Booksellers Claim to Have Found Shakespeare's Personal Dictionary

(Shakespeare Pill Box now on sale at the NeatoShop)

Daniel Wechsler and George Koppelman are rare book dealers in New York City. They came across a fairly ordinary find up for auction: An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, a dictionary published in 1580 by John Baret.

Although the book is unsigned, Wechsler and Koppelman think that numerous handwritten annotations in it indicate that the book was owned—or at least heavily used—by William Shakespeare. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

To cite but one phrase attributed to Shakespeare, which appears in Hamlet:

Gertrude: Your bedded haire, like life in excrements, Start up, and stand an end.

This can be found in the dictionary under Stare: His haire Stareth or standeth on end.

There are subtle clues such as the eight examples where it is claimed he practised the letters W and S. There isn't one smoking gun, rather their case rests on the sheer accumulation of examples that Shakespeare could only have found in Baret.

From the beginning, they reached out to scholars. Wechsler explains: "They were extremely helpful giving advice, but it was also clear that they weren't about to jeopardise their reputations with such a claim."

Shakespeare biographer and scholar Stephen Greenblatt is enthusiastic about the dictionary as an unheralded Shakespeare source book. "It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare's passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them," he said. However, he'd "not had time to weigh the evidence" of it being Shakespeare's copy.

Wechsler and Koppelman have digited the text. You can read it here. They're not yet ready to sell it. But rare book experts think that when they do, the owners could get millions of dollars for the dictionary.

-via Brian J. Noggle


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