John Baret’s Alvearie, 1580
Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven —William Shakespeare
For some it would be as close to the Holy Grail as one can hope for. A copy of the dictionary Shakespeare himself once owned, annotated!
As you can imagine, the antiquarian book world is in a tizzy. Two of their own, New York booksellers George Koppelman of Cultured Oyster Books and Daniel Wechsler of Sanctuary Books, have claimed to have unearthed a copy of John Baret’s Alvearie, a dictionary printed in 1580, with annotations in Shakespeare’s hand and have just released a book documenting their find, Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light
Mind you their are only 6 known fragments of the Bard’s handwriting, making this a potentially HUGE addition to the canon.
But before we claim this as the best gift ever presented to mankind on Shakespeare’s birthday a lot still has to happen.
I will leave you to Garret Scott’s post, On Shakespeare’s Annotated Dictionary, links and news, to stay abreast of the developing story.
Now here’s a taste of what’s out there:
Shakespeare’s birthday week begins with a bang: two New York booksellers, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, announced that they have found Shakespeare’s dictionary. In their new book, Shakespeare’s Beehive, Koppelman and Wechsler present their reasons for believing that William Shakespeare is the annotator of their copy of John Baret’s Alvearie, a 1580 dictionary that scholars have linked to Shakespeare’s plays and poems. -
Buzz or Honey? Shakespeare’s Behive raises questions - Folger Shakespeare Library
They have managed to convince themselves, and hope soon to convince the world, that it was once the favorite reference book of the poet and playwright William Shakespeare.
“I went to eBay for some reason. I don’t know what I entered, but up popped this current auction for ‘an early Elizabethan dictionary with contemporary annotations.” - George Koppelman
The Poet’s Hand. Adam Gopnick in The New Yorker
As scholars debate and discuss the question, they’ll do so in writing, a kind of additional marginalia to the Alvearie’s scribble. And they’ll be helped by the considerable resources placed online by Koppelman and Wechsler, like high-quality scans of the whole book. The sites themselves, and the openness of the scans, seem to make our incredible new information technology worthy of an earlier era’s: Shakespeare had his own new IT, a thriving print culture that was just coming into existence.
Bookseller’s: We Got Shakespeare’s Personal Dictionary on eBay – Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic
Whether or not a scholarly consensus builds around whether or not this is Shakespeare’s annotated copy, this is a fine example of booksellers doing work: making an investment in money, time, and resources based on prior experience, taste, and scholarship. As an investment of $4000-$5000 cost up front with a huge potential upside, there’s a lot to be said from a bookselling angle (and with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth hard upon us) for them at least pressing the case. This copy of the Baret has now become this copy of the Baret. –
Garrett Scott, on his blog, Bibliophagist