Shakespeare’s Small Latin and Less Anglo-Saxon? – A Bilingual Annotation in The Folger’s Online Copy of Archaionomia
Posted By Roger Stritmatter on January 15, 2014
A funny thing happened to me this morning on my way to the Folger library.
It was to be my first Folger research junket to in some months; I was almost out the door for the hour-long commute to DC’s lovely Southeast District when — imagine my surprise and satisfaction — I found what I was looking for, already available on the internet! Not that I don’t love visiting the Folger, or don’t appreciate the value of actually holding a real book, but I dislike long drives even more.
More specifically, I found it on the Folger’s truly impressive online resource, its Luna archive of online facsimiles of rare and unique items from its collection. I was only looking for the call number in the Folger’s Hamnet data base, and instead stumbled on the entire book.
This is hardly the first time I’ve used Lumina; in fact, regular readers of the blog will be aware that the library some years ago digitized the de Vere Geneva Bible – an act the full consequences of which have yet to be fully appreciated.
From time to time I’ve reproduced here facsimile de Vere Bible images from this resource, and plan to continue doing so as the long-range project of a book on the de Vere Bible moves forward in coming weeks and months. The Folger’s Lumina resources are available for non-commercial distribution on the internet via a Creative Commons License, which means that as long as you aren’t laughing your way to the bank and you give the Folger a credit and — ideally –a link, you can reproduce the materials free of charge.
Lucky for us. Important documents, at least those that are four hundred years old, are no longer locked away in dusty archives that one needs a security clearance to access.
I hope I’ve said this before, but if so it bears repeating that the Folger’s generosity in making these materials available should not go unremarked or unrewarded in public opinion.
In the internet age, it no longer works to hide your candle under a bushel, but it does sometimes take courage, as well as resources, to bring forth documents, long neglected by scholars all too often irrationally committed to a status quo ante of one kind or another, that deserve careful consideration and full recognition through public analysis and informed debate.
In this case the candle I’m talking about is indeed a pearl of great price — a truly unique treasure for cultural historians and Shakespearean sleuths.
Among other lessons, it illustrates how much evidence of early modern reading practices, in some cases highly relevant to the disposition of the Shakespearean question, has lain unnoticed (if not suppressed and misrepresented) in the archives of the world’s great libraries, including the Folger.
I’m talking about several annotations in the Folger’s copy of William Lambarde’s 1568 Archaionomia, which have to my knowledge never been reproduced, and certainly not widely circulated or dealt with for their implications, within Shakespearean studies.
Lambarde (1536-1601) was the foremost authority in Elizabethan England on this topic, and the book was only the second ever published at least partly in an Anglo-Saxon alphabet and language. Archaionomia was the first survey of the history of Anglo-Saxon common law, and is published in a bilingual and bi-literal format, with Anglo-Saxon words printed in their original alphabet.
For that reason alone it is of intense interest to legal and cultural historians as well, in its day, to lawyers and judges seeking the best first-hand account of the early development of Anglo-Saxon common law.
Several years later, in his 1591 Archaion, Lambarde became the first to use the term “equity” (OED 4a) – a key concept in Shakespeare’s legal knowledge and philosophy – in print.
The failure to notice these annotations is all the more striking — indeed, bordering on a scandal — when one considers that the volume has attracted considerable attention, becoming the subject of several articles as well as a whole chapter in W. Nicholas Knight’s Shakespeare’s Hidden Life: Shakespeare and the Study of the Law 1585-1595 (New York: Mason and Liscomb, 1973), because of an alleged “signature” of “Shakespeare” on the book’s title page (Figure Two).
The state of the current discussion on this aspect of the volume, with the usual Stratfordian bias, can be read on the (largely fictional) Wikipedia entry on “Shakespeare’s handwriting,” where the inscription is declared by fiat a “signature.”
The funny thing was, when I looked for Lambarde’s volume online a week ago, it wasn’t available. I did turn up one page reproduced from the Folger’s other copy of the book, containing this intriguing table of an Elizabeth era annotator reproducing a table contained in the book showing the Anglo-Saxon letter equivalents to the roman Italic alphabet.
Within a week, however, the complete text of the “Shakespeare” version of Lambarde (Folger V.a.230) was available on the Luna data base.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not accusing Folger librarians of participating in a conspiracy to fulfill the prophecy of Rape of Lucrece to “unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.” I mean, who do you take me for, some kind of “conspiracy theorist”?
On the other hand, it was nice that I didn’t have to spend three hours in the car today, and probably end up with a parking ticket, just to get a closer look at the volume in question — and even nicer still that, because the volume is now available on Luna, anyone with internet access to it can examine its intriguing contents for him or herself.
I’ve long known about the Lambarde volume, but became re-interested in it recently when the topic of Eric Sams attribution study of the anonymous Elizabethan manuscript play Edmund Ironside (available online here) came up in discussions on the Linked-In Shakespeare forum.
Sams book was first brought to my attention in about 1991 when my now deceased friend and colleague Isabel Holden, of Northampton, Mass – a longtime patron of the Folger and just all around brilliant and wonderful lady – first drew my attention to his work.
According to Sams, Lambarde’s Archaionomia is a significant source for this Edmund Ironside. In his edition, moreover, Sams calls specific attention to the Folger volume, being the first (and, to my knowledge only) Shakespearean scholar to point out that the book contains annotations in a highly competent and expressive italic hand, in addition to (and it a different ink from) the alleged “signature” of the bard. (n.b. added 1/16 – in attempting to review the basis for this statement to quote directly what Sams says about the annotations, I have been unable to confirm the location or even that Sams does mention the annotations; it is possible that I’ve misremembered and am conflating Sams with another source on this point. Details forthcoming).
Other than that, it appears that the Shakespearean establishment has been remarkably “mum” about this dimension of the Lambarde book.
This is especially surprising in the case of Knight, who devotes a fifty-two page chapter to analyzing the book with the express purpose of “persuad[ing] the reader and Shakespearean scholars that the signature is, indeed, a genuine one” (154).
One can only speculate why Knight would write over fifty pages about this book and its author, including a series of elaborate speculations about how Lambarde and Mr. Shakespeare must have known one another, how the bard must have made use of Lambarde’s extensive library, and what the vast implications for Shakespeare scholarship must be, without ever bothering to mention that the volume contains bilingual Latin-English annotations in an Elizabethan-era hand.
At the very least, however, it shows an absence of intellectual curiosity that, all too often, has become a hallmark of the inquiry habits of many adherents to the orthodox view of the bard, a tendency that is reinforced by the generally rigid and preconceived notions of relevance that support an ossifying Stratfordian tradition.
What I found, on the other hand, was, to me at least, rather stunning.
The Folger volume contains two extensive annotations, one in Latin and the other mostly in Anglo-Saxon, reproduced here as figures Four and Five. The first annotation concerns what might seem an obscure point of etymology, namely Lambarde’s argument that the words aurum (gold) and prayer (ora; also cognate with “mouth,” os, oris) are cognates.
In confirmation, the annotator writes:
“Golden things, (or) prayers, as the grammarian Festus says, from the color gold, which the country people are accustomed to say as ‘orum’” – that is, in other words, “the country people are accustomed to spell the word aurum as orum” – as if cognate with orata (prayers).
To this day, modern Latin grammars confirm this understanding by listing Festus as the authority for this alternative spelling (Orum) of the Latin word for “Gold.” Whether the etymology is correct or not, I myself do not know – nor does it, from our point of view, matter.
The remainder of the annotation cites the annotator’s authority, namely Edward Wotton’s 1552 De differentiis animalium.
Now, I would not want to go off the deep end here making arguments that cannot, based on the slim sample size available here, make any definitive claims about who the author of this intriguing annotation may have been – any more than I have a good explanation of how a book annotated in this manner came to have the name “Wm. Shakspere” inscribed on its title page. But three things, at least, are beyond reasonable dispute:
1) This is not the handwriting of the incumbent bard from Stratford;
2) The suppression of this evidence by a series of scholars, up to and including Nicholas Knight, begs an explanation and looks bad for the assumptions of scholars who have previously sought to investigate the genesis of the alleged association with Mr. Shakspere. They have systematically overlooked, and in some cases at least knowingly concealed, critical facts about the volume’s history that would, to say the least, complicate their dubious narratives about the “signature”;
3) I doubt if even someone as creative in his approach to forensic paleography as Professor Alan Nelson can come up with a good reason to dispute the reasonable hypothesis that this annotation is, actually, in the hand of the 17th Earl of Oxford as copiously known in many available documents, including this.
The second annotation in the book is, if anything, even more startling, being mostly written in the annotator’s own version of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.
With acknowledgement of assistance from my anonymous but brilliant Anglo-Saxon expert, here is a rough translation: “the word ‘libra’ in Latin is a ‘pound,’ in English five pennies ye maketh one shilling, and 30 pennies (maketh) one mancus.” The mancus was an archaic measure of money, equivalent to 30 silver pennies.
Now, admittedly the math seems a bit fuzzy here, so this translation is perhaps a hair or two shy of total clarity. But for the moment, I think this will suffice. Over on Mark Anderson’s Shakesvere Facebook page, Christopher Carolan has already made some remarkable further discoveries about these two annotations.
This has been a long post, I’m tired and you, dear reader, are to be congratulated for your attention to detail in following the thread of this important new evidence in the authorship question.
This is my thirty pence worth for the day. In future blog posts we will explore such questions as the Earl of Oxford’s early association with William Lambarde’s friend and associate, the great Anglo-Saxon scholar and tutor Lawrence Nowell, a topic ably surveyed already by Stephanie Hopkins Hughes, as well as Shakespeare’s own notorious “bi-alphabetic” imagination, as manifest in his frequent coinage of Latinate-Anglo-Saxon hybrid words like “bi-fold,” a word apparently first used by the Earl of Oxford in 1601 letter to Robert Cecil, although first credited by the OED to “Shakespeare” in Troilus and Cressida.
 For the best general introduction to this fascinating topic, see William Sherman’s Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2008).