Shakespeare’s career coincided with the development and rapid expansion of a new technology: shorthand transcription of live performances. Shorthand, especially Timothy Bright’s synonym-based method known as “charactery” (first published in his 1588 manual, Charactery), is known to have been used to transcribe performances of a number of sermons. For well over half a century, though, the scholarly consensus has been that charactery was incapable of yielding transcripts underlying any of the so-called “bad quartos” of Shakespeare’s plays. A close analysis of two 1595 pirated editions of Thomas Playfere’s two-hour sermon The Meane in Mourning and the 1596 authorized version reveals that at least one of the spurious editions most likely originated in charactery—a method capable, in the hands of an expert practitioner, of producing much better results than has been assumed. The same analytical methods can be applied to the suspect quartos of Shakespeare’s plays. A comparison of the first two printed versions of Romeo and Juliet reveals traces of the first quarto’s origin in a shorthand transcription of the play in performance.