To E or not to E

Con­tro­versy over the spell­ing of Shake­spear(e)

Vocable (All English) - - Édito Sommaire - VERON­ICA ROCHA

What’s in a name?

If you hap­pen to be strolling across the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, you would prob­a­bly come across a ma­jes­tic statue, un­veiled this sum­mer, and de­light in a verse dis­played upon it, from ‘Ham­let’… the fa­mous tragedy penned by “Shake­spear”. This would prob­a­bly have gone un­no­ticed apart from the sig­nif­i­cant ab­sence of the let­ter ‘e’ at the end of his name. It is the miss­ing ‘e’ that has caught the head­lines.

When Wil­liam Shake­speare penned “Ham­let” around the turn of the 17th cen­tury, he prob­a­bly never imag­ined his words would one day grace the base of a statue at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (USC) as part of a $700-mil­lion project. Like­wise, how was he to imag­ine that the spell­ing of his name would ig­nite a cross-town de­bate between two famed Los An­ge­les uni­ver­si­ties? Did the Bard spell his name Shake­speare or Shake­spear?

2. That last ques­tion was asked re­cently when USC un­veiled the new statue of He­cuba, queen of Troy, this sum­mer. The statue fea­tured verses from “Ham­let” and the drama­tist’s name, which was no­tice­ably miss­ing a fi­nal “e.”

3. The ex­cerpt, found on the base of the 20-foot statue, reads: “And all for noth­ing — For He­cuba! What’s He­cuba to him, or he to He­cuba, That he should weep for her? - Shake­spear’s Ham­let”

4. Stu­dents from USC’s long­time ri­val, UCLA, spot­ted the small, but glar­ing, de­tail and pointed it out: “USC. The only place in Amer­ica that can un­veil a statue as the cen­ter­piece of a $700 mil­lion project and man­age to mis­spell Shake­speare,” the of­fi­cial stu­dent-run ac­count tweeted.

5. The bronze statue, cre­ated by sculp­tor Christo­pher Slatoff, stands in the mid­dle of the new devel­op­ment, dubbed USC Vil­lage. The com­plex in­cludes six five-story build­ings, stu­dent hous­ing, a 30,000-square-foot fit­ness cen­ter, restau­rants, a Trader Joe’s and a Target. 6. De­spite some crit­i­cism, USC is stand­ing by the spell­ing, say­ing that there are vari­a­tions of Shake­speare. "To E, or not to E, that is the ques­tion,” USC said in a state­ment. “Over the cen­turies his sur­name has been spelled 20 dif­fer­ent ways. USC chose an older spell­ing be­cause of the an­cient feel of the statue, even though it is not the most com­mon form."

7. It looks like USC may have a point. Caro­line McManus, who teaches 17th cen­tury English lit­er­a­ture at Cal State Los An­ge­les, said spell­ing was not stan­dard­ized in English dur­ing Shake­speare’s time. “We see Shake­speare's name spelled in dif­fer­ent ways on doc­u­ments writ­ten dur­ing his time pe­riod,” she said. Some of those spellings in­clude Shake­spear, Shakspere and Shake­speare.

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