March 6, 2018
These marginalia in a sixteenth-century Hamlet may be Shakespeare’s own
by Taylor Sperry
“I saw these faint marks, and my eyes popped out of my head,” Shakespeare scholar John Casson told Alison Flood at the Guardian.
Casson was perusing the British Library’s copy of Francoise de Bellefort’s Histories Tragiques, which is believed to be one of the inspirations for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when he noticed faded writing in the margins of six passages that focused on the Danish prince Almeth. “It’s only one section of an entire book,” he said. “It’s like he read the Hamlet section, moved into the next section and then stopped. And I thought, ‘Oh my God.’”
Such a discovery—original notes by the Bard himself—would be “extraordinarily rare,” he said. But Casson, the author of several books on Shakespeare, is used to ruffling a few feathers in academic circles.
In Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare: The Evidence, Casson makes the case that Sir Henry Neville, a courtier of Elizabeth I, was the author of Shakespeare’s plays. “William from Stratford has the backing of the mass of academic authority,” he said. “They’re so used to it, and challenging it is academic death or danger to your reputation.” It remains to be seen whether the community will rally behind Casson’s newest theory, or if this will be taken as an instance of seeing what one wants to see.
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.