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John Milton's Copy of Shakespeare

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 129

In September, the world of literary scholarship got some big news. It was discovered that a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia, once belonged to John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. The First Folio contains what experts now widely believe to be Milton’s notes on Shakespeare, in his own handwriting. Suddenly, we can read what one of the greatest English language poets was thinking as he engaged with Shakespeare’s plays.

The connection was made by Cambridge University’s Jason Scott-Warren. Scott-Warren was reading an essay by Penn State’s Claire M.L. Bourne about this copy of the First Folio when the handwriting in the notes started to look familiar. Shortly afterward, Bourne got a direct message from Scott-Warren on Twitter: “Can I run something by you?” We talk to Bourne and Scott-Warren about what this discovery means, how technology (including Twitter) has changed their work, and what’s next.

Dr. Claire M. L. Bourne is an assistant professor of English at Penn State University. Dr. Jason Scott-Warren is a College Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at Cambridge University in England. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. 

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on iTunes, Google MusicSoundcloudSpotify, NPR One, or your favorite podcast platform.

From our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published October 1, 2019. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “We Shall Jointly Labor,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at VoiceTrax West in Studio City, California; Craig Johnson at WPSU public radio in State College, Pennsylvania; and K. J. Thorarinsson at KJ’s Sound Studio in Cambridge, England.

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MICHAEL WITMORE: 21st-century thinking and 21st-century tools have solved a 17th-century mystery. And English literature may never look the same again.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. About a week ago as we record this, the world of literary scholarship received some astonishing news: A copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia, once belonged to John Milton, author of Paradise Lost and the writer many consider the second greatest poet in the English language. And not only that, this First Folio contained Milton’s own notes on Shakespeare, in his own handwriting… something that had never been realized until now.

This remarkable discovery was made possible by a combination of hard work, serendipity, and most importantly, the real-time connections made possible by 21st-century technology.

On September 9th, Professor Jason Scott-Warren of Cambridge University sent a Direct Message on Twitter to Professor Claire M. L. Bourne at Penn State. Professor Bourne had noticed notes in the margins of this First Folio eleven years ago when she was a grad student and she’d recently written about them.

After they talked, Professor Scott-Warren wrote a blog post about what he thought he’d found. It included pictures of the First Folio that Professor Bourne had taken over the years. Then he shared it on Twitter, hoping he could crowd-source a fact-check of the discovery.

It worked. Scholars from all around the world weighed in, and six days later, the news was out. This book is—most likely—John Milton’s copy of Shakespeare.

For everything that’s modern about this discovery, there’s also something very old-fashioned. It reminds us that there are amazing early books like this one that are still out there waiting to be found. And that reminds us of the importance of libraries. If this book had been in private hands, it’s likely we would never have known about it. Instead, it was in the safe keeping of a library—and more than that, a library that gives access to scholars.

We are very fortunate to bring you a conversation now with the two scholars who made this discovery possible – two good friends of the Folger …. Dr. Claire M. L. Bourne, assistant professor of English at Penn State University, and Dr. Jason Scott-Warren, Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at the University of Cambridge. This podcast episode is called “We Shall Jointly Labor.” Claire and Jason are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

BARBARA BOGAEV: First of all, both of you, congratulations. What a discovery. It’s so exciting.



BOGAEV: Well, why don’t we start at the beginning of all of this, and why don’t we start with you, Claire? Tell me how you first came upon this annotated First Folio in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

BOURNE: I actually saw it for the first time in a graduate course in my first year of my PhD at U Penn. There I was taking a class, and they took us over to the Free Library to do a session with some of the items in the collection there, which is something that the librarians at the Free Library do quite oftenand quite often with this object too. And it was there as an example of an object that contained traces of early reading. I quickly became fascinated by it. The annotations in the book seemed sort of a cut above what you tend to see in early printed books.

BOGAEV: Oh, now, that’s interesting. I want to pick up on that. I’m just picturing you, you’re 22, what, 23 years old?

BOURNE: Oh, no, a little older than that.

BOGAEV: Okay. Well, we’ll not get into the age, but anyway…

BOURNE: That’s okay.

BOGAEV: You’re in your 20s, and here you’re looking at these markings. You say your first reaction… was it right there in the room? Like, “Hmm, wow, this seems like more than just some reader.”

BOURNE: Yeah, I would say it was probably a kind of collective reaction in the room. First of all, it’s a Shakespeare First Folio, so…

BOGAEV: Which is always exciting.

BOURNE: I hadn’t seen very many of those before. And here’s one that shows evidence of an early hand of an early reader, truly engaging in a very granular, localized way, with two of our most canonical Shakespeare texts, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. So I started asking questions. “Well, how did the reader know to make these changes? Are these changes that are coming from the reader’s own brain, knowledge of these plays, or from somewhere else?”

That was the emanating question of the seminar paper I wrote for that class. And that was the foundation for this essay that I worked on for the better part of a decade. It came out last year, and Jason read and looked at the book with these new eyes.

BOGAEV: Right. And while we’re in this moment where you’re looking at this First Folio, help us visualize what these notes look like, for people who haven’t, you know, studied the photos that have been in the coverage of this. What kind of notes did this reader make? What do they say, refer to, pick up on? You mentioned the plays, but give us an example, so we can picture it.

BOURNE: Yeah, so there’s several different kinds of what I would call “reader’s marks.” One kindthere are a couple of these references to other books. We have the reader adding a second stanza to a song in Measure For Measure. So underneath the first stanza of the song, it says, “See the end of this play for the second stanza,” and you turn to the end of the play and see the second stanza inscribed there. We also have efforts to improve the text, so to fix typographical errors, also to finesse meter. The annotations that are the most interesting to me are where the reader is suggesting alternative readings to certain words.

BOGAEV: So there are all these different kinds of handwritten, scribbled-in notes in there.

BOURNE: That’s right.

BOGAEV: And Claire, you wrote all this up and you included it, as you say, in a chapter in a book on early modern English marginalia. But you never mentioned the name of Milton, do you, right?

BOURNE: No, I don’t.

BOGAEV: You just call this notetaker “Reader A”.

BOURNE: That’s right.

BOGAEV: Yeah. And this is where you come in, Jason. As I understand, you also wrote a chapter in this book.


BOGAEV: So is this where you came upon Claire’s research, or were you one of those contributors who doesn’t read the other people’s chapters?

SCOTT-WARREN: I was trying to be the good contributor who does read the other people’s chapters.

BOURNE: Well done.

SCOTT-WARREN: I had my free copy of the book and I was starting to turn my mind to my teaching in the autumn, and you know, “Gonna be teaching a textual studies class.” Probably the same sort of class that Claire was first introduced to that folio in. So I thought I should go and read some of this new collection and see what I could draw on for my teaching.

BOGAEV: And is that where you saw the photo of the notes written in this First Folio that Claire researched?

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things about this article was it sort of brought together photos of the notes for the first time. This is the first time images of these things had already been published. And I think it makes all the difference to actually see them, to see what the interventions look like, not just have them described. And that was what I was building on.

BOGAEV: Right. So how quickly did it hit you that this reader might be Milton? I mean, was it like this lightning bolt, this guy, or was it more like, “Hmm, this guy’s handwriting looks familiar.”

SCOTT-WARREN: I was trying to reconstruct that actually. I was kind of leafing through the article, thinking, “How far did I get before I started to suspect?” And I don’t know. I think I have a sort of bad mental habit of often when I’m reading about readers, I sort of start to fantasize the kind of, “Hm, that handwriting looks a bit familiar,” and…

BOGAEV: That’s part of the problem with these discoveries.

SCOTT-WARREN: Exactly, yeah.

BOGAEV: Or hopeful, alleged discoveries. You want it to be so much the person you hope it to be.

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, that’s right. So I go away and I check and usually I discover that I’m wrong, but I think in this case I guess it was partly because Claire was describing the subtleties of what the reader was doing with the text, and the way that the reader was consulting quarto copies: comparing them with the folio and then writing in alternative readings, but sometimes leaving both readings to stand as though they were sort of allowing both readings as possibilities.

There was a kind of emerging sense of the sophistication of this reader, and then there was the kind of dating of the readings. What Claire established was that some parts of this reading have to be done after 1637, when the quarto of Romeo and Juliet in particular is published. I was sort of thinking, “1640-ish, subtle reader,” and then started…

BOGAEV: “Dare I hope?” Uh-huh.

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, the hand looked a bit like Milton in places.

BOGAEV: Okay. So it was this slow burn for you, it sounds like?

SCOTT-WARREN: I think it was a kind of, yeah, a slow… I mean, a slow burn of several contributing factors. And I think maybe another factor is that I have, in the distant past, spent some time looking at Milton’s corrections to his own texts. We have one of those in the Cambridge University library. So one of the first things I did was went away and called up a corrected copy of Lycidas, and actually looking at the way he’s correcting in the margins. There was a lot of similarity there as well. Things started to add up.

BOGAEV: And similarity, do you mean literally on the level of handwriting, and the way a serif would be used or not used?

BOURNE: Yeah, on the level of handwriting, and on the way that he keys the annotations to the texts. He’ll use a little cross or an asterisk to mark where the word that he’s replacing should go. And maybe something also about the handwriting.

I think when Milton is correcting, actually, his handwriting isn’t his most generic kind of handwriting. His handwriting is sort of on good behavior. Or just, I don’t know, perhaps because you’re interacting with print and you’re trying to clarify the printed texts. So somehow your handwriting slightly takes on a printed quality.

BOGAEV: Not mine, but that’s interesting. I feel like maybe we should remind our listeners at this point of the relationship between Milton and Shakespeare. Just remind us why it’s a big deal that this “Reader A” would be Milton and not some other random learned guy with a good library in the 17th century.

SCOTT-WARREN: I think Milton is a writer who absorbs a great deal from Shakespeare. Any reader of Milton who’s familiar with Shakespeare will immediately start to pick up the whispers and the echoes of Shakespeare in his writings. So the Miltonic text is already, to some extent, that kind of tissue of Shakespearean rustlings.

The crassest way that people have put it to me is that this is a case of Number 2 reading Number 1. This is the second greatest writer of all time reading the first greatest writer of all time. I knew there were scholars out there who would balk at that, who’d want to say, “I don’t know, this is Number 1 reading Number 2, maybe.”

It’s a massively influential writer at a formative stage of his career, reading the works of Shakespeare almost in their entirety and responding to them.

BOGAEV: And those rustlings you were talking about, where is the Shakespeare in Milton? Just give us some examples.

SCOTT-WARREN: Well, I guess everyone would have their own version of where the Shakespeare is in Milton. That’s the difficulty with rustlings. I’ve always been really fascinated by his early masque, Comus, where he is experimenting with dramatic form, experimenting with characterization, whereas masques are often slightly frictionless texts. In Milton’s masque, nothing could be further from the case. It’s a very sort of naughty, intricate text with passages of extremely intense argument between characters who are kind of locked in combat. I think that’s one of the places where I always thought, “This is Milton really learning a lot from Shakespeare. This is someone who’s read Measure for Measure, who’s seen those dialogues between Isabella and Angelo and who really has imbibed and understood how you craft spiky dialogue.”

BOGAEV: Claire, let me turn back to you now. You were talking earlier about how you noticed some hints to perhaps not the identity, the specific identity of the reader or did you? I mean, you were talking about theparticularly Hamlet and Romeo and Julietthat this reader was comparing the texts in folios to other versions available at the time.

BOURNE: Yeah, that’s right. What I did was I went through these two plays and compared them to all the quarto texts from the 17th century of these plays. And through that kind of slow, very, very slow, painstaking process, it became very clear to me that this reader was collating himself againstor it could have been herself tooagainst the fifth quarto of Romeo and Juliet, which is 1637. When it comes to Hamlet, it could have been several of the quarto editions, but I would surmise that it was probably the 1637 edition of Hamlet, since both of them were published by the same publisher and there’s evidence that they were still for sale as a pair around 1660.

I did that work of trying to figure out where these changes came from and just that this reader was comparing the folio text, the big authoritative folio text, against very late quartos, really turns on its head our idea of textual authority. That really interested me, whether this reader was Milton or someone else. You can only hope that you send something like this out into the world and someone sees the handwriting and maybe recognizes it from something else they’ve looked at, but never in a million years would I have guessed that that person would be Milton.

BOGAEV: Oh, that was my next question. Whether the name Milton whether that name came to mind, because what you’re talking about are these kind of corrections or edits or kind of a combination of the two.

BOURNE: Yes, that’s right.

BOGAEV: And it sounds as if you’re implying you saw that there was a real literary imagination at work or a literary sensibility at work in looking at this text.

BOURNE: Yeah, I completely agree with that. And I think to the fact that this reader did not cross out one variant in favor of another variant shows that the reader was really interested in interpretive possibility in these texts.

That means, on the one hand, that the sense of Shakespeare as a fixed monolith was not operative for this reader. And on the other hand, that this reader was kind of reveling in the interpretive flux of these texts. I’ve often used images of this book to teach my students about textual variants, and it’s kind of a backdoor into close reading. It’s really fun too. I liked to imagine this reader engaging in that kind of pleasurable reading practice. So yes, definitely a literary sensibility.

BOGAEV: Why is this significant? Because of the literary sensibility, or is this just not the way most people read back then? Because we can’t assume people read the same through the ages, or can we?

BOURNE: When you look at what early modern readers wrote in their playbooks, it’s usually a few corrections here and there. Maybe adding a missing speech prefix. But nothing, nothing that I have seen on the level of this… this level of engagement. Is Claudius in Hamlet a “blunt king?” Hamlet calls him a “blunt king” in the folio text when he’s talking to Gertrude. Or is he a “bloat king,” which is what the quartos print? So is he “blunt,” which might refer to his impotence, or is he “bloat,” insatiable and indulgent? That makes a big difference whether Hamlet calls his uncle one thing or the other.

BOGAEV: Oh, and that’s what you mean by interpretive possibility?

BOURNE: Yes, exactly. Yes.

BOGAEV: Interesting. Jason, before you went public, you contacted Claire, right, before you wrote up your blog post where you announced this, or put it out there.


BOGAEV: How, did you two text, or talk on the phone?

SCOTT-WARREN: I sent ClaireI was aware that Claire was a big Twitter presence. I hadn’t met Claire, and we hadn’t run into each other at conferences, but I knew she was a Twitter star, which is a situation that I have a certain envy for, because I tend to get two likes for everything I tweet. So I thought the first thing to do is to direct message Claire. And I was looking for some signs of reassurance that I hadn’t just kind of flipped at that point. I was really looking for, you know, “Is this actually possible?” So that was my initial reaching out.

BOGAEV: So you DM’d Claire. Claire, what was that like? I mean, how exciting.

BOURNE: Well he sent me a, “Can I run something by you?” I’m like, “Okay.”

BOGAEV: One of your many fans.

BOURNE: He sent me his blog post and he’d sort of mocked that up. I opened it and I took a look at it, and I think my heart just skipped a beat when I saw the similarities between the images of the annotations in the Free Library First Folio and the images of Milton’s handwriting and other textual objects that we know Milton owned and wrote in. I also did appreciate a lot the sort of tentative nature with which Jason presented this hypothesis, this proposition. I think Twitter was the perfect venue to float this idea.

BOGAEV: So you hadn’t seen Milton’s handwriting until you got this DM, this text from someone. You had no idea who it was.

BOURNE: Exactly. I had never encountered it. Yeah.

BOGAEV: So you just did you flip? I mean…

BOURNE: Yes. It was a pretty astonishing moment. Again, you can only hope that your scholarship will find an audience, but to have this piece of work that I’d worked on for so long come under Jason’s eyes and for him to see what he saw, it just goes to show that you can look at an object for years and years and years using your lenses, then someone else brings their lenses to bear on that object and they see something completely different. So for that reason, that sort of “aha” moment, that kind of excitement of collaboration actually happening, I think that’s what excited me so much in that particular moment.

BOGAEV: What did you write back? And, Jason, I’ll let Claire answer this first, but what were you looking for from Claire that you, you know, got in touch with her before you went public? So Claire, what did you write back?

BOURNE: I think I wrote, “OMG.” You know, Twitter speak. Just “OMG,” like, “I’m kind of speechless,” just like I am right now reenacting this particular moment. But then I said, “I think I find the way you presented the case very persuasive. I find the visual evidence very persuasive,” and Jason can take it from there.

BOGAEV: How did you respond to, “OMG,” Jason?

SCOTT-WARREN: The “OMG…” I think I was really looking for some reassurance that I was still of sound mind. So actually, I sent the draft to a few people.

BOGAEV: After that “OMG” from Claire, you went on to get other ones.

BOURNE: Yeah, to my wife and to a couple of friends. Just looking for reassurance. Because it was just a very strange space to be in, having this weird claim, this bizarre thing, which had just sort of erupted that afternoon. You feel as though somehow… “Did we always know? Maybe we always knew there was a Milton First Folio.” You know, “Perhaps I’ve just, like, forgotten that everyone knows this already”. Or, “Maybe someone else is discovering it even now in some other part of the world because this article is out there.” You start to lose it a bit, so you look for people to sort of hold your hand at that point.

BOGAEV: And what reassurance did you get that eventually enabled you to say, “Okay, I’m ready. I’m ready to put it out there.”

SCOTT-WARREN: It took a while, actually. I started getting some sort of positive responses, and Claire’s, “Wow, yes, and yeah, why not? That sounds like a really amazing possibility.” But I was still quite nervous, so I sort of sat on it for actually part of the next day. I just wanted to go and consult a few more books, just to compare more examples of his hand and make sure that because you worry a lot about, you know, what will happen to your academic reputation if this turns out to be nonsense?

BOGAEV: Sure. You’ll forever be the person who cried Milton.

SCOTT-WARREN: Exactly, exactly. I still have that fear of… I’m still walking around with that fear of being shredded, actually, even today.

BOGAEV: Oh, that’s awful. Well, you did write up the blog post, but it’s not like youand you made this very strong argumentbut it’s not like you said, “I am now gonna say in this post that definitely John Milton’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623.” You read it and it almost seems like you’re saying here, “Wow, look what I think I’ve found, but someone please tell me I’m wrong.”

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, I kind of said it and I didn’t say it. I think I wanted some kind of deniability, I guess. But I also liked the sense of the evidence sort of… I tried to arrange the evidence so that it’s built up a bit in a sort of slightly, troubling way. Some of the examples that I provided were cases where you could doubt, you could legitimately doubt, “Well, that doesn’t quite look like that.” You could sort of cavel.

When I went to the text, when I was comparing the hands, when I was doing that process, I thought, “Actually, if you find he’s written this word here and he’s written the same word there and they are slightly different. But nonetheless, the fact that they’re different is not convincing me that this isn’t the same hand. It looks like the same hand, even though they were kind of differences of execution.” I sort of presented some bits of evidence where you could say, “I’m not quite sure about that.”

And then they were little, tiny bits of evidence, which I think the most persuasive one was the way that he wrote the word “he”. And you’re just able to sort of present the word “he” in the folio and the word “he” in another Miltonic source. And just something about the way that the letters were formed, the way that the right leg of the “H” just didn’t quite hit the ground before it went up into the “E”. Those two words just looked so blindingly similar that I felt that was the sort of clincher. So I’m just hedging, hedging bets.

BOGAEV: So I picture you; you post, you hit send or whatever, and then you sit by your computer and wait. So how fast did you get a response? What kind of response did you get and have you gotten any significant pushback?

SCOTT-WARREN: Well, it was very typical of me, because I pressed to go public on the post with great trepidation. Then I think I cycled home. I told Claire that I published it and then she said, “Yeah, but have you tweeted about it?” And, obviously it doesn’t actually… just pressing publish on the post…

BOGAEV: It still doesn’t exist. Right.

SCOTT-WARREN: It still doesn’t exist, exactly. You actually have to be brave and put the tweet out there. So it took up another little time lag there. Then it was really in the next couple of hours that things started rolling in. People were responding to the tweet, kind of saying, “Hey, this actually looks quite interesting.” And people confessing that maybe they weren’t experts, but nonetheless from their expertise, sometimes paleographers working in different areas, that this looked plausible. And then after a little while, actually quite quickly, some real kind of card-carrying Miltonists started to write with, well, I suppose the equivalent of “OMG”. Yeah.

BOGAEV: I want to talk more about the social media aspect of this. But before we do that, and I’ll direct this to you Jason, because you’re more of the Milton guy, and Claire, you can weigh in if you’d like. What do you think Milton was up to with these notes? Because Claire has made this case that there’s an interpretive mind going on here. You both have spoken to that. But do you think Milton was editing the folio, editing Shakespeare to make the poetry better? Or was he just fixing what he saw as inconsistencies among the different texts? What was Milton doing there, do you think?

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, this is really interesting question. Claire’s article is in a way a contribution to a growing body of scholarly work, which is about the early status and reception of the Shakespearean texts. What exactly, what kind of status does Shakespeare have? How do people treat Shakespeare in this period? And particularly work, I guess initiated by Sonia Massai, to do with kind of the tradition of editing Shakespeare before the great editorial tradition as we’re familiar with it. And a process of going to early copies of the texts and saying, “Actually readers are starting to do editorial work quite early on.” You know, they are starting to recognize textual instability and plurality and to do interesting things with it. So I think that Milton has to be placed somewhere inside that process.

Milton is another of these early readers who is clearly sensitive to the plural nature of the text that he’s dealing with. And he’s going in there and he’s intervening to improve the text or to open the text up and kind of understand what’s going on at particular points in it. I think a lot will depend on when exactly we think he is doing these readings and whether we think these are his first readings or whether these are re-readings.

And so, to some extent, we probably have to think about this folio in relation to other texts that he might’ve had access to. That what Claire has done is proved that he has quarto editions of the plays, as well as the folio. He has multiple copies of these plays. It’s possible that he’s been reading them maybe over many years, and I think we need to understand more about that process before we can really come up with a conclusive answer to the question of what he’s doing.

BOURNE: One other thing I would add to that is, in Milton’s interest in the other things that Shakespeare might have been reading, or the other sources that Shakespeare’s drawing from, we see Milton not trying to stabilize Shakespeare, but to show that Shakespeare is bringing together lots of different texts, adding them to his own text to create these plays.

One reference is to “Songs and Sonnets,” otherwise known as Tottel’s Miscellany. We know that it’s to one of the editions published in the late 16th century, because the reader actually provides the page number. When you go and check all those editions, several of them match up to that page number. So next to the Gravedigger song at the end of Hamlet, it’s a poem that is published in the late 16th century as “The Aged Lover Renounceth Love.” And it’s published in this book that we today refer to as Tottel’s Miscellany. This is Milton recognizing this song as a poem that has appeared in another book that he’s familiar with, and so he’s noting that.

The other references to Purchas’s Pilgrims, which was published in 1625. So, it couldn’t have been Shakespeare’s actual source for this passage in the Tempest, but Purchas’s Pilgrims does contain some of the texts. It’s a compendium of travel narratives. It contained some of the texts that we think Shakespeare used as source material for the Tempest.

And maybe it’s to isolate the material that’s non-Shakespearean. That could be one explanation for it. But maybe it’s just to show how Shakespeare, like a lot of early modern writers, is bringing together material from lots of different places.

BOGAEV: And recognizing Shakespeare’s borrowing of it.

BOURNE: Recognizing that Shakespeare’s borrowing, exactly, from this other source.

BOGAEV: Well, you both have alluded to this, but I think it’s really interesting. It looks as if this discovery might not have been possible earlier, before social media and digitization and these other modern developments in scholarship. And Claire, why don’t you spell that out for us a little more clearly. Do you feel that way?

BOURNE: Yeah, I absolutely do. The reason that this essay of mine was published in the first place was actually because of Twitter. So the story about Twitter goes back a little bit further than Jason reaching out to me a couple of weeks ago.

I had a fellowship at the Folger a few years ago and I started tweeting out images of the books I was looking at. I was surveying one copy of every edition of every play up to 1700 in their collection. And so there was a lot to tweet about. And Kathy Acheson, who’s the editor of the Early Modern English Marginalia Volume, reached out to me. She said, “I’ve seen all these images on Twitter that you’ve been sharing and I’m putting together this volume. Do you have anything to contribute?” And my mind immediately went to this First Folio piece, which I’d been trying to find a home for for several years.

I think that now that rare book libraries like the Folger are allowing researchers to take photographs, to share photographs, it ups the chance of that kind of serendipitous moment, where you see something that you didn’t know you were looking for. And they’re not just these massive discoveries like this one.

BOGAEV: Jason, this really exciting aspect of this whole story is something that you’ve talked about in a BBC interview recently. You used social media, as you say, to kind of crowdsource and fact check your hypothesis.

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I just thought it was really exciting that at a stage where it was still relatively tentative that you could go out there and have the news circulate really rapidly. You know, I imagined that the proposition was in the hands of the community of Milton scholars within a few hours.

BOGAEV: And that leads me really to my last question, which is what do you think is ahead? What’s the next step with all of this, considering all of these 21st-century related differences in the way scholarship is being done. Are you expecting more new ideas or paths for research, or gopher holes that you could both be going down? Jason, you’ve gotten all this feedback from other scholars. Are they expecting more discoveries of this sort to come in the Milton field?

SCOTT-WARREN: I’m sure there will be many more discoveries of this kind. I mean, I think that as libraries are opening up to digital photography and getting serious about cataloging books in more detailthey’re already cataloging with attention to annotations, readers’ marks. That information is growing all the time, and people are gonna be piecing the jigsaw together and making discoveries of this kind. I think we’re going to see more and more of that. Probably also more discoveries of books from Milton’s library as well, because I think now we have a much clearer idea of the kinds of things he’s doing with his books. It will be easier to identify copies of books from his collection.

BOGAEV: And Claire, as the Twitter star here, as the Shakespeare influencer/social media influencer, what are your thoughts on that?

BOURNE: Yeah, I mean, from the Shakespeare angle, I think it’s really special to be able to see an early reader engaging with the whole corpus. And the fact that this reader is Milton, someone we know has an astonishing literary sensibility, we can now trace the way that Milton’s interactions with the folio texts seep into his own work. I think we’re going to learn a little bit more about what’s going on in this folio now that we have this enormous new context in which to place the book and the reader’s marks inside of it.

BOGAEV: Well, it’s even a more fascinating story than I suspected. I want to thank you both so much. Thank you, Claire.

BOURNE: Thank you.

BOGAEV: And, Jason, you too. It was a pleasure talking with you.

SCOTT-WARREN: Thank you very much.

MICHAEL WITMORE: Dr. Claire M. L. Bourne is an assistant professor of English at Penn State University. Dr. Jason Scott-Warren is a College Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at Cambridge University in England. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

This podcast episode, “We Shall Jointly Labor,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer.

We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at VoiceTrax West in Studio City, California; Craig Johnson at WPSU public radio in State College, Pennsylvania; and K.J. Thorarinsson at KJ’s Sound Studio in Cambridge, England.

If you’re enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited, and if you’re looking for a way to let other people know about it, please give us a positive review on Apple Podcasts. That really is the best way to help. Thank you.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find out more about the Folger at our website, And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, please come and visit us on Capitol Hill. Take in a performance in our Elizabethan Theatre and come face to face with a First Folio—the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s plays. We’d love to see you here.

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.