In the news earlier this month: a tiny little notebook was discovered in Berkshire. The cramped seventeenth-century handwriting contains notes on William Shakespeare‘s plays at the time they were performed, by someone who was watching them. The miniature volume is titled Shakespeare: Comedies and Tragedies, and it was discovered among the collection of 18th century antiquarian John Loveday of Caversham by one his descendants.
Matthew Haley, head of books and manuscripts at Bonhams, appraised the item for Antiques Roadshow, filmed at Caversham Park, Berkshire. The discovery of the “scientific scholarly notes” left him “completely knocked for six” and trembling. “Sometimes the best things come in small packages. My goodness this is a good thing.”
He said it included detailed notes in Latin and suggested the jottings could have been the work of a student analyzing the playwright’s work.
“There is so much research that can be done on this item,” he said. “It’s amazing, it’s almost completely illegible, but you can pick out the odd word, and you can pick out phrases that appear in Shakespeare.”
“Nobody started to edit Shakespeare’s works in an academic way or comparing texts until the 18th century. Shakespeare was known as the national playwright and the national poet, he’d acquired some sort of mythological status by that point, but people weren’t looking at him in an academic, analytical way. But maybe this note-taker was.
Mr Haley said the document, which is being transcribed, may provide evidence that not all of Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Bard himself in their entirety, while the lines quoted my differ from those in use today.
“I’m sure that very close study of it would identify quotes from some plays that are not necessarily all Shakespeare.”