Shakespeare's handwriting from the play Sir Thomas More, British Library, London
© British Library/Alam
'I'll call for pen and ink…'
'…and write my mind.' It's Shakespeare Week in primary schools, so we're off to the British Library for a peek at what’s thought to be the only surviving specimen of the Bard's handwriting (if you don't count legal documents). The scratchy cursive is found inside the script of Sir Thomas More, a then-controversial play about the Lord Chancellor of England who refused to acknowledge Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic church. The play was originally written by Anthony Munday but in 1603, the censorious royal Office of the Revels brought in Shakespeare among a team of writers to rework the script. However, if Shakespeare's task was to tone things down, he may have had other ideas: it is thought that his additions include an impassioned speech by the title character to a mob that's rioting over immigration policy.
So, Shakespeare worked as a script doctor on political hot potatoes. If that all sounds more 2020 than 1600, remember this: Shakespeare not only shaped literature as we now know it, he originated or popularised many phrases we are still using today, from 'be-all and end-all' and 'good riddance' to 'wild goose chase'.