The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.150  Tuesday, 10 April 2012


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

Date:         April 6, 2012 7:24:39 PM EDT

Subject:     VU-ing STM’s D & LLL


In Shakespeare’s day the letters v and u were graphically interchanged in a holdover system whereby words beginning with either letter were spelled with an initial v; either medial letter got a u.


Most representations of these texts are modernized, though it isn’t hard to apply contextual fixes the same way readers did then. Nowadays we prefer photos to ‘old-spelling’ texts that aren’t—evidence should not be altered. Might that precept extend to UV protection?


Printers kept to the system for some time, perhaps in part because their type-supply had too few v’s for medial massaging. But manuscript evidence is an order of magnitude greater (for inference) and writing practice wasn’t consistent. Can writers be differentiated by u/v usage?


I’ve looked at transcriptions of various hands associated with Sir Thomas More. S (Munday), A (Chettle) and B (perhaps Heywood, probably not) all use u for medial v. E (Dekker) uses medial v five words to one (haue). C (the ‘functionary’) invariably writes v for medial v (and v initially for either letter, as do the others). Two Chettle medial u’s are altered to v, which Greg does not attribute to a different hand, but I wonder if another (C?) made the changes.


These habits (which may change over time) are personal. Chettle & Munday were in the print trade; it would be surprising if they didn’t conform. B, the wildest (phonetic) speller, conforms. C never varies from medial v, which may tell against his identity with D (as some have thought possible), whose habit (if any, in 3-D pages) is quite different from the rest:


‘Dvng’, as in dvngheap. Medial v for u is hard to figvre & not qvick to vnivmble; ‘[Mv] nvmber’. How unusual this is for the time, I can’t say; it’s not unprecedented, however.


By my count (having little else to do, I reckon) D uses 18 medial ‘u for v’ (8 ‘haue’) and 17 ‘v for v’: ‘Shreiue’, ‘shreeve’; ‘even’, ‘euen’. Is it possible that Shakespeare, of all people, had not settled on a way to write a vee sound? I don’t think so. Others insist, of course; that’s the kind of thing one accepts when accepting Hand D as Shakespeare’s. I contend that D was a copyist, for a number of good reasons. If that is so, we can relieve Shakespeare of the bumpkinization of D’s text. Why saddle Shakespeare with nonsense—if it’s nonsense?


What might the copyist have been copying? I’ve noticed some clues that may not seem meaningful. “Doesn’t mean a thing” doesn’t mean a thing to me because things have a way of piling up. Jowett observes in his Arden 3 whitewash some “remarkably distinctive” spellings:


“’Iarman’ . . . as a spelling of ‘German’ is elsewhere in drama exampled only in 2 Henry IV and the manuscript play John of Bordeaux, written by Greene, who was dead by the time the revisions of [STM] were composed” (442).


Something of a Greene Herring (yuk!) I think. Bordox is not in Greene’s hand and certainly not in his spelling. Jowett had cited “McMillin’s and Taylor’s proposed dating of the revisions in 1603 or after . . .” (438). But McMillin argued specifically (and well) that D’s addition dated to the early ‘90’s (Bordox-duty-time); the question remains open, despite the press-gang enlistment of McMillin.


“Hand D spells ‘eleven pence’ as ‘a levenpence’ . . . . Moreover, and more striking still, the full ‘a leuenpence’ is found in [LLL] . . .” Further moreover, Jowett notes that the “u/v distinction is incidental” (442).


By ‘incidental’ Jowett must mean that nothing can be made of the u/v distinction, in contradistinction of the ‘remarkable distinctions.’ But is that so? In his Arden 3 LLL, Woudhuysen (an even-handed scholar), remarks of possible authorial spellings (including ‘a leuen’) that the evidence “that these are distinctive Shakespearean forms is on the whole weak” (318). One of his points is that “More striking forms” in LLL are not found in other texts presumed from authorial copy. Among these are ‘hou’ (ho), ‘smothfast’ (smooth-faced), and ‘rescewes’. If we insist this play is good evidence for Hand D, we may with better result cite Bordox, whose Scribe can’t be outdone: ‘hou’, ‘mapellfast matrone’, and the beautiful ‘rescqe’.


So how does Hand D compare to Burdiox? First, its scribe (S; I’ll call him Sunday, since S is for Munday) is a phonetic speller who conforms to orthodox word forms by a rough osmosis:


       Ill teach yow how to Iest with Iarmayne vandermast


       pre the be [sagde] sadg [I] it often comes to pass that he

       which most presumes will prove a nasse


Sunday habitually uses medial v for v, and sometimes a medial v for u: ‘provd’ (proud). He also separates ‘a’ from the rest of a word, as he does with ‘be’ (‘be hould’) or not (‘betuwne’); and ‘in’ (‘in cappable’). LLL has ‘my none’ (mine own), analogous to ‘a nasse’, ‘my nies’, and other Bordox usage.


Now, Sunday had his reasons: he was virtually illiterate in transcription but masterful in his element—rapid phonetic writing: a, b, in, my, i, of, the (thee, thy, they) were written instantaneously. These were part of his art (and stock in secret trade).


How and why did Shakespeare come to spell like Sunday? No one was more cappable; he had no reason to exhibit the traits described. Yet one Bordox manuscript text, wearing a rationale on its sleeve, easily accounts for the traits. It needn’t even appeal to OED’s, REED’s, or your acronym of choice; these spellings happened by method and chance together. Sunday spelt ‘one’ (own) and ‘my’ (mine); all he needed for ‘my none’ was the sound. The same for ‘a leven’. The number doesn’t occur in Bordox, but it could have been so represented, especially since the scribe’s habit was the medial v.


In the passage above, ‘I’ is deleted and replaced by ‘it’. The indication is that one sign (for one letter) served multiple functions; the scribe corrected his own transcription. Anyone copying such text would normalize it to a greater extent, but in that phonetic day much would come through as it does in LLL. Is that text a report? Sure it is.


Why does a brilliant and learned play exhibit otherwise crazy spellings? Why is there confusion after confusion in speech headings? Because Shakespeare’s foul papers couldn’t keep up? No, that’s what happens to reports.


Might STM be reported? If it is, a lot of the mystery may be reconciled, along with the scholarship. I’ve been thinking about it.


Gerald E. Downs


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