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Folger First Folio 23

Folger First Folio 23 belonged to the Brocket family for more than two centuries. Elizabeth Brocket, who was born in 1681, acquired it as a teenager from an earlier owner, Mary Child, who wrote notes in it and inscribed her name at the end of Romeo and Juliet. Elizabeth wrote her name four times in the First Folio, including in 1702 and 1712, but her earliest dated signature is on December 4, 1695. This was about a month before Child’s death, suggesting that Child may have given it to her just before she died.

Later in the 1700s, it belonged to Elizabeth’s nephew William Brocket, a lawyer in London, who added a bookplate. In Sidney Lee’s 1902 census of First Folios, it was still in the family, with the owner identified simply as “Mrs. Brocket.” In 1907, however, it was sold to a London bookseller, and the Folgers purchased it in 1913.

Eight of the leaves in this First Folio were supplied from other copies of the First Folio, while three others, including the title page and the last page of Cymbeline (the final play in the First Folio), were replaced with facsimile copies.

This First Folio had an unusual number of female owners whose names we know today. It also includes some handwritten copies of poems, including “To the Ladies,” from a 1703 book of poems by Lady Mary Chudleigh. This appears on the same leaf as three of Elizabeth Brocket’s signatures, and it seems quite possible that she may have written it. The poem, which begins “Wife and servant are the same,” touches on the era’s legal restrictions on married women and urges women to “shun, oh! shun that wretched state.” Elizabeth Brocket never married and died in her late 70s.

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