To David Thomas

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams



25 September 1995



Dear David,


Sorry to bother you again. But who else is currently so well up in (a) Tudor handwriting and (b) the Shakespeare background?    

     Here are some quotations from the lead article 'Hamlet's Soliloquy, "To be or not to be"', by Francesca Bugliani of Milan, in the latest issue of Hamlet Studies (17, 1-2, Summer and Winter 1995).     

     'The Tusculan Disputations was very well known in Shakespeare's day...The points of similarity between the soliloquy and Cicero's text are many...verbal similarities between [the former] and John Dolman's translation [1561: BL 232.k.21] are striking...'.

     And so they are. I have an added interest because in my book The Real Shakespeare, 1995 I drew attention (for the first time, I believe) to the fact that Nashe in 1589, having pilloried Hamlet, proceeds to complain of plagiarism from the Tusculan Disputations; and that these contain the words 'id aut esse aut non esse' followed by a reference to the judges of the underworld (as in Hamlet Q1).

     I'm also the chap who claims that Shakespeare lacked Latin; and if I can't believe my own arguments, whose can I? So no doubt I should have looked for an English translation. But I didn't. All the same, anyone who scrutinises Dolman 1561 will soon see that, just as la Bugliani says, 'with all due reservations, we may even still have Shakespeare's actual copy of Dolman's translation…The [BL] copy heavily annotated in various hands, one of which resembles supposed [unspecified] specimens of Shakespeare's handwriting...Furthermore it has a signature on the title page which might possibly read 'W Shak'.

    Of course literary academics aren't really interested in such writings, which are in every sense marginal - and more likely to cause derision than recognition. No doubt much mirth and merriment can be made of the supposed signature 'Shak': did the spear drop from his nerveless hand (cf Fal-staff)? On the other hand, so to speak, it's hard to believe that a forger would have written thus, even if Dolman were a known source-book. And the marginalia, which may be datable, do indeed resemble Shakespeare's hand, in the signatures as in Sir Thomas More - though. if they were his, they'd be much earlier than either.

     I think there are one or two rather encouraging signs. Firstly, I'm sure la Bugliani is wrong in imagining 'various hands'. It's plain that the annotator wrote both secretary and italic, sometimes visibly varying from one to the other during the same phrase. Shakespeare wrote both, with supreme indifference to alphabets and personalised signatures (which led dear dotty Jane Cox to announce that the nation's treasures must be forgeries and Shakespeare himself a chimera - 'could the man write his own name?').

     Further, the Dolman letter-forms also appear in the six signatures, in Hand D of Sir Thomas More (now also universally accepted as genuine) and in Edmund Ironside. This last attribution is also gaining ground; thus Yale U.P. have just accepted my Shakespeare's [sic] Edward III, after careful professional refereeing of an edition which contains a detailed demonstration of that play's verbal and stylistic affiliations with Ironside. The latter's MS is Egerton 1994; it's a dramatic text prima facie in an authorial (surely not a copyist's) secretary hand with interspersed italic for stage directions etc. I date it 1588, i.e. much earlier than the signatures and Hand D, but about the same date as Dolman.

     Annoyingly, much of the Dolman annotation has been cropped by a 19th century bookbinder. But there's plenty left; and some of the phrases sound Shakespearean per se: thus 'madnesse [a] sicknes [of] minde', finds famous echoes in Macbeth etc.

     Just for starters, let's set all other sources and styles aside and concentrate on what Maunde Thompson says (in Pollard 1923) about the small letters of the secretary Hand D, as exemplified in the Pollard 1923 Plates V-VI, xeroxed herewith. Dolman shares the same alphabet with the same variations, such as several different forms of a (     ), two of e (     ), two of l  (     ), two of g (     ), two of h (     ), two of l (     ), two of p (     ), two of r (     ), two of s (     ), two of t (     ), with the same abbreviations, namely    

      for per or par and     for an omitted last syllable. Similarly the Dolman secretary, again like Hand D, bends its small d backwards through a preceding l     or s     , and uses one basic symbol only (though variably formed) for each of the letters b, c, m, n, o, u, v, w and y.

     Perhaps this verifiable degree of resemblance (among very much else equally striking) might dispose you at least to take a look at the Dolman pages, of which I enclose a few xeroxed samples.

     While I'm writing, and since Hamlet has already been mentioned, I'm also enclosing my own latest pieces on that topic, in case they have any interest for you.

     I'm sure you have many other preoccupations, and I don't at all want to be a nuisance; but if you can't be of any assistance it would be a considerable help to me if you could kindly suggest another expert who might be interested.


I trust you are well and flourishing.


Best wishes and regards,




                                                           Eric Sams