Milton's Shakespeare
September 13, 2019 2:50 PM   Subscribe

Earlier this week a Cambridge University scholar announced an astonishing literary discovery: John Milton's annotated copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, hiding in plain sight in the Free Library of Philadelphia. If the identification is confirmed (and the scholarly reaction on Twitter, initially cautious, is now becoming increasingly positive), it will be only the tenth book (or eleventh, if you count his family Bible) known to survive from Milton's personal library.
posted by verstegan (18 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
This is extremely cool! I love the romance of it having just sat on a shelf in the library this whole time, waiting to be found.

(As an aside, the code switching I had to do from my expectations when clicking on a twitter link, to actually reading the content of said links, was really funny. Literary Twitter is not like those other twitters, apparently.)
posted by Mizu at 4:00 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]

This is amazing.

And because I am secretly eight, I like very much that the first inset image in the first link has a line of manuscript from The Tempest with the line ending,
[Alle the In]fections that the Sunne ſucks vp.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:25 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]

Congratulations. Poggio Bracciolini would be proud!
posted by xtian at 6:09 PM on September 13

Milton was totally blind at 44, and as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, his greatest (and most visionary) work came after that, so unless he had one of his amanuensis's annotate for him, which is far from inconceivable — and they happen to include Andrew Marvell!, we may not get the benefit of his best judgment here, but this is incredibly stunning!
posted by jamjam at 6:49 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]

From Wikipedia:

Milton's poetry was slow to see the light of day, at least under his name. His first published poem was "On Shakespeare" (1630), anonymously included in the Second Folio edition of William Shakespeare's plays in 1632.
posted by xammerboy at 7:19 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]

posted by aramaic at 8:31 PM on September 13

but the attribution is virtually certain and its significance almost cannot be understated.

posted by Naberius at 10:31 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]

From the post-script to the article:

On the basis of his knowledge of the development of Milton’s hand, Will Poole (who a few years back discovered the poet’s copy of Boccaccio’s Life of Dante) has suggested that the earliest handwritten addition (the prologue to Romeo and Juliet) probably dates from the early 1630s, but that the bulk of the annotations were likely made in the 1640s. So this is probably a re-reading (or several re-readings) rather than a first reading, coinciding with a time of political upheaval, when Milton was writing some of his most powerful polemical prose.
posted by xammerboy at 12:09 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]

This is so cool, thank you for posting it!
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:26 AM on September 14

This is an absolutely amazing development in my little corner of historical / literary studies, and I adore how it integrates the work of two of my favourite scholars — Claire Bourne’s work on the annotations *before* Jason Scott Warren’s exemplary palaeographical study was already some of my favourite scholarship on marginalia.

It’s also perfect timing for the first class of my research centre’s MA palaeography course next week, so many thanks from a colleague frantically updating his syllabus.
posted by bebrogued at 2:27 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]

I'm somewhat amusedly wondering if the Free Library's insurance rates are going to go up. First Folios usually sell for $5 million or so anyway, and the value of one where England's greatest poet is annotated by the second greatest -- and many would say instead England's greatest playwright annotated by its greatest poet -- has got to be something ridiculous. Priceless in a scholarly sense of course.
posted by tavella at 2:52 PM on September 14

"I'm somewhat amusedly wondering if the Free Library's insurance rates are going to go up. First Folios usually sell for $5 million or so anyway, and the value of one where England's greatest poet is annotated by the second greatest -- and many would say instead England's greatest playwright annotated by its greatest poet -- has got to be something ridiculous."

So, fun fact! They probably won't insure it! Priceless works of art and cultural artifacts that are irreplaceable aren't insured for full value, and often not insured at all, and the federal government actually provides insurance to transport things from one museum to another when they lend to each other, because otherwise the transit process isn't affordable. And some art/artifacts even the feds refuse to insure for transit! The entire US government cannot afford it! I talked about it a little bit in a prior thread.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:41 PM on September 14 [12 favorites]

This is astounding. A co-worker of mine is a massive Shakespeare buff (the biography and time period as much as the actual work), and he's going to be foaming at the mouth over this, if he isn't already.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:11 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]

The news has finally made it into the Guardian (but, MeFites, you read it here first!).
posted by verstegan at 8:16 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]

*whistles while deaccessioning yet another potentially priceless book due to budget cuts*
posted by aspersioncast at 9:22 PM on September 16

This is so good. It reminds me of how palaeographers and bibliographers and textual scholars -- the people devoted to the materiality of the written word -- often dance around each other's fields while more mainstream literature scholars look on with a certain amount of curiosity. (It also makes me wish I still had access to journal articles.)

Claire Bourne's piece talks about how the provenance of that First Folio gets blurry before 1899, and that's often the case for books that made their way across the Atlantic. I once asked the curator of a large private library in the US -- mostly assembled in the 1890s and frankly more decorative than scholarly -- in very broad terms about how it was acquired, and the reply conveyed very clearly that This Was Not Something They Talked About.
posted by holgate at 11:07 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]

This is wonderful. I hope they publish the complete annotated text. It would be a great way to read Shakespeare.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:37 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

The Folger Library's Shakespeare Unlimited podcast has a fun interview with the two scholars behind the discovery. (It's episode #129, in their feeds but not on the website yet.)
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:45 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]

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