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Cathedral reveals letter from ‘Mrs Shakspaire’

29 April 2016


The wrong Mrs Shakespeare? A fragment of the “Shakspaire” letter found in Hereford Cathedral Library

The wrong Mrs Shakespeare? A fragment of the “Shakspaire” letter found in Hereford Cathedral Library

AS THE world marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Hereford Cathedral has unearthed its own Shakespearean tale.

Two fragments of a letter, written at about the same period that the playwright was alive, were discovered in the binding of a book in the cathedral library. The letter is addressed to a “Good Mrs Shakspaire”, and asks her to pay a penniless orphan boy, John Butts, money that is owed to him by her late husband. It also mentions a “Mr Sparowe”.

The cathedral librarian, Dr Rosemary Firman, thinks, however, that these Shakspaires are not William and his wife, Anne Hathaway. She said this week: “These Shakspaires are said to have once lived on a Trinity Lane, but William Shakespeare is not known to have lived at such an address, and no connections are known between him and anyone called Butts or Sparowe.”

Coincidentally, however, the book was published in London by George Bishop, one of whose apprentices, Richard Field, knew William Shakespeare.

The cathedral is inviting the public to help find out more. “We would love to hear from anyone who can add anything to this story, and it’s possible that there’s someone researching the history of their own family to whom this letter will make sense,” Dr Firman said.

The letter is on show in the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition at Hereford Cathedral until 3 September; anyone with information is asked to email library@herefordcathedral.org, with the subject line “Mrs Shakespeare”.

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