What Shakespeare’s Handwriting Looked Like

Last week, we post­ed on how schol­ars have tried to recov­er the orig­i­nal pro­nun­ci­a­tions of Shakespeare’s plays and poems when per­formed on the stage. Today, we bring you the bard’s orig­i­nal hand­writ­ing. Shakespeare’s hand­writ­ing has recent­ly become the focus of a new arti­cle by Pro­fes­sor Dou­glas Bruster at UT Austin, who is using an analy­sis of the playwright’s quirky spellings and pen­man­ship to solve a very old ques­tion of author­ship. The page of hand­writ­ing you see above is a frag­ment of a lost play called Sir Thomas More and it goes by the name of “Hand D” (click the image above, and then the image that appears — for a much larg­er ver­sion).

Bruster’s short essay, pub­lished this month in the Oxford jour­nal Notes & Queries, is far too inside base­ball for any­one but hard­core tex­tu­al schol­ars to make much sense of, but this New York Times arti­cle does a good job of dis­till­ing the fin­er points. Suf­fice it to say that thanks to Bruster’s painstak­ing analy­sis of Shakespeare’s dis­tinc­tive hand­writ­ing, we can be fair­ly cer­tain that a 1602 revi­sion of Thomas Kyd’s enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar Renais­sance play The Span­ish Tragedy—in the words of Shake­speare schol­ar Eric Ras­mussen—has the bard’s “fin­ger­prints all over it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

A Sur­vey of Shakespeare’s Plays (Free Course)

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • psi2u2 says:

    No rep­utable foren­sic hand­writ­ing ana­lyst would ever give this the time of day. There is insuf­fi­cient sam­ple size in the six sig­na­tures that com­prise the total col­lect­ed works of “William Shakspere” (as he spelled his name) of Strat­ford, to pro­vide any reli­able com­par­i­son. This is there­fore a clas­sic instance of a type 1 error (false pos­i­tive). It is, more­over, ger­mane to con­sid­er that the vast major­i­ty of the Sir Thomas More man­u­script is the hand­writ­ing of Antho­ny Mun­day, a sec­re­tary to the Earl of Oxford.

  • daver852 says:

    There is con­sid­er­able con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing the authen­tic­i­ty of the “six sig­na­tures” of Shake­speare. The two sup­posed sig­na­tures on the mort­gage deed of 1613 are almost cer­tain­ly not sig­na­tures at all, but the result of legal clerks writ­ing his name on the tabs hold­ing his seal in order to iden­ti­fy it. Like­wise, the alleged sig­na­ture on his depo­si­tion in Bel­lott vs. Moun­tjoy was most prob­a­bly writ­ten by the court stenog­ra­ph­er for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pur­pos­es. Of the three sig­na­tures on his will, the first two were more like­ly writ­ten by Fran­cis Collins, his attor­ney, and only the final one, pre­ced­ed by the words “By me, William,” which are obvi­ous­ly writ­ten in a dif­fer­ent hand, is undoubt­ed­ly Shake­speare’s. So to claim that “Hand D” belongs to Shake­speare is ridicu­lous.

  • GaelOfters says:

    So do I read this cor­rect­ly? The entire text of Sir Thomas Moore is based on a cal­i­bra­tion of six sig­na­tures, 5 of which are in seri­ous doubt, leav­ing a learn­ing set of just 5 let­ters?

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