More Fun with N-grams: Shak(e)speare

I saw Richard III at BAM on Friday, which was outstanding. While I was playing around with the N-gram viewer yesterday, I tested some of the spellings of his name and discovered that the spelling we use today only became the popular spelling during the civil war:

I looked into it before Wikipedia went dark, and apparently there is no record of the man ever spelling his name with the first ‘e’. The six signatures appear as follows:

  • Willm Shakp
  • William Shaksper
  • Wm Shakspe
  • William Shakspere
  • Willm Shakspere
  • By me William Shakspeare

Notice the conspicuous absence of the first ‘e’.

I was trying to figure out why the shift to ‘Shakespeare’ happened. Strangely, it seems that British Prime Minister Benjamin D’Israeli might have been the catalyst for the change- he is the only influential person mentioned around that time having strong opinions. By the time of his death in 1881, the spelling ‘Shakespeare’ was preferred 3:1.

Does anyone have any other ideas on why this change happened?