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What's in a name?

Two 'E's, Or Not Two 'E's
That is the question

Oxfordians make much of the different spelling of Will’s name though the significance of different forms has to be viewed in the light of the non standardised spelling of the time. 150 years before Dr Johnson started the first dictionary, the spelling of English words varied from playwright to playwright and individual to individual. In different places Will’s name is written as Shagsper, Shaxper, Shacksper and Shake-speare. David Kathman’s excellent authorship pages deal with that in detail.

There is no need to assume these are all different people. On Shakespeare’s famous will there are three different spellings of ‘Shakespeare’. 

There is almost no reference to a rather significant spelling anomaly on De Vere’s side of the fence. Oxford refers to himself in his own written work as 'Oxenforde'. That's also how he signs his name.

Three syllables.

His estates were mainly in Essex and he had no connection with the city of Oxford, so it is possible that he did this to distinguish himself from the place or it may have sounded grander to him. It does have an extra syllable, after all. It's also the way it's spelt in Chaucer, so he may have been emphasising the antiquity of his title.

De Vere was the foremost Earl of his day coming from the second oldest benighted family in England—he was the 17th Earl. The Earl of Arundel's title was older but it was held by the Duke of Norfolk in Edward's day. Since Dukes are higher in the pecking order, Norfolk would take precedence over Oxford but Unsteady Eddy came next, ahead of the other Earls.

Earlier Earls (ouch! ed) crop up quite frequently in the history plays. Wherever Shakespeare names or includes one of the 17th Earl’s ancestors, he always writes ‘Oxford’. 

Two syllables.

Once again, there is no need to make wild assumptions about the meaning of the different spellings but it is surely far odder that someone should add and remove syllables to and from their own name than that someone should allow the spelling of two syllables to vary without the adding of a third. Oxford would have been anxious to make unequivocal connections with his ancestors, especially when barred from court. He could hardly turn up his nose at the chance to remind the world just what jolly good, reliable chaps his great-grandsires were and how you could always depend on former Earls of Oxford. It's very unlikely he would have used a distinctive variation of his surname.

Different author? Or was it all all part of a cunning plan?

Or it could be that spelling was not standardised and no significance can be really be drawn from how words are spelt until Dr Johnson starts work.




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