“Shakespeare’s” Dictionary

This morning, a couple of days before the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, a pair of booksellers in New York City revealed that they believe they have found a dictionary that belonged to Shakespeare. They detail their claims in a book called Shakespeare’s Beehive. Garrett Scott has posted a helpful overview.

Shakespeare’s dictionary! Since we know of no other existing books that Shakespeare owned, shouldn’t we be excited about this? Well, potentially — but not for reasons related to Shakespeare. The response of the community of Shakespeare scholars can best be described as a sort of skeptical interest. Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library published a clear and thorough blog post explaining why. One of the points that Witmore and Wolfe make is that the book is fascinating in its own right, regardless of whether Shakespeare actually wrote the annotations or someone else did. In fact, what I’m most excited about is not whether these are Shakespeare’s annotations, but rather that Koppelman and Wechsler have posted examples online, making this unique book a little more accessible to all of us.

As we visit Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, we’ll be seeing a lot of Bardolatry (the idolization of Shakespeare as “the Bard”). I wanted to post these links so that (a) you all could take a look, if you’re curious, and (b) we could refer to them later in our discussions. What do we make of Shakespeare’s “Shakespeare-ness,” his overwhelming (overblown?) reputation as The Greatest Writer Of All Time? We’ll be seeing and reading a play by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Thomas Middleton’s Roaring Girl, which is hilarious and wonderful. Why have we all heard of Shakespeare, but I’d wager none of you have heard of Thomas Middleton? I promise you that it has nothing to do with “quality”!


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