Books and Reading in Shakespeare's England

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 137

Do you have a book that means something special to you? 400 years ago, when printed books were a fairly new thing, they meant something to their owners too. But in many ways, what they meant was much different from what they mean today.

In this episode we talk to two authors about how people read, acquired, and collected books in Shakespeare’s time. Stuart Kells is the author of Shakespeare’s Library (Counterpoint, 2019). It speculates on what books the Bard might have owned and tells some intriguing stories about people over the years who’ve claimed either to have found the library or to have owned pieces of it. Jason Scott-Warren’s book is Shakespeare’s First Reader (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), which dissects the library of Richard Stonley, an Elizabethan bureaucrat who was the first person we know of to buy a printed book written by Shakespeare—a copy of the racy Venus and Adonis that Stonley picked up on June 12, 1593. Kells and Scott-Warren are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Soundcloud, Spotify, NPR One, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Stuart Kells is an Australian writer. He is the author of Penguin and the Lane Brothers, and The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders. Jason Scott-Warren is a College Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at Cambridge University in England. From our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published February 4, 2020. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “Give Me Some Ink and Paper,” 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 helped from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, Roger Chatterton at Kite Recording Studio in Cambridge, England, and Simon Knight in the recording studio at La Trobe University’s College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce in Melbourne, Australia.

Previous: Shakespeare's Sonnets | Next: Shakespeare and Folktales


Explore | Richard Stonley's Diary
Visit Shakespeare Documented and learn more about the diary in which Stonley writes about buying a copy of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis

Listen | John Milton's Shakespeare
Jason Scott-Warren and Claire M.L. Bourne on the discovery that the First Folio at the Free Library of Philadelphia was once owned by John Milton


MICHAEL WITMORE: Do you have a book that means something special to you? Maybe you read it at a certain time in your life and it gave you strength or answers. Maybe it was a gift from someone important to you, or an inheritance. Books are special in our lives in particular ways. They mean something specific. 400 years ago books were a fairly new thing—printed books were, at least—and they meant something specific to their owners too. But what they meant was, in many ways, much different from what they mean today.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. Two authors have new books out right now on the subject of… books. Specifically, they have both, separately, taken a look at what having a book meant to people in Shakespeare’s time.

One, by Australian writer Stuart Kells is called Shakespeare’s Library. It speculates on what books Shakespeare might have owned and it also tells some intriguing stories about people over the years who’ve claimed either to have found the library or to have owned pieces of it.

The other book is called Shakespeare’s First Reader. It’s by Cambridge University professor Jason Scott-Warren and it dissects the library of Richard Stonley, an Elizabethan bureaucrat, who was the first person we know of to buy a printed book written by Shakespeare. On June 12, 1593, he picked up a copy of Shakespeare’s racy poem, Venus and Adonis.

We felt that taken together, Stonley’s actual library and stories of Shakespeare’s imaginary one offer a fascinating window into the sociology of people living at the time when Shakespeare’s plays were first being performed. So we invited Jason and Stuart into our studios in Melbourne and Cambridge to tell us what they know. We call this podcast episode “Give Me Some Ink and Paper.” Stuart Kells and Jason Scott-Warren are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: Well, to get a fix on just how different the world of reading and books was in Shakespeare's time, why don't we start with a specific moment? Let's say we're in the Globe Theater and we're watching Julius Caesar. So, it's around 1599. In this audience, who would have been able to read? And I'll start with you, Jason.

JASON SCOTT-WARREN: That's a really interesting and a very vexed question because all the statistics we have relating to literacy in this period are really unreliable. Most of our evidence for literacy comes from signatures. Do people—when they're signing legal documents—do they sign their names, or do they just make a mark? Do they just make a cross or some other mark? And using those kinds of evidence, historians have come up with some statistics. So, in the mid-17th century, one statistic is that 70 percent of men and 90 percent of women are illiterate.

BOGAEV: Those are really high numbers. I hadn't expected that.

SCOTT-WARREN: Well, yeah. Exactly. It is quite startling, isn't it? However, historians have, since those figures were produced, said again and again that they are not really remotely trustworthy because the ability to sign is not the same as the ability to read. We know that reading and writing were taught separately in this period, and reading was taught first. So, there might be a lot of people who could read but who couldn't write. Who weren't confident with writing, who would prefer to sign with a mark.

BOGAEV: Okay. And of these people though who were able to read, how many would have owned books? And printed books, they're still kind of a new thing, right, Stuart?

STUART KELLS: Well, they've been around for 150 years, but yeah. They were growing in popularity and access. And people were increasingly holding private libraries. But an average private library at the latter part of the 16th century would only still be maybe in the dozens of books. And a large-ish private library, may only be a few hundred books. But, yeah. There was a large market for printed book, and things like playscripts would sell for maybe six pence. And so, most people on sort of middle income would be able to afford them.

We have all sorts of prejudices about how we think about how people use books. Reading generally is a private experience now. But in those days, book ownership, book use, reading, and inscribing in books were all social experiences as well and collective experiences. So, people would read books aloud. They would circulate books either in manuscript or printed books. And certain copies would be well known for their erudition and the quality of the annotations that they were adding to the text. So, writing in a book wasn't just a private experience. It was a public act.

BOGAEV: And on the less wealthy end of the spectrum—most people—what would they own? What, just a bible? One, two books?

KELLS: Going to the theater would be cheaper than buying a book. So, a theater ticket might be a penny to stand in the yard. A very cheap book might be, as I said, around six pence. But a larger book like a bible might be more like a pound.

BOGAEV: Well, do we have any sense, Stuart, of what kind of books or library playwrights like Shakespeare had?

KELLS: We have a very good sense of the kinds of books that Shakespeare had access to. So, to produce a play, Shakespeare would have used prior playscripts. We know that a lot of his canonical plays drew content from earlier plays. But also, he was using historical content from things like Holinshed's Chronicles. He was drawing from contemporary stories and novels. He was drawing from translations of classical and continental works. He was a real magpie. He drew content from all sorts of different sources.

So, you can picture his own library as being a combination of major reference works, more ephemeral playscripts, writing guides and grammars. Presumably, he would have had manuscripts of his own poems and plays. But very much a working library. You can picture him marking up texts and adapting and borrowing content.

BOGAEV: And how...? I mean, just to be clear, no one has ever found Shakespeare's library. Hasn't there been a lot of speculation and a kind of bogus rumor mongering around his library that we've seen with so many of the faker questionable Shakespeare relics and artifacts? I imagine his library has gotten the same treatment.

KELLS: Exactly. Yeah. The idea of Shakespeare's library is a bit like the Templar treasure or, you know, some sort of Indian Jones-style goal. People searching for books from Shakespeare's library and imagining what it would be like.

But also there were Shakespearean frauds going back even to his lifetime. And that included fake association copies, books being published over his name that he didn't write. It even included in the 18th century an elaborate fraud by the Ireland family that went so far as to even produce a catalog of Shakespeare's own library. So, not just books from the library but a full catalog.

BOGAEV: Taking it to the next level. Taking it to 11.

KELLS: Mm, yes. That's right.

BOGAEV: What, are these people who are extrapolating what Shakespeare's library must have been like, or making it up out of whole cloth? What do they look to in his plays that give—and maybe I should ask this—What do you look to in Shakespeare's plays that give a sense of what his library might have been since he appropriated so much? But he also in many cases… He wrote about books and even bookbinding. Right?

KELLS: Mm. That's right. He uses all sorts of metaphors about books. So, he talks about... He uses printing terms. So, he's very familiar with processes of book making. Yeah. You can imagine that he was engaging with printer publishers and possibly through people like Richard Field, who was a contemporary of his from the same part of England who was a very important printer publisher, Shakespeare engaging with people like that to source materials for his plays and for the poems.

BOGAEV: Can you give us some examples?

KELLS: Well, in the Tempest, he talks about “my library.” He values his library more than his dukedom, I think. In Romeo and Juliet, I think there's a reference to the perfect lover lacking only a binding. There're references all the way through the sonnets to printing terms, even to different-colored inks and different styles of writing. The physicality of books permeates the plays and it permeates the poems.

BOGAEV: I do want to turn back to the general idea of how people treated books and thought about books in general. Jason, let me turn to you for that. How did people think about collecting books in this period? What was the goal of assembling a library? Was it like now? The kind of the thrill of the hunt and also just love of knowledge, status?

SCOTT-WARREN: Certainly status, yeah. I think in this period… I mean, the most substantial libraries that we know about are... And there's a sense of the divisions of knowledge, the way that the world is carved up into theology and medicine and law and spheres of knowledge, which need to be populated by extremely weighty Latin tones. So, you have this enormous world of knowledge which the printing press is opening up.

And people are actually trying to go to lengths to find out what's out there. They're buying book catalogs and they are trying to put together sometimes very ambitious libraries. And in the process, I think they're also effacing quite a lot of the things that they're really reading. So, they are deliberately obscuring all of the racy romances that they are probably also reading.

BOGAEV: What? So, do you find those squirreled away somewhere: the erotica?

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah. I think that's right. If you find, you know… If you chance upon a more informal kind of catalog, say the catalog that I've been working on in relation to Richard Stonley over the last few years—which actually is not really a book catalog, it's an inventory of books which were priced up for sale when Stonley was declared bankrupt. And actually, there, because you don't have that neat, tidy organization, you don't have that sense of someone who is priding themselves on their beautiful library catalog, there you can see a lot more of the interesting material that's actually circulating, which they often weren't admitting to when they got their secretary to draw up their library catalogs.

BOGAEV: I have to ask you. Richard Stonley. We've gotten to this part of the conversation about—which you've written a whole book about—this man and his library. Who was he, Richard Stonley?

SCOTT-WARREN: So, Richard Stonley is an Elizabethan civil servant. He lands his job actually at the beginning of Mary Tudor’s reign, 1554, he gets this job. It's kind of a job for life in the Elizabethan exchequer as a teller, someone who is taking in tax revenue and giving out money for people to go and fight wars. We know about him just from some account books which survive in the Folger Shakespeare Library, these three volumes of accounts survive for the 1580s and 1590s, and from this extraordinary inventory that's drawn up, when, at the end of his career, he is ignominiously found guilty of embezzling an enormous sum of money. And the last...

BOGAEV: Oh, so, you lucked out as an academic because of the story end, right? That this guy was such a crook?

SCOTT-WARREN: Well, it is an extraordinary thing. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And then, last volume of accounts is written from the Fleet Prison. So, the first two volumes are full of his shopping, including quite a lot of book-buying.

BOGAEV: And he really kept track of everything, right?

SCOTT-WARREN: And he keeps track of everything. You know, if you're keeping accounting in this period you have to get it right down to the last penny. But then, in the last volume he's in prison. So, he's not spending very much money at all. And there are very few books.

BOGAEV: And what's so remarkable about his library?

SCOTT-WARREN: I mean, I guess the reason why it's in the Folger Shakespeare Library is simply because there's an entry for buying Venus and Adonis in 1593. So, he becomes the first recorded purchaser of a printed book by Shakespeare. And...

BOGAEV: Shakespeare's dirty book.

SCOTT-WARREN: Exactly, yeah. It's quite… yeah. And then the inventory then shows you that this is being absorbed into a really rich… A collection which actually has quite a lot of the most prestigious books of the period in it. So, he's buying books showing you all the costumes that people wear in different countries. He's buying the first atlases. He's buying extraordinary illustrated books depicting what goes on in the civil wars in France. So, what's nice about it is it allows you to really get a sense of what's really going on in book-buying and reading in the period.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and it's really interesting how both of you found that people personalized their books in this era.


BOGAEV: And of course, we write our names in our books, so we'll get them back when they go missing. But how did people personalize their books in this time, and why did they do it?

SCOTT-WARREN: Well, one thing that's very distinctive about books in this period is that they're usually sold unbound. But when you're in the process of binding, that's a chance to personalize the book. So, a lot of the wealthier collectors in this period will use the binding to advertise their status that include a code of arms in the binding.

Then, people in this period do very often sign their books, sometimes in very elaborate ways. You get people who sign their books over and over again. Perhaps because they're paranoid about theft. But also, I think often because they are kind of trying out their identity in the book. They are treating the book as a sort of autobiographical space in which they're asserting themselves.

And then, sometimes they'll play little kind of ownership games. So, they'll write a little charm or a poem which tells you that if you steal the book you're going to be hanged, or, you know, that some kind of woe is going to come to you.

BOGAEV: That's a good idea. I'm going to start doing that in my books.

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah. I think those charms are still very useful. And sometimes they'll do something which is very strange which is that they'll get other people to witness the fact that they own the book. And...

BOGAEV: What? Like witnessing your marriage? That's...

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, I think so. It's a kind of quasi-legal thing. But sometimes it is also used playfully. So, you got kind of multiple witnessings, and you can't actually tell from the inscriptions who actually owns this book because everyone seems to own it, and everyone is witnessing it. It's a shared property.

KELLS: We have this idea, very much now, and it dates from the 18th and 19th centuries of the bibliophile: someone who love pristine copies and puts them neatly on their shelves. Those sorts of concepts didn't really exist in the 16th century. Books were very much objects in use. London was, in large part, a dangerous, grimy place for a lot of people. And so, the idea of having this sort of pristine space for these finely bound books, very, very few people had that possibility.

So, you see copies that have food stains, or you hear stories about people, you know, recycling them. So, they use the…They have the ephemeral playscripts. They read the plays. They enjoy them. And then, they use the paper for food wrapping… or for other personal purposes that we won't go into.

The idea that we have of the bibliophile, and also the distinctions we make between literary and non-literary activities, they're later concepts than the 16th century.

BOGAEV: And Jason, you write about another common thing that readers did back then called commonplacing. What is commonplacing?

SCOTT-WARREN: Commonplacing is a very long-established practice of reading where you're essentially breaking the text down into constituent parts. So, ideally, you're reading everything that's ever been written. You're flitting through the whole garden of literature.

You are on the lookout for little extracts, which you can then take away to your commonplace book, which is a book, a paper book, where you have written headings: death, love, God, angels, whatever it may be. And when you find a quotation which is pertinent to one of those headings, you copy it down under that heading in your commonplace book.

As you're reading, you're always thinking, "What is there that I can take away?" And it's often a physical book, but it's also a mental box. So, you're compiling this book, but you're doing so because you're trying to stock your mind.

BOGAEV: So, it's like highlighting?

SCOTT-WARREN: It's like highlighting, but it's also kind of reorganizing, or it's a process of reorganization. And it's a process of reforming as well, because in the process of taking this away and storing it in your mind, what you're doing is you're filling yourself up with resources for your own speech or for your own composition, for your own writing. So, as you're reading, you're on the lookout for passages which have a kind of general applicability, which can go under a particular heading. And these then, when you yourself have to speak on that subject or when you have to think about that subject, you will then be able to use these commonplaces.

But it's really interesting then if you take that... If you're aware of that reading practice and how widespread it was, and then you go away to the writers of the 16th and 17th centuries and you think about the ways in which they write, you can very often see that they're appealing to that mode of reading. You can see that they're actually playing to the reader's desire for commonplaces. I mean, it's a process of textual recycling.

BOGAEV: Well, yeah. This is such a fluid... Books were so fluid. And as you're saying, you're buying just leaves of paper often, nothing bound. This other common practice at the time—and I don't know how to pronounce it, is it sammelbanding? What is sammelbanding?

SCOTT-WARREN: So the sammelband, the kind of the gathering of books bound together. Essentially, if you're buying books unbound, you often have a choice about how you're going to put them together with other books. And if you've got a flimsy book like a play, you're very often going to need various other books to thicken it out. So, you find people putting books together in this period. Sometimes, thematic compilations. So, one book we have in the Cambridge University library is a collection of three music books. A book on dancing, books on composition, musical composition, which was owned by an Elizabethan court musician. He's kind of bound together in a very fancy binding with his name on the front.

BOGAEV: So, you're making your own personal anthology?

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, absolutely. And kind of asserting that certain books belong together, sometimes. Yeah, so, just exploiting the possibilities of creativity that the book market is offering you.

BOGAEV: So, when we think about the quarto, the quartos, we know that people bought these quarto editions of Shakespeare's plays. Are these examples of sammelbanding?

SCOTT-WARREN: So, we know that people do create compilations of plays in this period, and this is quite... It's an important issue because it bares on the question, what is the status of a play? It is popular entertainment, and I guess the snootier members of society, you know, might well have read plays but then disposed of them.

But it... then it matters that some people do actually start binding plays together. They start collecting bundles of plays. They start putting them together in compilations, which suggest that they have this appreciation for a drama as a kind of literary medium. That they're starting to see that although this is racy and popular, it also has a claim to a certain kind of status. That perhaps literature and English could be the equal of literature in Latin or Greek. And it could be worthy of preservation. So, that's the kind sammelband you get.

BOGAEV: Stuart, anything you'd like to add?

KELLS: Yes. Going back to that point around how books were personalized, we're talking a lot about provenance and the story that we can read from ownership marks and what we can learn from that. But between the moment that we're talking about and now, there are all sorts of other practices around book use and book ownership that make tracing those threads really difficult.

An example of that is practices in the 18th and 19th centuries where bibliophiles would have books rebound, that would have their books washed. So, literally, they take the books apart and put the individual leaves in the solution to remove earlier inks and ownership marks except for the printed text. And even they would cut early books up and paste them into other books. So, the examples we have of early printed books that have an identifiable provenance are very precious.

BOGAEV: My mind is blown—way back when you said they wash their books.


BOGAEV: I mean, I'm thinking just this puts the provenance, and Shakespeare, just figuring out what did Shakespeare write and what didn't he, in such a different context. These books are so mutable. How can we trace anything?

KELLS: Yes. And you think about the materials that the books are made from. So, our modern paper has a lot of wood pulp in it, and it has all sorts of chemicals in it. And it's very fragile. But the paper from this era, it's made from rags. It's very robust. Books from that period on good quality paper actually last a lot longer than our books today. So, it's quite possible to take them apart and pick the sewing, open up the signatures and lay them out in a solution, wash them and then put them back together.

And you see in catalog entries, books being described as badly washed or unwashed depending on how much they've gone back to very pure white. Sometimes, they can be over washed. You know, all of these things are quite confronting for modern bibliophiles and people interested in bibliography because of the importance of provenance and early traces.

So, there's that whole thread. Then there's another thread which is about the dust and the individual traces of readers left behind in books. Now we're getting to the point where, with DNA science and that kind of thing, what we used to think of as the annoying dust in rare books, you can actually study that dust and learn stories, learn facts and information about who owned the books, when, in what way were they made. So, there's all sorts of different kinds of layers of darker history that have been lost in lots of the ways the books were treated, but that is still available for other books to study.

BOGAEV: Oh, that's so wild. And I want to pick up on something that we were talking about glancingly earlier. Cataloging books. Jason, you've written a good bit about a book called Maunsell's catalog. What was it, and why do people feel the need to write a catalog of existing books anyway?

SCOTT-WARREN: Well, there was a real sense that there was an increasing flood of books in the period, and people beginning to be alarmed.

BOGAEV: So, it was getting out of control? That sort of thing?

SCOTT-WARREN: It was getting out of control, and how are you going to deal with that? Also, how are you going to stop things getting lost, you know? How are you going to stop books that were produced from just kind of disappearing from view because you don't have a mechanism for keeping track of them? You don't have any public libraries to find out what's out there. So, I think...

BOGAEV: Right. And people keep ripping them apart and washing them and putting them back together.

SCOTT-WARREN: Exactly. So, there's this real question about how you're going to start getting knowledge of and control over this world of print. And so, when Maunsell publishes his catalog of English books, he's starting to... He's wanting to gather up all of the lost sheep, all of the things which have been printed and then just forgotten about.

People are starting to want to come to grips with the world of print. But it's very, very hard to do that. And you realize that there has to be this extraordinary kind of meta-discourse around the book world. You know, it's not enough just to have the books, you also have to have the books about the books, the books listing the books. You have to have bibliographies of bibliographies of bibliographies.


SCOTT-WARREN: And so, we're just at the beginning of that process.

BOGAEV: And Stonley, the person that you've written a whole book about, had this library and had his catalogs of what was in the library and kept track of them. He's a collector and people are collecting at this time. So, how did people think about the value of the books that they were collecting and the different editions back then? I mean, now we value the older edition over the newer. But... And Stuart, I should ask you this. Were first editions more or less valuable or desirable than newer ones?

KELLS: Very much. The primacy of firstness, which we see now in book collecting, that's a much later concept. So, in the 16th century and the early part of the 17th century, when a new edition came out, there was a sense that it would be an improvement.

The First Folio is a good example. Shakespeare's plays come out in a collected edition in 1623. The Bodleian Library had their copy, and then when a later edition comes out, the Bodleian can let that copy go and get a new one. It wasn't, I think, until the start of the 20th century that they were able to buy back that exact copy. So, yes. There was a sense that you could improve books, and that there wasn't that fetishization of the first edition.

BOGAEV: Well, why? Is it, I mean, is it because books were their technology? “I want the latest iPhone not the old one.” You know, “I want the new hotness.” Is that how people view books?

KELLS: Yes. And it's all sorts of different ideas of content and authorship as well. It was very much more about being up to date. The idea of a celebrity author, in large part, that's a later idea. The idea of collecting Shakespearean manuscripts and the Shakespeare first edition as it comes off the press; those sorts of things weren’t in people's minds.

BOGAEV: I'm still thinking about the Bodleian tossing its first volume. I mean...

KELLS: They're very embarrassing.

BOGAEV: Yeah. And it makes me think of another question I wanted to ask, which is what tended to happen to books when people died in this period?

KELLS: Well, books were in large part valuable objects. Especially if you had your books bound and that kind of thing, there would have been an inventory, or a codicil attached to the will that would have had specific requests. And then, there are certainly examples at that time where people would have a listing of their possessions. They would say, "Yeah, my diamond ring goes to my son-in-law and my best petticoat goes to my daughter." And there's definitely a sense that books were valuable and worthy of calling out as an asset.

SCOTT-WARREN: I thought that was a great summary. I think that often people are trying to replicate themselves when they pass on their books. They very often, you know… If it's a gentleman, he'll have a son that he wants to pass his books onto. If it's someone in a profession or a trade, they will kind of specify the books which belong to their trade and say this is going to this son.

There's a kind of desire to think about the utility of books that one owns and how that utility might continue to function. I guess it depends, you know, as people become more self-conscious about their books as collections, they do start to want to specify in wills that the collection should stay together. And sometimes they make quite elaborate provisions for doing that.

BOGAEV: Yeah. And given that, Stuart, what do you think happened to Shakespeare's books?

KELLS: In Shakespeare's case, there are no books mentioned in his will. But it's speculation, and it's plausible that there would have been an inventory or a codicil attached to the will that would have had specific requests. There's also general references in wills to, "I leave my goods and chattels,” or “my movable chattels to my wife,” and those kinds of things.

In Shakespeare's case it seems like most of his library stayed in his home in New Place because—there's a reference about 20 years after his death—there's a reference to New Place having a study of books. So, it seems like the books passed to his daughter, Susanna, and her husband. And then, they were dispersed after that into all of these collections that we've touched on.

BOGAEV: Okay. True confessions here. I write in my books. I write a lot in my books, and in fact, it's how I do interviews, I'll write questions in the margins of books. And I find it really useful, because then you have the source material right there. You have the question. You have that first impulse of curiosity about something. Does studying this make either one of you treat your books differently?

KELLS: Well, we're both scandalized that you may have written in our books. [LAUGHS]

BOGAEV: —complete destroyed your book. [LAUGHS]

KELLS: It's just ruined the atmosphere. [LAUGH] I personally… We're looking at writer's libraries, and how writers have engaged with their texts is incredibly interesting and important. So, writers like Virginia Woolf, Charles Darwin, Samuel Johnson, wrote in their books or personalized their books in all sorts of different ways including the bindings. Being able to look back and read along with people about how they engaged with texts is incredibly important. So, in the future when people are studying the people in this conversation, at least in one example—

BOGAEV: Of which they surely will. Of course.

KELLS: I definitely will—they'll be able to read along with you and understand your reaction. So, on the one hand as bibliophiles we’re appalled, but as scholars we can see the value in it.

SCOTT-WARREN: I think as a scholar you become aware both that thousands and thousands of books have been destroyed. But then, these books which survive have survived in a kind of extraordinary way. So, I often think while I'm touching a book with somebody's notes in it or with somebody's signature in it, you know, this is probably the only thing this person owned which survives today. The books which belong to sometimes unknown readers, readers who would otherwise leave no trace, they're tremendously involving, engaging objects.

And I guess what it does is it makes you very self-conscious, as an annotator, and makes you think, “This could hang around a lot longer than I want it to.”

BOGAEV: [LAUGHS] That's really not what I want to be… when I'm self-conscious with...

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah. I better be careful what I write.

BOGAEV: But it does make me want to take an X-Acto knife to my books and rearrange them and have them be in conversation with each other.

SCOTT-WARREN: Yeah, absolutely. I think one should definitely do that and be very aware of, you know, where in your house are you putting this book or that book and what's it in conversation with. I think it's a very fascinating process.

KELLS: Yeah, and one that we know too little about.

BOGAEV: Okay. I'm going to splice your two books, all of your books, together now. It has been so much fun talking with you both. Thank you so much.

SCOTT-WARREN: Thank you.

KELLS: Likewise, thank you.


WITMORE: Stuart Kells is the author of, among other books, Penguin and the Lane Brothers, a history of Penguin Publishing, and a love letter to libraries, their makers and protectors titled The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders. His latest book, Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature, was published in the US by Counterpoint in 2019.

Dr. Jason Scott-Warren is a College Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at Cambridge University in England. His latest book is Shakespeare’s First Reader: The Paper Trails of Richard Stonley. It was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2019. Stuart and Jason were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Our podcast episode, “Give Me Some Ink and Paper,” 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 helped from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, Roger Chatterton at Kite Recording Studio in Cambridge, England, and Simon Knight in the recording studio at La Trobe University’s College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce in Melbourne, Australia.

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

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 more about the Folger at our website, Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.