The University of Delaware Press is pleased to announce publication of the winning manuscript submitted to the competition for the second Jay L. Halio Prize in Shakespeare and Early Modern Studies competition, Shakespeare in Shorthand: The Textual Mystery of King Lear. The author is Adele Davidson, professor of English at Kenyon College (OH). Although Davidson has published scholarly articles in journals, this is her first book.
The Halio Prize was established in 2004 to honor University of Delaware Professor Emeritus Jay Halio’s contributions to Shakespeare scholarship and to encourage the work of young scholars. It carries a cash award of $1500.
A member of the prize committee described Davidson’s manuscript as a work that will have “a strong impact on the textual studies of Shakespeare’s plays. She brilliantly analyzes many of the textual cruxes in the 1608 quarto of King Lear and brings to bear an overwhelming body of evidence to prove her case about the transmission of the text through shorthand and abbreviated writing.”
In correspondence with the Press after being notified that her manuscript had won, Davidson wrote that she was “jubilant” and “proud and honored to be publishing with the University of Delaware Press.” She went on to say that she has been working on Shakespeare in Shorthand for fifteen years—“it truly has been a lifework for me.”
In the early 1990s, Davidson was researching textual problems in Shakespeare’s Pericles when she noticed that “a woodcut on the title page of Pericles (1609) . . . had been previously found in only one book . . . the foundational text of early modern shorthand, John Willis’s The Arte of Stenographie . She knew some scholars believed that some of Shakespeare’s plays might have been copied in shorthand, and others discredited the idea. Davidson began exploring the idea herself and investigating Willis’s text. Her research took her first to The Ohio State University Library where she had to photocopy Willis’s work from microfilm. Today she can call up such texts with Early English Books Online, a less tedious process. A two-year opportunity in the mid-1990s to direct Kenyon’s junior year abroad at the University of Exeter gave her access to other libraries, including the British Library and the Pepysian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.
Four centuries after Shakespeare, we rarely hear anyone mention the terms “shorthand” or “stenography,” as a means of recording information. Still, the question of whether some of Shakespeare's early quartos were actually transcribed in Elizabethan stenography is an important one that potentially affects the shape, wording, and content of the plays—especially since, so far as anyone knows, Shakespeare himself never actually published a play. Receiving the Halio Prize, Davidson says, “has been an important validation of all the years of work I have put into the idea that these early systems of abbreviated writing and shorthand can illuminate Shakespearean textual scholarship and specifically King Lear.”