The Bard's Beehive
April 23, 2014 3:06 AM   Subscribe

Shakespeare is known for his brilliant use of language and rhetorical imagery. Now two antiquarian booksellers believe they have found his dictionary. The Bibliophagist has been keeping an updated survey of responses to the announcement.
posted by Joe in Australia (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Incidentally, the new owners of the dictionary have made a fully digitised version available to people who register on their website, here.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:13 AM on April 23, 2014

I wonder how many copies of this dictionary were published and thus the raw odds that this is Shaxpere's own.
posted by Thing at 3:29 AM on April 23, 2014

I'm trying really hard to make a joke about Shakespeare's copy of "Edmund: A Butler's Tale" here, but it's not coming together for me.
posted by mhoye at 4:02 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

As Bibliophagist's blog post should make clear, I have yet to see any Shakespeare scholar who thinks this is Shakespeare's. The sellers have taken a very nice book--a 16th century dictionary annotated by an early reader--and, based on some scholarship suggesting that Shakepeare used this work, looked at every annotation with an eye toward finding a Shakespeare connection. That's the opposite of how you do research. And indeed, once people with greater expertise started looking at these claims in detail, they've started falling apart. The sellers don't have a deep knowledge of paleography, and they've made repeated interpretive errors in the direction of supporting their case--see for example Aaron Pratt's post on "bucke-basket", which would be actually a pretty strong connection to Shakespeare if they weren't really blatantly misreading the annotation.

Credit where it's due to the sellers for making the book very widely available for inspection--if they were doing this cynically I'm sure they'd be far cagier about what was in the book. But it's not Shakespeare's dictionary just because it would be great if it were.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:07 AM on April 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

the April 28, 2104 issue of the New Yorker (subscription required)

Huh. I thought by the 22nd century we'd distribute periodicals using open-source or micro-transactions. Hell, in ninety years the combined weight of unread New Yorkers will have collapsed into a neutron star....
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:09 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

To Be [A felicitous verbe indeed; methinks I could do something with this one in the waye of a rhetoricall question - soliloquy??]
posted by Segundus at 5:26 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, sheath my sword!

That's a saying appropriate for mixed company, right?
posted by clvrmnky at 6:03 AM on April 23, 2014

I know nothing about Shakespeare or dictionaries or handwriting analysis. I'm extremely skeptical for the simple reason that there's a tremendous financial incentive for claiming something as a Shakespeare relic, which makes it far more likely that someone would either straight up forge such a thing or make false claims about it than that they have the actual thing.
posted by empath at 6:08 AM on April 23, 2014

Also, even if the marginalia were associated with shakespeare's plays, why couldn't it have belong to someone studying the plays -- perhaps an actor.
posted by empath at 6:11 AM on April 23, 2014

I have some hazy memories of being in a hotel bar a couple of weeks ago and listening to a couple of academics talking about this. Story was, these guys had a paper accepted for a seminar on manuscript studies at one of the big conferences in Renaissance studies recently. They ignored the theme of the seminar and presented their evidence for this instead. Then the other seminar participants started pointing out how pretty much all of their conclusions relied upon basic misreadings of Elizabethan secretary hand and it became very awkward. So, yeah: no one who knows anything about early modern marginalia is taking this at all seriously.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:26 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Empath: If they were going to forge it, why not just sign Shakespeare's name to it? Or at least put something like "Marlowe is a French worde for Ignorant Cunte" at the bottom of a page.

I agree that the evidence isn't great, and if there were an association with his plays it would easily point to a reader, rather than Shakespeare himself. None the less, the owners' behavior has been irreproachable: they've put the actual image of the dictionary online so people can judge for themselves. This is really uncommon behavior and I think it ought to be acknowledged.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:33 AM on April 23, 2014

Yeah I think they are more in the lines of 'wishing makes it so' than forgery, but either way, there's a ton of incentive for people to believe or at least make others believe that it's an authentic relic, and not so much to look at it with less credulous eye.
posted by empath at 6:36 AM on April 23, 2014

That's a saying appropriate for mixed company, right?

Nothing in Shakespeare is really suitable for mixed companies; all the female roles should be played by young men...
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:49 AM on April 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

A tale too good to be much more than tale.
posted by pracowity at 7:18 AM on April 23, 2014

By a pleasing coincidence, the publication of Shakespeare's Beehive, in which two antiquarian booksellers breathlessly announce their discovery of a book supposedly annotated by Shakespeare, comes precisely sixty years after the publication of The Annotator, in which two antiquarian booksellers breathlessly announced their discovery of a book supposedly annotated by Shakespeare.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun -- or, as Shakespeare remarks in Sonnet 59:
If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguil'd,
Which labouring for invention bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child.
Oh that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
Since mind at first in character was done.
posted by verstegan at 7:23 AM on April 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Happy 450th!
posted by Fizz at 8:54 AM on April 23, 2014

Hm. I thought all the "Shakespeare was a pseudonym" arguments stemmed from the idea that no one of Shakespeare's enormous vocabulary and worldliness could have come from his background without possessing an enormous library. That there was a large, commonly-available dictionary used by many other playwrights at the time seems like a pretty big oversight, but maybe I'm missing something.
posted by Peevish at 11:33 AM on April 23, 2014

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