Professor: Design in Shakespeare’s works suggest earlier rise to prominence

Rachel Lew

An ornately designed logo printed on Shakespeare’s works suggests an earlier rise to prominence than previously thought, according to a UT professor.

English professor Douglas Bruster said his research shows that Shakespeare created a type of brand and gained recognition from his peers earlier in his career through an ornate design that Bruster refers to as “Lady 8.” The logo depicts a female face, birds and leaves and appears on the title pages of the poems “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece.”

The design previously appeared only on the inside pages of books and often accompanied the names of aristocrats, Bruster said.

“Getting such a sumptuous image on your title page may have said, to Elizabethan readers, that something quite elegant, and important, was inside these books,” Bruster said.

English sophomore Taylor Moore said Bruster’s findings confirm what she has always thought and heard about Shakespeare.

“He had to work extremely hard to overcome class and educational boundaries to situate himself as a respected writer within the Elizabethan era,” Moore said. “The discovery of an ornamental brand, used to signify prestige to readers, just further supports this idea.”

Richard Field, Shakespeare’s friend and publisher, was very deliberate in his use of ornaments and printed the design on the title page of each of Shakespeare’s poems, Bruster said.

Shakespeare lacked the educational background that other writers during his time had, but his poems “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” cemented his reputation as a leading writer, Bruster said, and the Lady 8 ornament that embellished these poems added a visual luxury to his poetry and came to stand for his achievement.

“The Lady 8 ornament was employed for a few books earlier,” Bruster said. “But when it was used for his first publications, it came to stand for them, their success and eventually the era he represented. It stands as a long-neglected ‘brand’ for a writer who was much more famous — much earlier than we sometimes like to think.”

Moore said Bruster’s research may change the way society views Shakespeare’s rise as a poet.

“I think these findings will force modern readers to think even more about the impact class had on the reception of Shakespeare’s work,” Moore said.

English professor Mary Blockley said Bruster’s research offers new knowledge about the highly acclaimed poet.

“The forging of this link … does prove there is always more to be known about even this best-known of English authors,” Blockley said.