A unique manuscript, presented in three frames
In honor of the 400 year anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Editions des Saints Peres presents a framed reproduction of this unique document.
One would expect that history’s most prolific playwright, author of 37 plays and 150-some sonnets, would have left behind a few manuscripts, literary or personal. However all that is left are six signatures, three of which can be found in this document.
The testament, preciously conserved at the National Archives in London, was most likely completed in several stages –- first drafted by Shakespeare’s lawyer Francis Collins in January 1616, then expanded upon with several significant insertions in dark ink just a few weeks before his death 23 April 1616. Furthermore, a recent X-ray and near infrared light study conducted by the National Archives revealed that the second page was actually written in 1613, 3 years before the other two pages.
What the manuscript tells us about Shakespeare
The document reveals Shakespeare as a savvy businessman, as well as a responsible husband and father who kept his will up to date in order to ensure his family’s financial security after his death.
He meticulously allocates the majority of his goods to his daughters (with an evident preference for Susannah Hall, his oldest child), leaving nothing up to fate, bequeathing all of his possessions down to a silver bowl, a sword, and most famously, his 'second best bed' to his wife Anne.
The document puts certain common theories about the author’s life into perspective. For example, Shakespeare, weary about his son-in-law Thomas Quiney, bars him out of the will. Also Shakespeare, indifferent towards his wife, bequeaths her only the 'second best bed' of the house.
It turns out that the manuscript, written in a rather conventional legal language for the 17th century, is not as cold as if may appear to the modern reader. It is the testimony of a genius during his last moments of life.
The absence of manuscript traces from Shakespeare’s work has long raised questions and suspicion about his work’s authorship, and the man himself. This Testament and Will divides experts, and unleashes passion. Why no mention of his manuscripts, his work, or his shares at the London Theatre? He does however allocate a special sum for his actor friends to buy memorial rings…
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