Doodling and Noodling

Banner - Titian's Adonis wearing a hunting cap

24 August 2017
· A newly-found example of my handwriting, and what it signifies ·
Doodling: Waiting For Godoge

La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia. 27 June, 1575. Interior, Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace.

Doge of Venice Doge meme - Oxford signature handwriting Shakespeare

Okay, not that Doge.

I was cooling my heels in an antechamber, awaiting my appointment with the Consiglio dei Dieci, the Council of Ten. Talk about bureaucrats. Think EU, with funny hats.

The Consiglio was running late because Italians, I had half a hangover because prosecco, and I was not a patient waiter because earls don’t have to be. Seated behind a large desk was a small clerk with paper, quills, inkwell, stained fingers, and attitude. What I wanted at that moment was to requisition his supplies, draw a grid, and engage him in some Three Men’s Morris. Coins for markers and maybe una piccola scommessa to make it interesting. But he disdained my offer, and I was left to my own distractions. I requisitioned the supplies anyway, and doodled.

This is the doodle.

EO signatures 1575 Venice display image - Oxford signature handwriting Shakespeare2015 photo, taken by and courtesy of Michael Delahoyde

Edward Vere, Count [=Earl] of Oxford, Great Chamberlain of England, in Italian and Latin. The Italian sig includes the abbreviated honourific L’Illustrissimo, The Most Illustrious. They were good with superlatives in La Serenissima. My pen was in mid-flourish when a pair of behalberded guards finally arrived to escort me to the council chamber. I left the doodle on the desk.

Not once in 440 years did I think about it until I saw this photograph. All my vanished papers that would settle the Authorship question forever, and THIS is what turns up? The gods are perverse.

Perhaps the inky clerk admired my italic hand, and chose to file the page with the other notes from the meeting. The Italians have never thrown anything out except the Tarquins and Mussolini.

So who disinterred my doodle? On the very last day of their sleuthing trip through northern Italy in the summer of 2015, Washington State University’s Michael Delahoyde and his research partner Coleen Moriarty found it. The discovery was presented with spritzatura at the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship’s conference that September. The internet is a gift.

Michael and Coleen overcame odds beyond arithmetic to resurrect a single page that shouldn’t have been there, which they didn’t know existed until they found it. A toast to them both, con prosecco. Cento di questi giorni. May you have a hundred of these days.

Noodling: DIY

Now you’ve seen some of my penmanship. More than seventy other examples survive, mostly importunate letters pleading (unsuccessfully) for financial concessions from the Crown, sent to Cecil père ou fils who preserved them for reasons of their own. Their subject isn’t the point. I’d like you to consider some fundamental truths about writing and handwriting, especially creative, literary writing done in my era. Ink on paper. Use your noodle.

My poems and plays were the heirs of my invention, but it was my hand that wrote the words down. My voices became real objects as my writing filled the pages. Even if the words were later set in type, their working lives were lived in manuscript. The fact that these manuscripts no longer exist doesn’t mean that they never existed.

When you produce the quantity of work that I did – page after page, draft after draft, endless revisions, for year upon year – your penmanship reflects all the practice. The pen becomes part of you. A writer creates his work by the physical act of writing and rewriting. Inspiration is a gift, but even a muse of fire demands the sweat of industry. This was, literally, manual labour, and lots of it.

For every word that sings from verse or stage
There are a score beside that died unsung
The questing poet smote them on the page,
Cross’d lines of ink to serve as death knells rung

Words, words, words. There were so many words.

Word counts in the canon - Oxford signature handwriting ShakespeareMore text stats are at Open Source Shakespeare.

The Folger Shakespeare Sarcophagus Library puts the total at 884,467. I never bothered to keep count.

I doodled in Venice when I was twenty-five, with most of my writing still ahead of me. But I was already a poet, and I knew how to communicate on paper. Nearly four and a half centuries later, my script remains legible, and it’s recognisable as mine. An expert in a law court wouldn’t have any trouble with it. Michael and Coleen didn’t. Cue the lute.

Now shift your attention to the fellow who fills the double-decker tour buses and caravan parks of Warwickshire. The following six signatures on legal documents, being the totality of his writing known to exist, were made during his healthy maturity – he turned fifty in 1614. If this is your Bard, every one of his 884,444 handwritten words (I averaged), plus all the crossouts and tossouts, were behind him by or before 1614.

Willy Shax all extant writing 6 legal signatures - Oxford signature handwriting Shakespeare

Noodle away.

Sources and Additional Reading/Drinking:

  • • Banner photo:
  • · detail, Titian, Venus and Adonis [], the unique variant where Adonis wear’s a hunter’s bonnet, referenced in my poem Venus and Adonis
  • New Evidence of Oxford in Venice (PDF) []
  • · by Michael Delahoyde, PhD, with Coleen Moriarty
  • · The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter
  • · Volume 52, Number 1, Winter 2016
  • · Pages 1, 29-32
  • Sprezzatura in Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier []
  • The Book of the Courtier, by Baldassarre Castiglione (downloadable formats) []
  • · published in Venice in 1528, first English translation 1561
  • · Clerke’s Latin translation with my introduction (PDF) in Latin, 1571
  • Doge’s Palace, Venice – Google Arts & Culture []
  • · 360° view, interior, Sala dei Pregadi (Senate Chamber)
  • • Very good prosecco from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG [] (English site)