Shakespeare--Who Was He? The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon

By Richard F. Whalen | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
Shakspere versus Shakespeare

Spelling was chaotic in Elizabethan times. There were no English dictionaries, no spelling books. Language was mostly oral and aural. For a large majority of the citizens, a word was primarily what it sounded like, not what it looked like. More than three quarters of them could not read or write. Writers and printers decided how English would be spelled, and their opinions varied. Sometimes printers changed the spelling of a word so that it would fit on a line of type.

The spelling of proper names could be even more chaotic. Sir Walter Raleigh's name was also spelled Raliegh, Relegh, Raghley, Rawley, Rawly, Rawlie, Rawleigh, Raulighe, Raughlie, and Rayly. Members of the same immediate family spelled their surname in different ways. A man's name could be spelled in two different ways in the same document, even in the same sentence. Will Shakspere's name was no exception. Members of his extended family, if they could read, saw their surname spelled about a hundred different ways, ranging from Schackespeare to Shakspur. 1 By twentieth-century standards, all Elizabethans flunked spelling.

At first glance, the names Shakspere and Shakespeare might seem to be just two of the hundred or so spellings of the same family name. They then would be taken to designate the same

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