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Of signatures and spellings

For the longest time, scholars and readers alike have constantly questioned the true identity of he who has been deemed the greatest playwright of the era. There had been so many factors contributing to this skepticism of whether or not such an extensive body of work should be properly named to the man from Stratford-upon-Avon. These factors range from writing style to even his identity as Stratford man. One of the more prominent issues regarding the matter involve spelling and signatures.

Throughout time, there have been varied ways in which his name had been spelled. There was no singular way that was used in the course of his lifetime. In each manuscript, it varied. Even after his death, people still seemed to be confused. Editors would use different spellings for separate versions of his work. It was not until the 20th century that people finally settled on one spelling.

The spelling that we come to know now, Shakespeare, is also the commonly used one during his lifetime. However, none of his handwritten signatures actually used this spelling. It was this spelling that was used in printed signatures in the First Folio and first editions of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

First edition of The Rape of Lucrece with ‘Shakespeare’ as the printed signature

Before this widely accepted spelling of ‘Shakespeare’, others were used. In the 18th century, ‘Shakespear’ was used. It was later on replaced by ‘Shakspeare’ after that until the early 19th century. After that, the spelling ‘Shakspere’ was adopted as the most authentic spelling because this was one that was used in his signature. It kept changing for various reasons until around the 1860s. With the publication of the Cambridge and the Globe editions of the plays, ‘Shakespeare’ was accepted by most.

Just as confused everybody is about the spelling, his signature adds to the mix. There are six physical and surviving signatures of the playwright. It seemed like the Stratford man himself also didn’t know what was real because it kept changing. The six versions of his signature were: Willm Shakp, William Shaksper, Wm Shakspe, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere, William Shakspeare.

The six signatures of Shakespeare

All this uncertainty and confusion ultimately led to a question of the Bard’s authorship. Concerns were raised regarding the possible duplicity his identity, that there could be multiple and separate people working under the name Shakespeare. The name could also be merely a pseudonym. One assumption is that there are actually three different Shakespeares: the author, the actor, and the Stratford man.

Much of this skepticism seems to lead nowhere and just end up as speculation. There are critics who are solely dedicated to proving his identity of be false, while some are wholly preoccupied with defending it.  Either way, it is clear in this disparity of opinion that this man, whether or not his authenticity is proven correct, is influential enough to spark such debates.

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Categories: Multimedia Essays
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