Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Spelling Shakespeare and an "E" for Economics

An article by Dennis Drabelle in uPenn's alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, about so-called polymath Victorian collector Horace Howard Furness includes a cool bit of typographical reason for why the Philadelphia Shakspere Society spelled the Bard's name without an "e" between the "k" and the "s."
(Re the name: Penn English professors Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, in a 1993 article in Shakespeare Quarterly, note that no two of the Bard’s six surviving “supposed autographs” are spelled the same way—but none of them include an e between the surname’s two syllables. 
The e may well have been inserted by printers to avoid setting a k before an s—the long s of the period, that is, which looks like an f—because the two letters would crowd each other and were apt to break during the printing process. “To avoid breakage (and the ensuing fine),” de Grazia and Stallybrass explain, “a compositor would set a neutral typebody between k and long s”—sometimes a hyphen, sometimes an e. Thus, today’s received spelling “is not that of the author’s hand but that of the printer’s press and reflects not a personal investment in the question of identity but rather an economic use in the preservation of typeface.”)
Like so many things, the added "e" is a matter of economics.

A bit of nerdy explanation of the example I set of Shakespeare's name in roman and italic at the top of this squib: it's in Bembo, an Old Style typeface. Of course, the Bembo my office owns is not at all the face that printers would have used back in the day. The Bembo shown here is digital as opposed to the hot metal that printers needed to keep from getting banged up. But Bembo historically closer to the 17th century images shown here from Penn's library site (top image; 1623; look at the "s" characters which look like "f"s) as well as from a PDF from the librarians at the University of Delaware (bottom image; 1634; same comment about the "f"-like "s" characters).

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* Notes regarding the two title pages from just two of the many works by William Shakespeare, 1564–1616.
The title page from the University of Pennsylvania is Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies. London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. In Horace Howard Furness Memorial (Shakespeare) Library. Folio PR2751 .A1.
And the title page from the University of Delaware is, according to the PDF from the university's library, is "A rare early quarto edition of a play by William Shakespeare and John Fletchr entitled The Two Noble Kinsmen (London: by Tho. Cotes, for John Waterson, 1634). Special Collections, University of Delaware Library.

** Why not Caslon, so often used to evoke earlier English settings? Because Caslon's transitional typeface would have been a bit too late to look like these two title pages from 1623 and 1634. William Caslon was born in 1692/93.

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