry at the Folger in 2014. On one page, she was startled by something she had never seen before: a sketch of the arms with the words “Shakespeare the player,” or actor, dated to around 1600.

 

similar image with the same text — a copy dating from around 1700 — has long been known to Shakespeare scholars (as well as to authorship skeptics, who generally dismiss as unreliable any evidence dated after 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death). But this earlier one, from the College of Arms, seemed to have gone unremarked on.

 

Ms. Wolfe started digging there and in other archives, and so far has gathered a dozen unknown or forgotten depictions of the arms in heraldic reference works called alphabets and ordinaries. “I just started finding them everywhere,” she said.

 

Scholars have long known that Shakespeare’s father, John, a businessman and justice of the peace in Stratford, had first made inquiries about a coat of arms around 1575. They have speculated that it was William who renewed the effort in 1596, on his father’s behalf.

 

The new depictions Ms. Wolfe has gathered are all from the 17th century. More than half associate the arms with “Shakespeare the player,” or with William, not John.

 

This material not only proves “that Shakespeare was Shakespeare,” as Ms. Wolfe wryly put it. It also, she argues, underlines the degree to which contemporaries saw the coat of arms as, in effect, being for William.

 

“It makes it abundantly clear that while Shakespeare was obtaining the arms on behalf of his father, it was really for his own status,” she said.

 

Mr. Shapiro said he agreed. “All evidence suggests this was not about the father,” he said, “but about how Shakespeare wanted to be seen.”

 

Alan H. Nelson, a retired professor at University of California, Berkeley, who has contributed to Shakespeare Documented, an online project curated by Ms. Wolfe, said he also found her case persuasive.

 

The new material, he added, “helps to confirm everything we know about the arc of Shakespeare’s career and the way he understood himself in the context of his society,” he said. 

 

But not all of Shakespeare’s contemporaries took his newly minted status at face value. Ben Jonson mocked his arms in his 1598 play “Every Man Out of His Humour,” in which a country bumpkin is advised to purchase arms with the motto “Not without mustard,” a dig at Shakespeare’s motto “Not without right.” (Shakespeare’s arms were yellow.)

 

A more threatening attack came in 1602 from Ralph Brooke, a herald in the College of Arms who had long been at war with his archrival, William Dethick, who held the title Garter King of Arms. (At one point, Brooke reportedly warned Dethick, himself a notoriously violent man, that the Star Chamber would punish him by cutting off his ears.)

 

That year, Brooke, drew up for submission to the queen a list of 23 “mean persons” who had wrongfully been granted arms by Dethick, including “Shakespeare the player,” as Brooke put it disparagingly. (Shakespeare was not the only one given a lowly job description: a man derided by Brooke as a mere “bookbinder,” Ms. Wolfe noted, was actually master of the Stationers’ Company, the prestigious body that regulated the publishing industry.)

 

Among Dethick’s records, Ms. Wolfe found letters from outraged people whose arms had come under attack, as well as notes indicating that some had withdrawn their claims.

 

While no record of Shakespeare’s response survives, Ms. Wolfe argues that the others’ intense reactions suggest that he must have known about the controversy, and likely took action to defend his status.

 

Some whose letters survive lived outside London, she noted. “They couldn’t just approach Dethick, as Shakespeare could have.”

 

Shakespeare may have held onto his arms, but the glory didn’t last. His son, Hamnet, had died in 1596. His last direct descendant, a granddaughter named Elizabeth Barnard, died in 1670.

 

Ms. Wolfe said that a colleague at the Folger recently pointed out something she has not seen any scholar discuss: the wax seal on Elizabeth’s last willshows a fragment of the Shakespeare arms, just barely visible.

 

“She’s dying, she’s the last in the direct line, and the arms have faded,” Ms. Wolfe said. “It just seems touchingly symbolic.”

 

 

 

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Search

Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.