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The Collection
• Manuscripts

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The Folger's collection of 60,000 manuscripts ranges in date from the late thirteenth century to the present day, and offers a wealth of unique material relating to Shakespeare, the theater, or the early modern period. The wide range of handwritten documents includes original literary, poetic, and dramatic works, correspondence, family papers, diaries, commonplace books, poetical miscellanies, musical manuscripts, books of heraldry, sermons, documents relating to the Office of Revels, political writings, account books, receipt books, warrants, deeds, forgeries, and scholars' papers. Heather Wolfe is the Folger's Curator of Manuscripts.
Highlights of the collection include the late medieval Macro Plays, manuscripts signed by the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, letters written by the poet John Donne, the large, colorful Trevelyon Miscellany, the fine calligraphy of Esther Inglis, works for the lute by composer John Dowland, New Year's gift rolls of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII, deeds for Shakespeare's purchase of New Place and the Blackfriars Gatehouse, and the earliest known manuscript copy of a play by Shakespeare. The Folger also has manuscripts of two controversial Restoration plays thought to be lost until the twentieth century—The Change of Crownes— by Edward Howard and The Country Gentleman by Sir Robert Howard and the second duke of Buckingham.
The collection includes more than 1,800 promptbooks, about half for Shakespeare productions. (Promptbooks, the marked copies of plays prepared for professional productions, are among the best evidence for details of staging, effects, costumes, and cuts and adaptations of the text.) There are also manuscripts associated with nearly all of the leading dramatists and Shakespearean actors from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, as well as literary manuscripts by countless American, British, and continental authors and poets who engaged with Shakespeare in one way or another. Of particular note are the more than 2,000 manuscripts relating to the Shakespearean actor, manager, and theater owner David Garrick; the large collections of manuscripts relating to the forgers William Henry Ireland and John Payne Collier; and 30 boxes of editorial papers and correspondence of the Nichols family relating to the publication of the Gentleman's Magazine.
A substantial number of Folger manuscripts make up archives of family papers that offer scholars a window into family relationships, patronage, and life at the English court and in the country. Among the larger archives from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the Bagot papers, the Bacon-Townshend papers, the Rich papers, the Ferrers of Tamworth papers, and the Cavendish-Talbot papers. The Losely collection, puchased in six batches between 1938 and 1954, comprises the papers of Sir Thomas Cawarden, the first Master of the Revels and Master of the Tents, and his executor, Sir William More of Losely Park, Surrey, and his family. Other archives include the Newdigate newsletters and 200 volumes of transcripts from the papal and Venetian archives formerly owned by the Strozzi family.
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Autograph copy of letter from Erhardus Stibarus, 1553, in the hand of Edmund Spenser. Manuscript, 16th century

David Garrick and George Colman. The Clandestine Marriage. Manuscript, ca. 1763-65

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