A few weeks ago, Shakespeare was in the news. Well, not Shakespeare. Shakespear.
The University of Southern California (USC), whose school mascot is a Trojan, unveiled a statue of Hecuba, queen of Troy, as part of a new $700 million “USC village.” The statue’s base bears the inscription, “And all for nothing—For Hecuba! / What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?” The inscription is ascribed to “Shakespear’s Hamlet.” That’s Shakespear, no E.
USC’s in-state rival, UCLA, immediately jumped on the apparent spelling error, and for a day or two the internet buzzed with the embarrassing mistake, until USC issued a statement claiming that the spelling was intentional: “USC chose an older spelling because of the ancient feel of the statue.”
To be fair, as stated in The Bard and the Bible, “Spelling was extremely fluid in Shakespeare’s day, to say the least. In fact, more than eighty spellings of the name Shakespeare have been recorded.” Shakespeare himself used variant spellings in signing his own name (that’s one example of his signature in the graphic above).
So, USC is technically correct. However, while there was no uniform “accepted” spelling in the English language in Shakespeare’s era (Noah Webster’s effort to standardize spelling did not begin until his first dictionary appeared in 1806, and the Oxford English Dictionary was first published in 1884), there are norms in today’s English–and “Shakespeare” has been the universally-accepted spelling for a very long time, even in England.
So, nice try, USC. But “Methinks thou speak’st not well” (Coriolanus, I.6.14).