The Folger collection of manuscripts includes handwritten documents dating from the 15th to the 21st century. Many of the manuscripts were the tools of everyday life in the 16th and 17th centuries—letters, wills, inventories, recipes, and real estate transactions—while other documents illuminate the worlds of the theater and the court. The Folger’s manuscripts offer unique windows into life in Shakespeare’s time, later writers’ fascination with Shakespeare, and the development of the English theater over the centuries.
These manuscripts include drafts and presentation copies of completed works, commonplace books, in which men and women wrote selections from sermons, poetry, or plays that appealed to them, and copies of printed texts. Holdings range from Lady Mary Wroth’s 17th-century sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, written out in her own hand, to literary quotations that novelist George Eliot put together while writing Middlemarch, to a fair copy of James I’s Daemonologie with corrections in the king’s hand.
The Folger’s theatrical manuscripts contain everything from prompt books to correspondence; the business side of theater is reflected in deeds for purchases and lease of properties at Blackfriars by Shakespeare and his fellow actors, as well as records for purchases and receipts from the Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters in the 18th and 19th centuries. The papers of David Garrick and his circle shed light on Garrick’s larger-than-life 18th-century career as an actor, manager, adapter, and Shakespeare promoter extraordinaire.
The Folger Shakespeare Library holds the world’s largest collection of handwritten recipe books from early modern Britain. These books were often compiled by women who collected culinary and medicinal recipes from family, neighbors, and the published books of professional cooks and doctors. Passed down and added to from one generation to the next, recipe books provide a unique window into changing tastes and new ingredients.
Family Papers and Archives
Love letters, deeds, and news from family and court are all found among the large 16th- and 17th-century collections of papers from the Bagot, Bacon–Townshend, Rich, Ferrers of Tamworth, and Cavendish–Talbot. The Losely papers have important documents related to the Office of Revels (responsible for festivities at court) under Sir Thomas Cawarden (d.1559).
Other large archives include the Newdigate newsletters, reporting on politics, commerce, and social affairs in 17th-century England and Europe; the Clayton–Morris collection of early financial documents; and 200 volumes of transcripts from the papal and Venetian archives, formerly owned by the Strozzi family.
Learn more about some of the manuscripts in our collection.
Marmalade boxes, Lenten fasts, and love
Heather Wolfe discovers the true intentions behind Jane Skipwith’s marmalade box
Interview and excerpt: Joseph Mansky, Libels and Theater in Shakespeare’s England: Publics, Politics, Performance
An interview with Dr. Joseph Mansky and an excerpt from his 2023 book Libels and Theater in Shakespeare’s England: Publics, Politics, Performance.
Venice paper, bacon, and quiet luxury
Why is there a picture of cooking bacon on this blog? Read on to find out what Heather Wolfe learned about Venice paper, early modern experimentation, and bacon.
A window on the (Ward) world
Jump into the rabbit hole of the world of John Ward.
The Address Leaf of the Early Modern Letter
Senior Photographer William Davis looks at the many ways in which an early modern letter might be addressed.