A Bard By Any Other Name

So I’m over at the Boston Public Library again today, and I notice something.  Somebody correct my knowledge, which I’m pulling strictly out of my brain.  I was under the impression that dear W S never actually spelled his own name as “Shakespeare” the way we do.  Is this correct?  What I noticed at the BPL exhibit is that nearly all of the books, First Folios and Quartos alike, all clearly spell it Shakespeare (sometimes Shake-Speare), with a small handful of exceptions.  How’d that happen, exactly?  When did we standardize on the Shakespeare spelling, and was it while the man was still alive?  I would have believed that the Folios, published after his death, might have evolved the spelling in the years that passed.  But most of the Quartos, published in WS’s lifetime, spell it that way as well. I googled quickly and found this portion of the authorship debate, but truthfully I’m at work and don’t have the time or patience to wade through it.  So I turn instead to my audience.  Who’s got the scoop?

5 thoughts on “A Bard By Any Other Name

  1. I have always understood the same, that Will spelled his name differently than the modern spelling we have come to know so well.

    And actually, in Shakespeare’s time, the ‘s’ looked more like an ‘f’, carrying over slightly from the Middle English lettering. So the First Folio I have studied looks more like “Shakefpear”, or something similar. (Without the proper font, it doesn’t look exactly the way I’ve seen it.)

  2. Yes, the s/f thing is pretty well recognized. Some of the pages wrote it “Shakfpeare”. I believe the f-like letter is used only in mid word, however, so “Shake-speare” or “Shakfpeare”.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Shakespeare himself never actually spelled it; or rather, the six signatures of his that we have — which are all the examples of his handwriting ever found — all spell the name differently (and none of them are “Shakespeare” if I recall correctly). The first name is some times abbreviated “Wm:” etc.; and the last name is “Shaksper”, “Shaxper”, etc. This is par for the course with Elizabethan spelling; it’s not standardised. The hyphenated version is, I think, a First Folio thing (that’s how it appears on the title page) and not taken from how he might have signed his name.

    In short, the normative “Shakespeare” came later, possibly as late as the 18th century with Aubrey or even later (Malone, say).

    Interesting question actually; it would be a good idea to dig up just exactly when “Shakespeare” became the agreed upon version.

  4. I think you missed my point, Anonymous. Just today I was staring right at a First Folio, and I can clearly state that it says “Shakespeare”. No hyphen, and an ending e. While some of the other documents had it hyphenated, almost all of them had it spelled the way we now know it. My point was that I think the standardization of his name might well have begun while the man was still alive.

    Folger sells a poster of the First Folio page, where you can see the name for yourself in all its modernized non-hyphenated glory:


  5. Anonymous says:

    Right, sorry, I was thinking of the Sonnets published in 1609: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/facsimile/book/UC_Q1_Son/

    That it was spelled “Shakespeare” on the First Folio probably settles your question; every editor since Malone has focused mainly on the First Folio (and some of the Quartos were not discovered until even later). I think the consensus is that Shakespeare had no hand in the publication of any of the Quartos, with the possible (probable) exception of the poems.

    Interesting question. It would be good to see if any scholarship on this (not related to the “Authorship Question”) exists.

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