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When did the spelling of William Shakespeare change from ...

Resolved Question:

When did the spelling of William Shakespeare change from William Shakespere?
Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: General
Expert:  The Geezer replied 10 years ago.
I took a class in Shakespeare while becoming an engineer at USC in the 1960's and never even knew of this change of spelling. But here is one reference writer about it:

"... Introduction
One of the most common articles of Oxfordian faith is that there is great significance in the various spellings of Shakespeare's name. The spelling "Shakespeare," according to most Oxfordians, was used to refer to the author of the plays and poems, while the spelling "Shakspere" (or "Shaksper," in the version sometimes promoted by more militant Oxfordians such as Charlton Ogburn) was used to refer to the Stratford man. A milder version of this claim acknowledges that Elizabethan spelling was not absolute, but still says that the usual and preferred spelling of the Stratford man's name was "Shaksper(e)," as opposed to the poet "Shakespeare." These claims about spelling are usually accompanied by an assertion that the two names were pronounced differently: "Shakespeare" with a long 'a' in the first syllable, as we are accustomed to pronouncing it today, but "Shakspere" with a "flat" 'a,' so that the first syllable sounds like "shack." A separate but related claim involves hyphenation: the name was occasionally hyphenated in print as "Shake-speare," a fact which Oxfordians say points to it being a pseudonym. These claims are given more or less prominence in different presentations of the Oxfordian theory, but they are virtually always present in one form or another. Indeed, they are vital for the Oxfordian scenario, since they make it easier for Oxfordians to believe that the "William Shakespeare" praised as a poet was some mysterious figure with no apparent connection to the glover's son and actor "William Shaksper" from Stratford-upon-Avon..."

As it turns out, though, all of the above claims are false. Specifically:

1. "Shakespeare" was by far the most common spelling of the name in both literary and non-literary contexts, and there is no significant difference in spelling patterns when we take into account such factors as handwritten vs. printed and Stratford vs. London spellings;

2. there is no evidence that the variant spellings reflected a consistent pronunciation difference, but there is considerable evidence that they were seen as more or less interchangeable;

3. there is no evidence whatsoever that hyphenation in Elizabethan times was ever thought to indicate a pseudonym, and other proper names of real people were also sometimes hyphenated..."

So according to this source, it never actually changed.


After more text and a few tables, like this one (please consult the cited reference for a properly-formatted table):

"Table 2. Literary references (1593-1616):

&nbs p;Hand-
Total Printed written
----- ------- -------
Shake-speare2121 0
Shakspeare105 5
Shaxberd40 4
Shakespere 30 3
Shakespear 31 2
Shakspear 20 2
Shakspere 10 1
Shaksper10 1
Schaksp.10 1
Shakespe10 1
Shakspe10& 1

with first 'e' 149 (87%)131 (95%) 18 (55%)
w/o first 'e'22 (13%) 7 (5%) 15 (45%)"

.. the author continues his point - no actual change of spelling occurred.

"...A specific example illustrates more forcefully the difference between printed and handwritten spellings. We have four surviving contemporary records where someone recorded his purchase of one of Shakespeare's printed works while noting the author's name; in each case the writer spelled the name without the first 'e', even though in three of the four cases the corresponding printed work spells the name "Shakespeare":

1. On June 12, 1593, Richard Stonley purchased a copy of newly-published Venus and Adonis, with a dedication signed "William Shakespeare," yet in his notebook he wrote "Venus and Adhonay pr Shakspere."
2. On June 19, 1609, Edward Alleyn noted his purchase of the recently-published Shake-speares Sonnets (as it is called on the title page) by writing down "Shaksper sonetts, 5 d.."
3. Sometime in 1609 or 1610, Sir John Harington made a list of play quartos he owned, including "K. Leir of Shakspear" (the 1608 Quarto spells the name "Shak-speare").
4. In 1611, William Drummond of Hawthornden noted among an inventory of his books "Venus and Adon. by Schaksp." (the name was spelled "Shakespeare" in all editions).

Surely these entries indicate that "Shakspere," "Shaksper," "Shakspear," and "Schakspe(a)re," when they happened to appear, were just seen as variants of "Shakespeare," and that nobody gave them a second thought..."

The interested reader should scan the entire referenced article to fully appreciate the flavor and fervor of this viewpoint.

Perhaps there was a relatively recent consensus among scholars about how the name should be spelled NOW?

"...The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0589 Tuesday, 13 March 2001

From:Thomas Larque <[email protected]>
Date:Monday, 12 Mar 2001 20:11:38 -0000
Subject: Spelling Shakespeare's Name

I was amused to find in my mailbox this morning an E-Mail roundly
condemning me for "spelling Shakespeare's name wrong nearly ten times"
in my Web edition of William Hazlitt's essay on Hamlet from his
"Characters of Shakespear's Plays". How could I expect to have my page
respected, I was asked, if I couldn't spell Shakespeare's name?

Of course, I explained that Hazlitt himself used the spelling
"Shakespear" because he lived before the modern fixed spelling of
Shakespeare's name was adopted as the correct one, and pointed my
correspondent towards Dave Kathman's admirable page on the spelling and
pronunciation of Shakespeare's name in the Renaissance
( as evidence of the variable
spelling of Shakespeare's name in his own time.

This did all leave me wondering, however, when and how exactly the
"Shakespeare" spelling came to be considered the only "correct" one.
The other source on my website (Helena Faucit / Lady Martin on Ophelia)
was written in the late 19th Century, as opposed to Hazlitt's early 19th
Century work, and uses what we would now regard as the correct
spelling. Was there a formal debate about the "correct" spelling of
Shakespeare's name during the 19th Century, or was there simply a
sea-change as fashions shifted and then became fixed? If anybody can
point me in the direction of post-Renaissance sources dealing with the
spelling of Shakespeare's name then I would be very interested to see

Thomas Larque..."


Another writer says this:

"...And by the way, can we *please* put to rest that old anti-Stratfordian
canard about the spelling of Shakespeare's name? Yes, I will grant you
that he was baptized as "Gulielmus Shakspere", and that he signed his
name "Shakspere" or "Shakspeare", and that the name on the First Folio
and most of the Quartos is "Shakespeare". But a systematic review of the
evidence reveals how absolutely meaningless this distinction is. About
a year ago I did an informal survey of how the name was spelled in primary
documents referring unambiguously to: a) the Stratford man, and b) the
playwright. Guess what --- the name was more likely to appear without the
first e (e.g. Shakspere) when referring to the *playwright*. You could
make a pretty good case that people were more likely to omit the first e
when writing longhand than when setting type: for example, on June 12, 1593,
Richard Stonley bought a copy of Venus and Adonis, with a dedication signed
by "William Shakespeare", then wrote in his diary that he had bought
"Venus and Athonay pr. Shakspere". Many other examples could be given.
In the Bellot-Mountjoy suit of 1612, he is consistently referred to as
"William Shakespeare" of Stratford-on-Avon, though he signed his name
"Willm Shakp" on his deposition. I defy anyone to show me systematic
evidence that *any* variation in the spelling of Shakespeare's name had
*any* consistent significance. I'm pretty sure it can't be done, because
I've looked...."


If that's not enough, this question predates the turn of the LAST century:

"...A Literary Potpourri.
How do you spell Shakespeare?
William Shakespeare. The Complete Works: Original Spelling Edition edited by Stanley Wells and XXXXX XXXXX, Oxford, 1456pp. £75, ISBN 0 19 812919X.

Opponents of spelling reform often claim that reform would make English literature inaccessible if the great works were not reprinted in the new spelling, or it would prevent them being appreciated, because their present appeal is inseparable from the 20th century spelling in which they are now usually read. These objections can be countered with observations such as: no spelling reform could be introduced that made existing texts unreadable; spelling reform is designed to make reading (and especially learning to read) easier, so literary works would become more accessible; older works are today already read in 'reformed' (or at least, modernised) spelling, so their appeal for modern readers hardly depends on the spelling; and we do not read them in the spelling intended by the author. But although the objections are clearly unfounded, the question of how to spell modem editions of old texts is serious, and one that spelling reformers cannot ignore.

A useful discussion of some of the technical issues involved appeared on 21 May 1987 the London Review of Books, with a review article by Frank Kermode entitled 'How do you spell Shakespeare?'. It discussed the orthographical problems facing the editors..."


Aren't you glad you asked? If this is for a paper you have been asked to write, odds are NOBODY will have taken the trouble to develop the body of research that you have now.
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