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Is the 300-year search for one of Shakespeare’s actual books over?

Jonny Diamond

May 26, 2021, 10:10am

A Canadian scholar seems to think so.

In what might be the discovery of the “world’s most valuable book,” Professor Robert Weir is claiming a pattern of evidence suggesting that a copy of Horace’s Odes, published in 1575, once belonged to William Shakespeare.

Approached in 2016 by a collector who’d purchased the small book in Oxford, Weir has since uncovered various annotations consistent with Shakespeare’s borrowings of Horace throughout his oeuvre, not to mention the playwright’s name and initials. Weir was also able to reveal the signature of “Anne Oxford,” aka Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford and wife of Edward de Vere, a coeval of Shakespeare (to whom some attribute the actual plays!). Says Weir, to the Globe and Mail:

“I think to a large extent the smoking gun is that the pattern of borrowings is corroborated by the visible annotations. It’s a bit like getting Al Capone on tax evasion. It’s not colourful, it’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy, but it is more objectively provable.”

And why had nobody noticed all these annotations previously? Apparently it was customary to wash old books before having them recut and rebound. Yes, washed (do not try this). Weir presented his findings in broad strokes at a recent virtual conference, but plans to provide more detailed corroborations in the near future.

If it turns out to be true—insofar as a working consensus by scholars can be deemed “truth”—this would represent a huge moment in both Shakespeare studies and rare book discoveries.

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