4. 1 May 1995 (More on Shakespeare's Hand; Denbigh and Egerton MSS)

Dear John,

   Thanks for yours. My grasp of Shakespeare's hand (so to speak, and such as it is) much resembles your own; but I'll set down my own thoughts for whatever they may be worth.

   First, I think one has to distinguish between a hand and its styles. The young Shakespeare (by which I mean basically the Ironside writer) has a secretary style which I take to be school plus legal training e.g. in certain expressions and abbreviations. But I have the feeling that a legal document prepared by the same penman would look rather different from this stage script, in being rather more consistent – for example like the 1579 document subscribed with a cross by both John Shakespeare and his wife Mary which mortgages the property (Asbies) she had inherited (a few lines are reproduced at the top of p.38 in Schoenbaum's 1975 Life). However that may be, the freer and more fluent Ironside hand c. 1588 is diversified by the then new-fangled italic (which I interpret as an instruction to the compositor) for proper names and stage directions. But the same penman also uses a third style, for the calligraphic heading; and the title and the word CADMUS in the text are in Roman capitals. So we're dealing with a fairly skilled penman. But each of his styles is capable of strikingly varied letter-formation; thus there are very many forms of secretary small a.

   Already therefore we have a Protean appearance in one and the same person; so there are inherent difficulties of identification. The glad cry of 'That's old Proteus! I'd know him anywhere!' somehow fails to impress sceptics or persuade doubters, and it's hard to make progress in so treacherously muddied a field, which has no experts or accredited credentials, yet to which everyone seems to bring ineradicable preconvictions. One of the many anomalies I've noticed in Shakespeare studies is the powerful certainty (a) that he left almost no manuscripts but (b) nothing attributed to him can possibly be in his hand.

   I'm entirely open to persuasion about the Denbigh MS, which as soon as I saw it (even in a few lines of newsprint) reminded me so strongly of the Ironside MS (even though I hadn't looked at that for an age) that I rang up Dalya Alberge. then Arts Correspondent of theTimes, and said so, on the day her piece appeared (1 August 1994). She gave me the address and telephone number of Jeremy Griffiths, who seemed the right person to contact as the Christ Church custodian concerned; but the only action (more like inaction) that he has ever taken, so far as I know, is first to confuse Ironside with Sir Thomas  More and then to fall into a profound slumber. My own eyesight and expertise aren't really reliable enough to pronounce a definitive opinion. In this I'm not alone; for example the handwriting expert recommended by the British Museum, the late Peter Croft of King's College Cambridge, was as sand-blind and high-gravel­blind as old Gobbo and really couldn't see anything very much at all, poor chap, not even where he was going. However, I quite agree that both the Denbigh and the Egerton MSS aimed at legibility; and I even ventured to make a few admittedly rather cursory comparisons between the two. I concluded that the formations and abbreviations of each were indeed exceedingly similar in both secretary and italic, large and small, except that the base of capital I turns in opposite directions and Ironside has many more varieties of small a. The Denbigh small d you mention, both initial and terminal is also quite often found in Ironside; 'stood in doubt' in mid-Fol. 101b for example conveniently illustrates both.




   What you say about the Sonnets interests me; I'm rather sure that they were printed from a holograph source (and they too have italicised proper names, and Finis at the end).

   I've looked through The Annotator, and I enclose a second copy, which you're welcome to borrow; I'd be grateful for its return in due course. As you'll see, there are indeed Salusbury and Stanley connections. The actual 1550 Hall volume annotated is now housed in the British Library, like Ironside, which makes the Students' Room doubly well worth a visit. You may also find the Famous Victories text of some interest; I dare say that it too is an early Shakespeare play.

   I also have Moray McLaren's ''By me”, 1949, the Annotator's forerunner. But perhaps I've gone on long enough for the time being; so I'll content myself with adding that I'd date theMore hand after 1500, which is also the current consensus; and that I like the idea of Daniel in the lion's den.

   Best, as ever,

   yours Eric