Here's a review of Shakespeare's Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, a newly published analysis of a recently discovered Elizabethan dictionary that Shakespeare used for his plays, and which he heavily annotated. The dictionary, "An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionary," written by John Baret in 1580, came to light in an Internet auction, Beehive's authors make a compelling case for this book having been annotated by Shakespeare himself. They proceed to analyze Shakespeare's annotations in light of his works. It looks fascinating, and as with all great works of scholarship, there are dirty parts:
" But perhaps the most remarkable annotation in our copy of Baret, relatable to Romeo and Juliet, is the added word vagina at the definition of Scabberd, which itself was given a mute slash. "
Koppelman and Wechsler discuss the occurrence of scabberd and sheath or sheathed in Shakespeare. Juliet's last speech, " . . . O happy dagger / This is thy sheath, there rust and let me dye " is specifically linked by A.D. Nuttall to the common anatomical meaning, " Her language is sexual. " While the OED records the first usage of vagina as an anatomical word in English only in 1682, Lewis and Short trace the anatomical meaning to Plautus. T.W. Baldwin and other scholars offer clear evidence that Plautus formed part of the Elizabethan curriculum ; Koppelman and Wechsler cite a line in Pseudolus that translates " Not fitting into thy sheath soldier ? "
Sir Thomas Browne wrote " What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture. " Koppelman and Wechsler give the briefest of notes on the nineteenth century provenance of the book. Lady Georgiana Fullerton was a novelist and philanthropist, and a granddaughter of the fifth duke of Devonshire. " All the dukes of Devonshire were men of letters and collectors of books ", writes W.Y. Fletcher in English Book Collectors (1902). The Cavendish family were wealthy and prominent since Tudor times despite exile and debt. It is entirely plausible that this copy of the Alvearie once formed part of a large library — how better for a book to survive than among ten thousand others ? — and once it might even have been known to be Shakespeare's own copy, until that knowledge was lost or the book was moved from one shelf to another. It may never be possible to trace the full history of the ownership of the Alvearie ; but the linguistic evidence is strong enough to convince all but the most wilful and perverse doubters.
If Not His, Whose ? [Endless Bookshelf]