The last three signatures are from the three pages of the will, and so dated 1616. The first signature is very heavy and is said to be deteriorated over time. It is certainly incomplete.

Here it is:

There is evidence for the usual William, this time in full, but the last name has much of the lower half missing. From what we do see there appears to be more than a letter 'a' between 'h' and 'k '.

Here's the second will signature:

In 'William' the 'W' is weakly written, the 'i' is normal, there was a struggle to write the first 'l', the second is normal, the second 'i' is weak but readable. The final letter is probably an incomplete 'm' with the dot of the second 'i' over it. The word is apparently intended as an abbreviation because it has a semi-colon after it, (Drake's 'Fran' had a colon). The writing is not level and suggests weakness or pain or both.

In the last name the 'S' is 'Italian' style, the 'h' formation caused a big struggle, but seems to be an attempt at a 2nd or 5th style, followed by a perfectly formed 'a', a rather unsuccessful struggle to produce a 'k ', unless 'k' is omitted and 'e' form 4, 6, or 8 follows, then a recognizable 2nd form of 'P'. The rest is apparently an attempt at several letters, but not really distinguishable, at least by me. I would agree with Stratfordians here. It's not fair to criticize a man's signature written when he was in his terminal illness.

The signature appears to be 'Willim; Shakp(???)'

Here's the sixth and final signature we appear to have:

This signature begins with some over writing on the first letter. It looks as though the lawyer or his clerk wrote in 'By me William' as this is stylish and level writing. But Shakespeare would have had to write his own last name. The capital 'S' is 'Italian', the 'h' is 'secretary' 2nd style, marred only by a blot at the foot, with an up stroke to the 'a' which is well formed. The 'k ' seems to be style 1 and there is probably a long form 's' following and creating an underline effect under the 'k'. The 'p' is probably style 2 or 6, followed by two blotted letters, which could be 'e' 2 and 'a' 3, followed by a possible 'r ' 1 with a closing upward flourish. This last is the closest to his name of the six specimens, and he may have been helped to spell the surname by whoever wrote "By me William" for him. There is some rudimentary knowledge of writing here but I don't think it shows familiarity with the use of a pen.

This signature then translates as:


. . . . . . . . . .

Let's summarize what we seem to have:

1. Willi Shak

2. William Shakspe

3. Wm Shakspi

4. Deteriorated: William Sh??kp??r = a possible translation

5. Willim; Shakp???

6. Shaksp(??)?r?

This becomes interesting. It seems that he never finishes spelling his name. He knows he's William, and Shaksp or Shakp plus a few other letters, but he makes no serious attempt to formulate them. And these are all legal documents. We know Elizabethans spelt their names in different ways at different times, but this is not different spelling, it's incompletion.

There's something else. As these are all legal documents, where he had to write his name, we see that his legal name was Shaksper or Shakspre, probably pronounced 'Shackspurr'. This is not the same as Shakespeare.

I suggest you could probably duplicate the writing style yourself. Are you right handed or left handed? Whichever you are, take a pen and paper and write William Shakspre not with your usual hand but the other one, the one you never use. Use a fairly thick ball if it's a ball point, or a roller pen, if you have one, assuming you don't have an old-fashioned nib pen and ink which would be best.

Now look at what you've done. It's probably very uneven and jerky: why did you write like that? Because you don't write with that hand. And that I suggest is the situation we're looking at with the signature of "William Shakespeare". The writer is not used to writing with a pen nib, he presses too hard and makes blots, and in his day there was no other way to write.

If you study the signatures yourself, you can make your own judgement. But I don't see how anyone could, in a world where you had to use a quill pen, write your plays and poems, with an enormous vocabulary and reams of paper, if you couldn't write properly.

I know for a fact that being barely able to write doesn't mean you can't be a successful business person. In my earlier days as an accountancy student, one of the clients of the firm I trained with could not sign his name, he put an X with a witness on his tax return. He could not write. But he had lawyers and accountants and secretaries to do that for him. He owned shopping malls and apartment buildings, and was a wealthy and successful business man. He talked well enough and could calculate quickly in his head. But he could not write.

And what documentary evidence we have for the life of 'William Shakespeare' of Stratford on Avon shows him to be involved in leases, rents, buying property, investing in a theatre company, collecting payments, making loans, dealing in malt, corn in a big way, and wool, owning tithes, all of which from the evidence of my own experience, can be done with even less ability to sign his name than 'William Shakespeare' of Stratford on Avon had. I conclude the Stratford man had been taught in his youth to write his name but in mature years had almost forgotten how to write and how to spell. So his penmanship that is all we see of his writing ability was adequate for his purposes, but hopelessly inadequate for a professional writer in the 1500s in Elizabethan England.

As someone who has seen many thousands of clients sign tax returns and/or financial statements and other documents over many years whether cabinet minister, Metropolitan Opera star, TV and film personalities, writers, broadcasters, academics, actors, painters, lawyers, engineers, architects, stockbrokers, doctors, dentists, land developers, builders, many many presidents of corporations, many other trades and professions, and simple charity cases, I can assure you after having sat across the desk watching well over 50,000 signatures by my rough calculation, that no one who wrote a signature such as these of "William Shakespeare" could possibly be a writer by profession in the 16th century. So now we know that William Shakspe??, of Stratford on Avon was not, and could not have been, William Shakespeare the poet/dramatist for the simple reason that he did not have the ability to write the work down.

And the writing would have to be readily legible so that actors, copyists, and printers could quickly and accurately read what was written to memorize it, hand copy it or print it.

There is one other possibility to rescue William Shakspe?? of Stratford on Avon. He had an amanuensis who did all the writing, and WS merely dictated all the poems and plays. There is an actual example of this. John Milton, born before WS died, had become blind when Paradise Lost was written. But at least we know how this was done. Before he became blind he had held the Secretaryship for Foreign Tongues to the Council of State of the new Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell's government, writing official documents mostly in Latin and English with a salary of £288 per year. As his eyesight began to fail he was permitted to work mostly at home with assistance in the more routine work. Born in 1608, he was totally blind by 1652 and died in 1674. For Paradise Lost he was only paid £10. It was published in 1667. But he was already famous as a writer of poems and political pamphlets and taught many pupils during the time when he could see perfectly well. These students, when adults, his friends, and others who were paid, would drop by at his house and write a page or so at a time from his dictation. But that was only at the height of his career. For William Shakspe?? of Stratford on Avon this would have had to begin with his very first poem, and continued throughout his life. It seems very improbable. And there is no evidence for it. Nor is there evidence that he wrote anything at all, or for that matter, that he didn't.

If he was unfamiliar with writing, he could not possibly be the poet/dramatist. Now that we know this to be the case, we have to find out who the poet/dramatist was. There have been apparently about 60 candidates over the years since the 1500s. Any one of them, or someone else, could perhaps have been the mysterious writer. But it will have to have been someone who could write copiously with ease, as a basic requirement. And whoever he was there will have to be practical reasons we can accept for this writer's anonymity, using the name William Shakespeare.

To Chapter 3: Part 3 To Chapter 3: Part 5

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