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The Marks in the Folger's Copy of the Geneva Bible

A copy of the Geneva Bible in the Folger library has been identified as belonging to the library of Edward De Vere. Supporters of De Vere's candidature for the authorship of Shakespeare's work believe these marks prove the connection between the canon and The Earl. So did the playwright own the Folger's copy of the Geneva Bible and use it as a reference in the plays?

Questions, questions! Is he also the annotator who marked 550 passages? And if he was, does the pattern of the marks relate to the pattern of the occurrences of biblical references in the plays? Are the author and the annotator a good match when it comes to profiling their interests in The Good Book?

The wider issue, perhaps, should be "Is there anything to be added to our knowledge of the author by studying the marks in this particular bible?"

This site should have enough information for anyone to form their own conclusions. We have pages where the references in the plays are placed alongside their Bible connections. We have pictures of the marked pages and charts demonstrating the frequency and distribution of the work of the annotators and the playwright. We have followed the work of David Kathman and Tom Veal and where possible, we have tried to retrace the steps of Roger Stritmatter and built a database of marks, references, and Stritmatter's own Direct and Indirect 'Shakespeare Diagnostics'.

We don't dispute the reality of Bible references. The allusions are real enough although they're not citations as Stritmatter alleges - there's hardly ever enough resemblance to qualify as a citation. We've based our collection of references on the work of Naseeb Shaheen, as Stritmatter did. Shaheen is the leading authority and has done the most work on identifying references. You may scratch your head at some of them. Up to a third suggest only the merest whiff of a connection. And some, especially those 'discovered' by Stritmatter may hardly seem to be connections at all. Apophenic support for his argument, more like. And we've based our list of marks and the work done by David Kathman shortly after Stritmatter's dissertation was published.

Our view is that the relationship between marks and references tends to highlight the differences between the annotators and the playwright, rather than the reverse. Even when the annotator makes lots of marks in a book heavily make by the playwright, they rarely have much in common. The playwright likes the New Testament. The annotator is keener of The Old. Shakespeare is soaked in references to Genesis, the annotator marks only one verse, which the playwright ignored.

We looked at the dataset using R, a mathematical environment which enables agile comparison. When you add it all up, the clear answer is "No".

There is nothing approaching statistical support for the idea that the marks are made by the playwright. In fact, there's nothing to support the idea that the 17th Earl of Oxford was responsible for all or even any of the annotations. The whole idea is nothing more than another Oxfordian mirage.

An Unholy Grail

The idea behind Stritmatter's thesis is simple enough. To prove Oxford and Shakespeare were the same person, simply find a big enough correlation between the marks in the Folger Bible and the identifiable Biblical references in Shakespeare's work. He claims he can prove this statically in his Appendices.

Even were this claim valid, what would would Stritmatter really have proved? That Oxford wrote Shakespeare? Or that Oxford was familiar with Shakespeare? Or just that someone connected with Oxford went through the First Folio, marking up connected references? Shakespeare's Bible is part of his creative hinterland, not a source, like Holinshed to Plutarch.

A concrete link between the marks and the canon would be suggestive, but nothing like proof of authorship. However, despite the quest being a false grail, we can still show that while Shakespeare's knowledge of parts of the Bible is consistently displayed in the plays, it does not map onto the parts which the annotators marked.

Unjustified Claims

Who made the marks in the Bible? Almost everyone who has chosen to argue with Stritmatter's conclusions, with the exception of Tom Veal and David Kathman, has been willing to accept or at least work with Stritmatter's contention that the marks are made by the Earl of Oxford, even if only for argument's sake.

We think that there are definitely at least three annotators at work. And whilst there is no way to prove our contention, or who any of them are, we can fdo what Stritmatter set out to do. We can guess by looking at their distribution.

Once we start down that road, we're sure, we can come up with better guesses about why they were made, not to mention more likely candidates for the three most frequent annotators than De Vere himself. None of Stritmatter's detailed claims are supported by analysis, as we shall show, but his principle claim, that De Vere made ALL the marks, is his least defensible claim.

Unmade Conclusions

A probative relationship between a marked source document and a body of work would need to exhibit a very high correlation between shared detail and expression. The Bible was the most common book in Elizabethan life. Commoner or aristocrat, Elizabethans would hear the word of The Lord every Sunday in church so proving a relationship between the Bible and and individual marked copy should require a very high level of correlation. We have to eliminate the possibility that the pattern of references doesn't merely coincide with what was most popular in the Elizabethan pulpit.

Stritmatter spends much of his dissertation assuming that he has proved this tight correlation.

The relationship between the marks in the Folger Geneva and the bible references Shakespearean Canon is, however, barely palpable. The annotators and the playwright are simply not looking at the same things. Rather than march in step, the annotator and the playwright studiously ignore each other.

What are marks and references?

The marks themselves are of several types: marginal notes (usually a single word), corrections to the printed text, drawings of hands pointing to passages, drawings of fleurs-de-lis, lines drawn under either verse numbers, printed marginal notes or portions of the text, and a few miscellaneous devices (a drawing of an ear, rows of dots, etc.). Underlining is overwhelmingly the most common. About 40 verses have marginal notes or corrections; over a thousand are singled out with one sort of underlining or another.

Not all of the marks are in the same ink. Dr. Stritmatter distinguishes four shades: brown-black, gray-black, scarlet and orange. Since none of those is a standard color, we can infer that red and black inks of different composition (and, it would be not unreasonable to surmise, ages) have faded to different hues. There are annotations in each color, and it is not unusual for different colors to appear in conjunction.”Different colors of underlining, furthermore, are associated with written annotations with variant inks: scarlet and orange annotations with black underlining, black annotations with scarlet and orange annotations [sc. “underlining” (?)], and so forth.” [p. 433 (published version)/574(UMI version)]

Given these facts - a book accessible to scores of people over a long period of time, marked in different ways with different inks - the most straightforward inference is that the marks are the work of an indefinite number of persons and that the assignment of all of them to a single annotator is a hazardous hypothesis, requiring strong proof to render it credible. Dr. Stritmatter sees matters differently. He recites the facts noted above about the record of a Bible’s purchase by Oxenford and the acquisition of a Bible bearing the de Vere arms by the Folger Library, then avers that the “simplest conclusion based on these two facts” is “that de Vere was the annotator of his own Bible” [p. 49/78] That would be a simple conclusion had it been “his own Bible” and no one else’s. As matters stand, we know that there were other possessors, whose antecedent probability of having made notations in the book is just as great. Proof excluding those others and identifying de Vere as the sole annotator is needed, and that Dr. Stritmatter fails to deliver.