IN SEARCH OF SHAKESPEARE: A Reconnaissance into the Poet's Life and Handwriting by Charles Hamilton

IN SEARCH OF SHAKESPEARE: A Reconnaissance into the Poet's Life and Handwriting

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An exuberant, palpable, scholarly hit that awakens the reader's liveliest interest in Shakespeare's penmanship by discovering ""before your very eyes"" whole new pages of Shakespeare's handwriting. Hamilton, who runs his own auction shop in New York, is the world's foremost authority on autographs. As a sleuth he has helped send to prison 14 manuscript forgers and thieves. At nine, he worked up a terrific crash on the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare and the facsimile signature underneath. A few years later, visiting the tomb at Stratford, he paid the sexton ten shillings to allow him to stand on the Great Poet's grave. ""I bowed my head and moved my lips in a silent orison: 'Dear friend Will, please help me to discover some scrap of handwriting from your pen.' "" About 50 years later, Hamilton's prayer was answered. In 1983 he suddenly found himself drawn back repeatedly to study photographs of Shakespeare's will and other Shakespearean documents. There are only six authenticated signatures of Shakespeare, and some few other snatches and drawings thought to be his. Time after time, Hamilton returned to study the spastic signature on the three-page will, the words crossed out, the interlinear insertions, deepening himself with a ""feel"" for Shakespeare's hand--when abruptly he lighted up like a Christmas tree. My God, the whole three pages were by Shakespeare! He turned them upside down. This wasn't the fine script of some paid legal clerk. Indeed, everything about the signature was repeated throughout the will, the slants, the formation of letters, the decay from flowing health on the first page to the crabbed hand of a stroke victim--the identification was obvious. The wildly uneven mess was a draft in Shakespeare's own hand that had never been recopied--he died within a month of signing it ""By me William Shakespeare."" (In those days people wrote only ""By me"" on documents they'd written themselves.) Now Hamilton began seeing raw Shakespearean hand shining from unexpected documents. ""Shakespeare's handwriting is volatile. Sometimes it flows sweetly across the page in a rolling succession of sensual curves and swirls, with the swinging bellies of the lower loops of b's and y's voluptuous hinges for his other letters in an almost copybook script. At other times, his pen seems to explode with such vehemence that all fripperies and curlicues are abandoned, portions of words and the long tails of f's and s's are jettisoned, leaving a flat, almost indecipherable text. . . Shakespeare invariably focused on ideas and paid little attention to his penmanship. When his thoughts outsped his quill, then goodbye to the copybook script!"" Marvelously illustrated, the book enlightens the reader so strongly that before the last page you're recognizing Shakespeare's hand as quickly as you would a Van Gogh or Picasso. Hamilton gives you the ""feel"" for it--and that's thrilling.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1985
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich