Can you explain the “seventh signature”? – Brian McDonald

McDonald:  What’s your take on the possible “seventh signature” in the copy of Archaionomia?  It seems a pointless forgery unless a forger was using it as training to get good at signing Shaksper’s name for a more cunning job.  I don’t know if it could ever be proven that the person who wrote the six or so Shaksper signatures also wrote the one in Archaionomia.  Would Shaksper’s ownership of such a book be compatible with the glove-maker’s son we think we know?  I presume that the book was not used to level a table.  I know he was involved in real estate deals (involving enclosure, was it?), but would he really be able to make use of a Latin text about ancient real estate law? 

Hughes:  No, I can’t explain it; I wish I could.  The copy of Archaionomia with the name William Shakspere clearly written in ink on the title page (now in the Fologer) falls in the same category with the so-called Northumberland manuscript, intriguing but out of reach.  Attempts by Stratfordians to assign it to William of Stratford and thereby prove his literacy, ownership of a library, and knowledge of the law have had few takers, chiefly due to the arcane nature of the work.  I don’t know enough about it to comment on its provenance, whether known or guessed, but it seems unlikely as a forgery.

The book itself was written by William Lambarde as means for communicating what his mentor, Laurence Nowell, had unearthed in his studies of early English law.  At some point in the late 1550s or early 1560s, Nowell taught himself to read and write Anglo-Saxon (aka Old English) from manuscripts in the possession of Matthew Parker and William Cecil, knowledge he passed along to Lambarde, then a student at the Inns of Court.  The book reproduces several of the most basic legal tracts with the Anglo-Saxon on the left page corresponding to Lambarde’s Latin paraphrase on the right.  Published in 1568, it’s been a cornerstone in the history of English Law ever since.

During the period when this scholarly project was in full swing, Nowell was earning his keep at Cecil House by tutoring the young Earl of Oxford.  Although Oxford would surely have known the book, he was only 18 when it was published, this doesn’t mean that he owned or had anything to do with this particular copy.  Whoever owned it would have been a genuine legal scholar, for no one else would have been interested in such a book.  There’s simply not enough information even to hazard a guess why the owner, whoever he was, would have written the name on the title page.  I could come up with a dozen possible scenarios, but, lacking any supportive evidence, why bother?

It’s clear from Shakespeare that Oxford picked up a good deal from Nowell during the time that he studied with him, but it was less the ancient law than the stories in these texts that would have interested a budding poet and playwright, stories like Judith and Holofernes, or details on the death of Beowulf.

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