Return to head page.

George Buc: The Man Who Knew Shakespeare

The Folger Shakespeare Library copy of George a Greene (1599: STC 12212) contains two inscriptions in the hand of George Buc (1560-1622):

Written by ............ a minister, who ac[ted]
the pin{n}ers part in it himself. Teste W. Shakespea[re]

Ed. Juby saith that this play was made by Ro. Gree[ne]
These two inscriptions were first noticed in print in 1825, and much has been written about them since, initially in respect to Robert Greene, and later in respect to Sir George Buc. The inscriptions have scarcely been noticed at all by Shakespeare biographers.

The inscriptions clearly reveal that George Buc, who would serve as Master of the Revels from 1610 to 1622, knew Shakespeare personally and considered him a reliable informant on the authorship of George a Greene, which we know from other evidence was performed on five occasions in December 1593 and January 1594.

I reported on the George a Greene inscriptions at the Shakespeare World Congress in April 1996. My article on this subject has been published in Shakespeare Quarterly, 49 (Spring 1998), 74-83.

Buc's library is known to have been dispersed after his death. I have not been able to work out exactly what happened to his books and manuscripts, but many have now turned up in various libraries, and I suspect that many more may rest in university, public, or private libraries still unrecognized. I am certain that the value of any book will be enhanced immensely if it turns out to have been owned by Buc - a man personally acquainted with Shakespeare, and the official censor of Shakespeare's late plays.

A problem with identification is that in most instances Buc put his inscriptions into books without signing his name to them - although sometimes he did sign his name, or at least his initials - G. Buc, G. Buck, or simply G. B.

Buc made a particular point of identifying the authors of anonymous works, including plays, and of "improving" their titles. In my experience, the most useful thing to look for in examining an inscription in a printed book to determine whether it might be by Buc is some notation or comment (generally on the title-page) expressing an opinion concerning the authorship, subject-matter, or exact title of the book.

Two further comments: if a book was published after 1622, it cannot have been inscribed by Buc, who died on 31 October of that year. Second, the the fact that the name of the author has been supplied will mean little in itself, since any owner may have added this detail.

In the future I hope to include graphic images on this website with reproductions of Buc's handwriting; for the time being I must be satisfied with the following list of modern books which include photographic facsimiles of Buc's hand:

Return to head page.