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William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon: "our Roscius"

14 August 2003 (see below for updates)

Paul H. Altrocchi has published an article, "Sleuthing an enigmatic Latin annotation," now publicly available on the web:

Altrocchi has made one of the most important Shakespeare discoveries of recent years, and has resisted the temptation, though encouraged by others, to use his discovery as direct evidence that Shakespeare was considered by his contemporaries as a fraud. Quite the contrary, he accepts that this new document proves that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was considered by his contemporaries to be or to have been the Roscius of his age, that is, an important actor on the public stage.

I wish to make one slight correction and to present several new pieces of information.

My correction: The first word of the annotation, which should be read

et Gulielmo Shakespear Roscio planè nostro
is in fact the Latin word et and not an ampersand or a Tironian note. The letters "e" and "t" are written out. The Latin may be read as
and to William Shakespeare, manifestly our Roscius
or, more poetically,
and to William Shakespeare, our very own Roscius

My new evidence: Though Altrocchi declares (p 19) "The identity of the annotator will never be known," the owner of this copy of the 1590 edition of Camden's Britannia was Richard Hunt, vicar of Itchington, county of Warwickshire. He has written his name and identification on the title-page, and the handwriting of the inscription is almost certainly his - but I would have to have seen the original to make a positive identification, and I have not yet done so.

Foster's Alumni Oxonienses clearly identifies Richard Hunt or Hunte: he was born in Gloucestershire, the son of a cleric; he attended Oriel College, Oxford, matriculating on 4 December 1612 at the age of 16. (He was therefore almost certainly born in 1596.) He received his B.A. on 23 October 1615, his M.A. on 10 July 1618. Foster identifies him as "perhaps" vicar of Long Itchington, co. Warwick, from 1621. More is reported in Foster's Index Ecclesiasticus (1890), which I have not yet seen. (It will obviously be useful to discover the date of Hunt's death.)

Everything fits very nicely: Richard Hunt, though not from Stratford, was from Gloucestershire and Warwickshire; he was vicar of Long Itchington at the time he inscribed (and bought?) the book, which sorts perfectly with the conjectural dates for the transcription, 1620-1650.

As to the significance of the inscription, it attests to a connection between William Shakespeare of Stratford and the public theater, since he is identified as "our Roscius." Clearly the author of the inscription, who was a highly educated man, thought that the connection was authentic, and part of Stratford's claim to fame.

Whether Richard Hunt came to this conclusion because he knew it to be true or because he had been taken in by a fraud perpetrated by William Cecil (who died in 1598) is of course the question of the hour. It would take an individual of great courage to claim that an Oxford-educated vicar born in 1596 was so deceived.


Update 24 August 2003: On the title-page Richard Hunt identifies himself as the vicar of "Ichington": apparently this was not Long Itchington (as given in Foster's Alumni Oxonienses but rather near-by Bishops Itchington.

I will add further updates as new information presents itself. If you know anything I don't (which is very probable) please email me at the address below. Thanks, Alan H. Nelson

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