Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2021 Issue

Has a Book from Shakespeare's Library Finally Been Located?

9801eaf1-365d-4427-9249-b212515e4955

Are those Shakespeare's signature (middle) and initials (top)?

Has a book from Shakespeare's library finally been found? William Shakespeare is undoubtedly the English language's greatest literary giant. We also know that many of his plays were based on earlier books he obviously read. How else could he know of events from before his time? And yet despite his obvious use of books, and the fact that there were no public libraries in the late 16th-early 17th century, not one book from his library has ever been identified. That is surprising, because in those days, people routinely wrote in and signed their books. Where did they go?

 

Canadian professor Robert Weir recently claimed to have found a book from Shakespeare's library. Weir is a professor in the Department of Languages, Literature and Cultures at the University of Windsor. He holds a PhD in Classical Archaeology from Princeton, although even such lofty qualifications does not mean his findings will not have their doubters. People have been searching for such a book literally for centuries and there have been some false alarms. Prof. Weir delivered a paper describing his findings before the Classical Association of Canada but it has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Expect some fireworks when it is.

 

The book is entitled Vincti Horatii Flacci Poemata, published in 1575. It is from the Roman poet Horace. There were a lot of editions of Horace published back in that time. Horace died around the year Zero, so he was making up for lost time waiting for the first printing press to arrive. This one doesn't appear to be notably valuable, unless, of course, it did once belong to Shakespeare. In that case, it is worth who knows how much. There are no comparables.

 

The book came to Prof. Weir in 2016. The owner had purchased it from an Oxford dealer in 2001. The owner wanted to see whether the Professor could tell him more about it. That set off the chain of research.

 

Since Shakespeare's name was not lettered on the binding, Dr. Weir had to look to annotations within the book. However, there was a problem, which, if he is right, would help explain why its history remained unknown for so long. In 1731, the book was washed. The annotations were virtually impossible to see. It was also trimmed, and if the original binding had Shakespeare's name on it, that is gone since it was rebound. In order to better see the annotations, Prof. Weir used ultraviolet light and digital enhancements. The result is what you see in the picture.

 

Dr. Weir found numerous annotations, and he had to sort through them as they came in several different hands. The book had been though numerous owners between its publishing date and 1731 when it was washed. He believes it may have had an owner prior to Shakespeare, and he theorized the first owner could have been Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. That would be an interesting connection as some of those people who can't believe Shakespeare was capable of writing such works believe the actual author was de Vere.

 

The most obvious evidence are the apparent Shakespeare signatures and initials. Of course, someone else could have written them in the book later. Does this look like Shakespeare's signature? I will leave that to handwriting experts. He had a messy, inconsistent signature, hard to read. Perhaps these have a little more flourishes than those he had on official documents, but one might add a bit more of that when writing in a book than on a will. There are enough similarities for an amateur such as myself to say “maybe.”

 

The other factor that Weir thinks may weigh even more heavily is that annotations frequently appear at sections that Shakespeare is known to have borrowed from Horace. Weir says, “Everything Shakespeare borrowed from Horace is annotated herein.” He believes it unlikely that anyone else would have annotated so many passages specifically used by Shakespeare. While it is possible that one of the later owners marked passages as being ones used by Shakespeare, Weir notes that there wasn't much Shakespeare scholarship prior to the washing in 1731, making that explanation unlikely.

 

We do not yet have a definitive answer and I imagine it will be a long time before we do, if ever we do. There will undoubtedly be a lot of research and a lot of debate in the years ahead before any kind of a consensus is achieved.

 


Posted On: 2021-07-01 04:00
User Name: classicalsteve

I would like to point out that among those of us who believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, has a strong case for Shakespeare Authorship, we believe William Shakespeare is William Shakespeare. We just don't believe William Shakespeare is the same man as William of Stratford-on-Avon, the tradesman. If Oxford is the real Shakespeare, he was using the name "William Shakespeare" as a pseudonym. So to say that Oxfordians don't believe Shakespeare could write Shakespeare is not what we believe in the same no one says Mark Twain didn't write Mark Twain as it was really Samuel Clemens. We are unconvinced largely the man from Stratford is Shakespeare, poet/playwright. And isn't it interesting that yet another possible connection between "Shakespeare" and the Earl of Oxford may again have surfaced. In nearly a century, the Stratfordians (those who believe William of Stratford is Shakespeare, poet/playwright) have come up with next-to-nothing.


Posted On: 2021-07-01 17:45
User Name: JohnWindle

If anyone is up to date on the status of the book described at great length (and mercilessly savaged by at least one critic since deceased) in "Shakespeare's Beehive" by Koppelman and Wechsler it would be good to know. There is no update after 2018 on their website.


Posted On: 2021-07-02 08:18
User Name: chr.edwards

Judging from the photograph - which in itself looks utterly implausible - this seems such an obvious forgery that it's difficult to believe that anyone would take it seriously. So, the answer to the headline question, 'Has a book from Shakespeare's library finally been located?', is plainly 'No'.

Christopher Edwards


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Pancho Villa, passport for a news correspondent covering the Mexican revolution, signed, 1914. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Nirvana’s <i>Nevermind,</i> CD insert signed & inscribed days after release by Cobain, inscribed by Novoselic, 1991. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Robert Indiana, <i>The Book of Love,</i> complete portfolio, artist’s proof set, 1997. $100,000 to $125,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Marcel Vertés, Colette, <i>Chéri,</i> two volumes, deluxe edition, signed by the artist, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>Orlando,</i> first trade edition, first impression, London, 1928. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Mark Twain, receipt for payment of the Mark Twain Public Library Tax, 1908. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk von Gustav Klimt,</i> portfolio, collotype plates, 1918. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <center><b>The 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop<br></b>Catalogue 190:<br>Magnificent Books & Photographs<br><b>Free on request</b>
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> William Shakespeare. <i>The Second Folio</i> (1632).
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> Abraham Lincoln. Autograph note on Black troops in the Union Army (1865).
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> Neil Armstrong. The largest known U.S. flag flown to the Moon on Apollo 11 (1969).
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> William Henry Fox Talbot. <i>The Pencil of Nature</i> (1844-1846) the first photo illustrated book.
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> Albert Einstein. Letter on relativity and the speed of light (1951).
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Hawking & Hunting.- Turberville (George). <i>The Booke of Falconrie or Hawking,</i> second edition, Printed by Thomas Purfoot, 1611. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> George Steevens' copy.- Coryate (Thomas). <i>Coryats Crudities Hastily gobbled up in five Moneths travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia...,</i> first edition, complete copy, Printed by W. S[tansby], 1611. £4,000 to £6,00
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Butler (Charles). <i>The Feminine Monarchie: or The Historie of Bees,</i> second edition, Printed by John Haviland for Roger Jackson, 1623. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Brathwait (Richard). <i>The English Gentlewoman, drawne out to the full Body: expressing, What Habilliments doe best attire her…,</i> Printed by B. Alsop and T. Fawcet, for Michaell Sparke, 1631. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Glapthorne (Henry). <i>The Ladies Priviledge,</i> first edition, Imprinted...by J. Okes, for Francis Constable, 1640. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Witchcraft.- F. (H.) <i>A true and exact Relation Of the severall Informations, Examinations, and Confessions of the late Witches, arraigned and executed in the County of Essex,</i> first edition, 1645. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Hobbes (Thomas). <i>De Corpore Politico. Or the Elements of Law, Moral & Politick,</i> first edition, 1650. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Early steam engine.- Worcester (Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquis). <i>A Century of the Names and Scantlings of such Inventions…,</i> first edition, 1663. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Cookery.- M[ontagu] (W[alter]). <i>The Queens Closet Opened. Incomparable secrets in physick, chirurgery, preserving and candying, &c,</i> 3 parts in 1 vol., 1674. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Speed (John). <i>An Epitome of Mr. John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain,</i> 2 parts in 1, 90 engraved maps, Printed for Tho. Basset, and Ric. Chiswel, 1676. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Le Boe (Franciscus). <i>Of Childrens Diseases... also a Treatise of the Rickets,</i> first edition, Printed for George Downs, 1682. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Economics.- Locke (John). <i>Several Papers Relating to Money, Interest and Trade,</i> first collected edition, Printed for A. and J. Churchill, 1696. £2,000 to £3,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>26th-29th of October 2021</b>
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th- 29th:</b><br>Books from XV to XX Century
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Manuscripts and autographs
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Artist books
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Cars & more
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Magazines
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th- 29th:</b><br>Books from XV to XX Century

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions