Shakespeare's Name and Handwriting

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By Any Other Name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2


Shakespeare's last will and testament: made 25 March 1616, proved 22 June 1616.

Contributed by The National Archives (UK)


The Early Modern English of Shakespeare’s England is not known for consistency of spelling. In fact, it wasn’t until 1755 that any type of standardization was attempted. Poet, essayist and biographer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is credited with standardization in its “pre-current” form in his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. Up until that time, spelling differences weren’t bothersome for most.


The spelling of Shakespeare’s own name also moved between a list of spellings. These variations are found in registers and other legal documents of the time. Spellings like Shakesspere, Shakysper, Shaxpeer, Schakespeire, Shackper, Shaxkspere and Shakspeyre were not uncommon before his birth and during his youth.


There is evidence that Shakespeare himself cared a bit more about using a consistent spelling of his name as his career evolved. For example, on many documents concerning land deals and company patents his name is spelled Shakespere, although other spellings could occur within the same document (though the “x” seems to really have been dropped).


To compound these spelling differences was Shakespeare’s own penmanship. Four documents contain Shakespeare’s authentic signature a total of six times, but the spelling is up for debate in each case.


Take a look at the the six signatures below to see if you can discover what spelling the Bard preferred! The final three signatures were written on three separate pages of his last will and testament in 1616.


Willm Shakp


William Shaksper


Wm Shakspe


William Shakspere


Willm Shakspere


By me William Shakspeare



Source: “Playing Fast and Loose with Shakespeare’s Name”. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/

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