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Shakespeare Quarterly 54.1 (2003) 83-86

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The Shakespeare/Shakeshafte Question, Continued

Ernst Honigmann

Robert Bearman invites us to look again at Alexander Hoghton's will of 1581 and its references to William Shakeshafte. 1 The will named eleven annuitants, including Shakeshafte, and nineteen others; the annuities were to be paid to the eleven "during the natural life + lives + of the longest liver of these my servants" (here Hoghton named his thirty servants). 2 When an annuitant died, his portion was to be divided equally "amongst them that shall survive"; and "the survivor of them all" was to receive the [entire sum of] £16.13s.4d. per annum originally shared by the eleven annuitants.

Bearman is as puzzled as I was twenty years ago by the naming of the nineteen servants who were not annuitants. They were placed, he says, "in a very curious position. They were not responsible for the payment of the annuities: this task had been vested in two named trustees . . . and their heirs. But they were not beneficiaries, either. Perhaps Hoghton saw their role as guarantors. . . ." I assumed that the nineteen who were not annuitants were still eligible, if one of them turned out to be the longest liver of the thirty, to receive the annual sum of £16.13s.4d. But my legal colleague Professor D. W. Elliott tells me:

I am quite sure that the nineteen of the thirty names who were not given annuities were in no sense beneficiaries. They were named only as a measure of the period when the trustees of the rentcharge were legally (but not beneficially) entitled to it. When the last of the thirty lives dropped, the gift of the rentcharge to the Trustees ended and the full rent was enjoyed by the residuary legatee or her estate if she was dead. I may say in parenthesis that the use of a large number of 'unbenefitted' lives as measuring rods for the duration of a gift has always been common in cases where the law does not allow a gift in perpetuity but the settlor wishes to make his gift last as long as the law allows (but there was no question of perpetuity in this case.) 3 [End Page 83]

As for the name Shakeshafte, I have acknowledged that it was common in the Preston area. We must keep in mind that names, like spelling, were not fixed in 1581 as they are today. Shakespeare's grandfather Richard, of Snitterfield, was also "Shakstaff," another Snitterfield Shakespeare was "Shakesmore," and the dramatist appears in the Revels accounts as "Shaxberd."

Douglas Hamer argued in 1970 that Shakeshafte could not be Shakespeare because he was left one of Hoghton's larger annuities (£2); Hamer assumed that the oldest annuitant received the highest initial annuity, and of course Shakespeare was only seventeen years old in 1581. Bearman shows that my argument against Hamer, based on unpublished records that state the ages of three of Hoghton's servants, cannot stand, since only one of the three was an annuitant. Nevertheless, Elliott's point against Hamer is not so easily disposed of. Elliott stated in 1985 that he did not "think it at all credible to deduce the age of the annuitants from the comparative size of the annuities given to them," and he now repeats this conclusion: "I earlier opined that one cannot deduce the relative comparative ages of the annuitants from the relative size of their annuities. I remain of that view." 4 But he agrees with Bearman, who reminds us that we still have to choose between two interpretations, that the annuities "take account of age, or at least length of service," and the alternative, that seventeen-year-old Shakespeare, "within a matter of months of joining Hoghton's household, had somehow secured for himself more favorable treatment than servants with longer periods of service." 5

Here it is necessary to consider the two individuals involved. The first, "gentle Shakespeare," seems to have had a remarkable talent for inspiring friendship and affection. Rowe described the "great sweetness" of his manners: "He had the...


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