an alvearie

Booksellers Say They Bough Shakespeare’s Personal Dictionary on eBay

Scholars say that William Shakespeare used as many as 30,000 different words in his plays and poetry. They further estimate that he knew about a quarter of all the words circulating in English during his lifetime.

This is remarkable, and it raises a question: How did he learn them? Some, we know, he invented; some he borrowed from Latin or French. But others he simply looked up, in any one of a number of reference books available to Londoners in the late 16th century.

Now, two New York City booksellers say they have found one of those books. And it’s not just any guide: This is William Shakespeare’s dictionary, owned and annotated by the man himself.

For more than half a century, many scholars have believed that Shakespeare consulted a 1580 dictionary published in London called An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie. Assembled by Cambridge Latin instructor John Baret, the Alvearie was one of the most popular dictionaries of its time. It was “quadruple” because it covered four languages: English, Latin, Greek, and French.

Read more. [Image: Koppelman, via the Folger Shakespeare Library]

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