A note on early modern handwriting

The images of the manuscript found throughout this project show examples of early modern handwriting that in many cases look unfamiliar to the reader today. In particular, English “secretary” hand uses some letter forms that bear little resemblance to modern handwriting. Transcriptions are provided where necessary. To gain greater familiarity with handwriting of the period, please see the Folger’s resources for early modern English paleography.

Meanwhile, here is an illustration of Carington’s hand, followed by a transcript:



Detail of fol. 5r. Folger V.b.34.


and twixt his fingers and his thumb he held

A pouncet box: wch euer & Anon

he gaue his nose: & tooke Away agayne

who therewith Angry: When it next cam there

Tooke it in Snuffe: & still he smil’d & talkt


Most lower-case letter forms are represented in this passage. Some of them are distinctly unfamiliar to the modern eye. Also illustrated are Carington’s habits of contraction (“wch” for “which”, “&” for “and”) and irregular capitalization. These features, and the preference for a lower-case first letter at the beginning of a verse-line, are all departures from the printed copy Carington was following.

For comparison, here is Dering’s hand:



Detail of fol. 5r. Folger V.b.34.


Of hostile paces. Those opposed eyes,

which like ye meteors of a troubled heauen,

All of one nature, of one substance bredd,

Did lately meete in ye  intestine shocke

And furious Close of Ciuill butchery,

Shall now in mutuall well=beseeming rankes,

March all one way: and be no more oppos’d

Against acquaintance, kindred and allyes.


The heavier ink and less even script are clearly seen. Dering punctuates mainly with commas (some of the fainter ones at line ends might have been added after the initial writing), and he is more inclined than Carington to follow the initial capital of verse lines in his copy. 


References to the manuscript and quartos

The Dering Manuscript is foliated, rather than paginated. This means that each leaf is numbered in the upper right-hand corner of the recto (front) side. The foliation has been added in pencil and is not original.

References to the manuscript use these standard abbreviations:


fol.    Folio. Refers to the leaf number.

r    Recto. The front of a leaf, on the right-hand side of an open book.

v    Verso. The back of a leaf, on the left-hand side of an open book.


So, for example, “fol. 3v” means the back of the third leaf.

In references to the printed quarto editions of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays that were used in preparing the manuscript, the usual conventions for identifying pages in an early modern printed book by the printed or implied signature of the leaf are followed. A reference to a page in a printed quarto will take the form “sig. B1v”, meaning that the page is the verso of the first leaf of quire B.


A note on dates

Dering frequently uses old-style calendar, where the year runs from March 25 to March 24 and so the months of January to March are part of the previous year. The present account converts these to the new-style calendar running from January to December.


References and further reading

Adams, J. Q. “The Author-Plot of an Early Seventeenth Century Play.” The Library, IV. 26 (1945-6): 17-27.

Akkerman, Nadine, ed., with translations by Lisa Jardine. The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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Bentley, Gerard E. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941-68.

Bodley, Sir Thomas. Letters of Sir Thomas Bodley to Thomas James, ed. G. W. Wheeler. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926.

Bulman, James C., ed. King Henry IV Part 2. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 2016.

Cotgrave, Randall. Dictionary of the French and English Tongues. London, 1611.

Dering, Edward. “Booke of Expences.” Ed. Leatitia Yeandle, as Sir Edward Dering, lst bart., of Surrenden Dering and his “Booke of Expences” 1617-1628. Kent Archaeological Society, n.d. http://www.kentarchaeology.ac/authors/lyeandle.html.

Dering, Edward. A Collection of Speeches (1642).

Dering, Edward. The Foure Cardinall-Vertues of a Carmelite-Fryar (1641).

Dering, Edward. A Discourse of Proper Sacrifice (1644).

Dering, Edward. “Notes for a history of the Dering family.” Manuscript, c.1631. Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b.307.

“Dering, Sir Edward (1599-1644) of Surrenden Dering, Pluckley, Kent.” In The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1064-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

“Dering Manuscript.” Folgerpedia. http://folgerpedia.folger.edu/Dering_Manuscript.

Dobson, Michael. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Edwards, David. “St Leger, Sir Warham (1525?–1597)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/24514.

“English Handwriting 1500-1700.” http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/ceres/ehoc/.

Evans, G. Blakemore. “The ‘Dering MS’ of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Sir Edward Dering.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology vol. 54 (1955): 498-503.

Farmer, Alan. “Shakespeare as Leading Playwright in Print, 1598-1608.” In Margaret Jane Kidnie and Sonia Massai, eds., Shakespeare and Textual Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015): 87-104.

Findlay, Alison. Playing Spaces in Early Women’s Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Freeman, Arthur. “Love’s Victory: A Supplementary Note.” The Library, VI. 19 (1997): 252-4.

Greg, W.W. A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration. 4 vols. London: Bibliographical Society, 1939-59.

Gwynn, Lucy. “The Design of the English Domestic Library in the Seventeenth Century: Readers and Their Book Rooms.” Library Trends 60 (2011): 43-53.

Hackel, Heidi Brayman. “‘Rowme’ of Its Own: Printed Drama in Early Libraries.” In A New History of Early English Drama, ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (New York: Columbia, 1997): 113-30.

Halliwell, James Orchard, ed. Shakespeare’s Play of King Henry the Fourth, Printed from a Contemporary Manuscript. London: Shakespeare Society, 1845.

Hanson, L.W. “The Shakespeare Collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.” Shakespeare Survey 4 (1951), 78-96.

Harris, Oliver D. “Lines of Descent: Appropriations of Ancestry in Stone and Parchment’. In Andrew Gordon and Thomas Rist, ed., The Arts of Remembrance in Early Modern England: Memorial Cultures of the Post Reformation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013): 85-102.

Hemingway, Samuel Burdett, ed. A New Variorum Edition: Henry the Fourth; Part I. Ed. Horace Howard Furness. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1936.

Hirst, Derek. “The Defection of Sir Edward Dering, 1640-1641.” Historical Journal 15 (1972): 193-208.

Holland, Peter. “Shakespeare Abridged.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007): 26-46.

“Hythe.” History of Parliament Online. Online at http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/constituencies/hythe.

Jowett, John. “The Audacity of Measure for Measure in 1621.” Ben Jonson Journal 8 (2001): 229-47.

Jowett, John. “Cuts and Casting: Author and Book-Keeper in the Folio Text of 2 Henry IV.” AUMLA 72 (1989): 275-95.

Kastan, David Scott, ed. King Henry IV Part 1. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 2002.

Keenan, Siobhan, ed. The Emperor’s Favourite. Manchester: Malone Society Reprints, 2010.

Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Ashford District. https://www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk/research-projects/Individual%20Commissions/Surrenden.pdf

Kolkovich, Elizabeth Zeman. The Elizabethan Country House Entertainment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Knight, Jeffrey Todd. “Making Shakespeare’s Books: Assembly and Intertextuality in the Archives.” Shakespeare Quarterly 60:3 (2009): 304-340.

Krivatsy, Nati H., and Laetitia Yeandle. “Sir Edward Dering.” In Private Libraries in Renaissance England: A Collection and Catalogue of Tudor and Early Stuart Book-Lists, ed. R.J. Fehrenbach and E.S. Leedham-Green (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies), vol. 1 (1992): I.137-269, and vol. 5 (1998): 306-8.

Lankhorst, Otto S. “Dutch Book Auctions in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” In Under the Hammer: Book Auctions since the Seventeenth Century, ed. Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Manedlbrote (Oak Knoll and British Library, 2001): 65-87.

Larking, Lambert B., ed. Proceedings, Principally in the County of Kent, in Connection with the Parliaments Called in 1640 . . . from the Collections of Sir Edward Dering. London: Camden Society, 1862.

Larminie, Vivienne, Wealth, Kinship and Culture: The Seventeenth-Century Newdigates of Arbury and Their World. Royal Historical Society Studies in History. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1995.

Lennam, T.N. “Sir Edward Dering’s Collection of Playbooks, 1619-1624.” Shakespeare Quarterly 16 (1995): 145-53.

Limon, Jerzy. Dangerous Matter: English Drama and Politics 1623/24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Lockyer, Roger. Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham 1592-1628. London: Longman, 1981.

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Lyons, Tara L. “Serials, Spinoffs, and Histories: Selling “Shakespeare” in Collection before the Folio.” Philological Quarterly 91 (2012): 185-220.

Mayer, Jean-Christophe. “Annotating and Transcribing for the Theatre: Shakespeare’s Early Modern Readers-Revisers at Work.” In Shakespeare and Textual Studies, ed. Margaret Jane Kidnie and Sonia Massai (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015): 163-76.

Middleton, Thomas, A Game at Chess, ed. Gary Taylor, in Collected Works, gen. ed. Taylor and John Lavagnino (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Peacey, Jason. “Sir Edward Dering, Popularity, and the Public, 1640-1644.” Historical Journal 54 (2011): 955-83.

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‘Sir Warham St Leger.” Geni. https://www.geni.com/people.

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Stern, Tiffany, Documents of Performance in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Turner, Robert Kean, ed. The Spanish Curate, by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger. In The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, Vol. 10. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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Williams, George Walton, and Gwynne Blakemore Evans, eds. “The History of King Henry the Fourth” As Revised by Sir Edward Dering, Bart.: A Facsimile Edition. Folger Facsimiles, Manuscript Series, 2 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974).

Wright, C.E. “Sir Edward Dering: A Seventeenth-Century Antiquary and His Saxon Charters.” In The Early Cultures of North-West Europe, ed. Cyril Fox and Bruce Dickens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950): 371-93.

Wright, Gillian. “Honywood, Sir Robert (1601-1686).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/13668.

Wroth, Lady Mary. Love’s Victory, ed. Alison Findlay, Philip Sidney and Michael G. Brennan. Manchester: Manchester University Press, forthcoming.

Wroth, Lady Mary. “Love’s Victory”: The Penshurst Manuscript, ed. Michael G. Brennan. London: Roxburghe Club, 1988.

Yeandle, Laetitia. “The Dating of Sir Edward Dering’s Copy of The History of King Henry the Fourth.” Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1986): 224-6.


John Jowett is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.  He is a general editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works (2016-17) and of the Arden Early Modern Drama series. He was an associate general editor of the Oxford Collected Works of Thomas Middleton (2007).  He has prepared Richard III and Timon of Athens for the Oxford World’s Classics series, and Sir Thomas More for the Arden Shakespeare. He is author of Shakespeare and Text (2007, revised edition 2019). 

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