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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds So the italic hand used by Lady Mary Wroth and other members of the Sidney family is a lovely script which can easily be developed into handwriting, because it focuses on parallel downstrokes. So if we draw a line through the key stroke of the letters, we find that all these lines run parallel to each other, which creates a nice rhythm. So if we now repeat this pattern here without lifting the pen, what we find is, as we release the pressure going upwards, then a little bit of pressure going downwards, release the pressure going upwards, that this is the underlying structure for several of the letters.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds So you can see here, this is the underlying shape for the letter n, focusing on the downstrokes, m, h, parallel here, k, pressure, release, little bit of pressure, and out. Now when we look again at this structure here, this pen pattern, if we now close this shape up, then we get a triangular shape which we can find in the letter p, b, and k. So all these letters are related to each other.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds Now if we turn this pattern upside down, we get the reverse, which is the basic underlying shape for the letters u, release, pressure, y, pressure, release, pressure, l, and t.

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 seconds Now when we look again at this pattern here, and this time, we close the top, we get a triangular shape, which is the underlying structure for the letters a, g, d, and q. There are some letters in the alphabet which do not have arches. There are the letters o, which is an oval shape, the letter c, the letter e, and the letter s.

Skip to 3 minutes and 46 seconds Then we have letters with diagonal strokes, like v, w, x, y, and z.

Skip to 4 minutes and 39 seconds So having looked at Lady Mary Wroth’s handwriting, she really had a very good understanding of the structure of the italic hand, and she seemed to enjoy it as well. You can tell by her light touch that she’s had lots of practise, and she also enjoys writing the script, because she joins some letters, which we call a ligature. So if I demonstrate here the combination of a letter s.

Writing Sonnets, imitation and decoration

Sonnets were handwritten and circulated in manuscript between intimates at the court, as critic Patricia Fumerton has argued, so the writing of a sonnet was a physical as well as compositional labour of love.

Watch this video on how to write in italic hand as Lady Mary Wroth did, and then try your own hand at copying out and decorating a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney, as the younger generation of sonneteers did.

When Robert Sidney wrote to his wife ‘I thank Malkin for her letter and am exceeding glad to see that she writes so well’ (Letter C81/68 6th October 1595) he was referring to his daughter Mary’s italic handwriting – letter writing in a very material form.

Try copying one of the sonnets in your own handwriting or italic hand and decorate it to make it a beautiful gift. The downloadable documents give you a copy of Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet, details and photographs of the italic hand and directions for how to make letter forms, decorative capitals and pen decorations. There are also examples of decoration by calligraphy students and provide links to further examples from the work done by calligraphers for the ‘Dramatizing Penshurst’ project.

Illustrate your sonnet to make it decorative and upload to this Padlet wall

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This video is from the free online course:

Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

Lancaster University