Updating Folios: Readers’ Reconfigurations and Customisations of Shakespeare
- Readers’ annotations
and other marginalia seem to have established themselves as an important
field of interdisciplinary studies
of readership. In A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology, Peter Beal recently wrote that the “Marginalia, made
by readers of books from medieval times onwards,” which include, amongst other
things, “glosses, side-notes, markings
. . . , corrections of errata or textual emendations
. . . or else brief or detailed comments
on the text itself . . . can throw . . . great light on the responses of
contemporary or early readers and on their
engagement with the texts, providing
valuable sources for the history of readership” (247). Following up on Beal’s
comment, this essay will focus specifically on what William H. Sherman has
called the “customisation” of books (Used Books 36), a term he uses to
describe the way that books were altered “according to [readers’] needs and
tastes” (36). The concept
of “customizing books” by readers offers us a way to interpret “the
mysterious marks that get left behind” (Sherman, Used Books xi)
by unknown readers in the manuscript marginalia
of some of the surviving
of the four Shakespearean Folios.
- When we started the Meisei University Shakespeare
Collection Database with the richly
annotated First Folio copy (MR 774; West 201), we had hoped that eventually
all the folios in our website would
contain at least some manuscript
The Third Folio copy shelfmarked MR 733 especially made us feel fortunate, since it is annotated throughout the volume except for the apocryphal pages. Yet, at the same time, the copy
puzzled us as to how to make sense of
the meticulous ink strokes that frequently fill the copy’s lower or sometimes outer margins as well, as, for example, on Ttt1r (see fig. 1).
MR733, Ttt1r Meisei University Library
was soon to be discovered that its annotator transferred onto the copy the
footnotes of Sir Thomas Hanmer’s edition. Nevertheless,
a couple of questions remained. Why did the annotator do that? And was this
person the only one ever to have annotated Folio copies in such a manner? By comparing the “customisation” of
this copy with that of other Shakespeare Folios with manuscript marginalia, I
was able to begin to answer both of these questions.
- To date we know of two scholars who were
once similarly bewildered facing, in
their own folio copies, numerous manuscript additions that each seemed to do
very little more than reproduce the editorial contributions of a single, eighteenth-century
edition. One is John
Fitchett Marsh, who, reading a Third Folio copy now housed in the Folger
Shakespeare Libary and shelfmarked S2914 Fo. 3. No. 2, noticed that the annotations were almost identical with those found in Alexander
Pope’s edition. This led him initially
to believe that the copy was once owned and annotated by Pope himself, but when the graphology revealed that
the annotations were not penned by Pope, Marsh was so puzzled that he wrote
that it was “difficult to imagine an adequate motive for taking the trouble of” copying Pope’s annotations (199).
- Bodleian Arch. Gc. 9, a Second Folio copy
bound together with the Fourth Folio’s
apocryphal pages, appeared similarly to puzzle Mary Bradford Whiting. In a signed memorandum,
dated January 1889 and now pasted on the copy’s
free endpaper, she observed that the
notes and stage directions were
derived from Nicholas Rowe’s
- MR733, Folger Third Folio
copy 20 and Bodleian Arch. Gc. 9 each bear witness of their respective annotator’s extended and sustained efforts
to carry out page-to-page collation,
covering over 900 folio pages with annotations from, respectively, Sir Thomas
Hanmer’s, Alexander Pope’s, and Nicholas Rowe’s editions of Shakespeare’s
By investigating how the readers-annotators of each of these folios
followed or diverged from the scholarly editions to which they appeared to
refer, we might begin to understand how they customised their folios, and how
these customisations reconfigured Shakespeare.
Second/Fourth Folio: Arch. Gc. 9
- By far, the majority of manuscript additions and annotations
left in the Bodleian Arch. Gc. 9 folio copy can be identified as having been
derived from Nicholas Rowe’s edition.
Among the innovations which Rowe’s edition had brought to the experience
of reading Shakespeare in 1709 were a critical biography of the author, plates
that illustrated a scene and
served as frontispieces to each play, character lists, more complete stage
directions, and more systematic scene
designations. John Prater, the apparent owner of this copy whose signature
appears on the title page (with the date 1698) and elsewhere in the folio (with
the date 1700), seems to have considered almost all of Rowe’s additions to be
worth transcribing as a way, as Whiting puts it, to “improve” his folio copy.
- Prater was an attentive and voracious reader of Rowe’s famous
Account of the Life, etc. Of Mr. William
Shakespeare.” He not only created
a short version of Shakespeare’s
life out of the account and wrote it
under the list of “Names of the Principal Actors” (Sig. *), but
also inscribed various pieces of information it offered him wherever he thought fit throughout the copy. About The Merchant
of Venice, Rowe writes, “. .
.tho’ we have seen that Play [i.e. MV] Receiv’d and Acted as a Comedy, and the Part of the Jew perform’d by an Excellent Comedian, yet I cannot but think it was design’d Tragically by the Author. . . .The Play it self, take it all
together, seems to me to be one of the most finish’d of any of Shakespear’s” (“Some Account,” xix-xx). Prater took notice of these lines
and wrote “this Row Says is one of ye most
finisht of all his [.] he says it was he beleevs designd a Tragidy”
in the upper margin of the first page of the play (O4r). His “much ye Same tale as Sophocles
first page (pp2v) can be ascribed to Rowe’s “Hamlet is founded on much the same Tale with the Electra of Sophocles” (xxxi). Even a terse
inscription of “Q:Elizabeth” beside “a fair Vestall,
throned by the West” in A Midsummer
Night’s Dream (N3r)
looks like his homage to Rowe’s enlightening information. As Whiting notes in her memorandum,
even the inscription in the outer margin of the first page of Much Ado about Nothing, that “Benedict
&Beat[rice] have much
wit,” (N3r) can be
found in Rowe’s account.
- Prater even describes the picture plates that Rowe had
attached to each of several of Shakespeare’s plays in a delightfully unique
way. “Picture is” is Prater’s opening
for the ekphrasis. That of Romeo and Juliet, for example, runs thus:
Picture is│Romeo & Paris│lying
by: a dager│she
holds at her │breast a great
a torch at a│distance (ii5v).
- Indeed Prater redesigned the final page
of each play by filling it with information he found on the first page of each play of Rowe’s edition—namely the character list and the scene information together with the plate. Rowe’s character list and the scene location are transcribed
into the space almost verbatim for most of
the plays, although plays like Macbeth
have different renditions, as
will be mentioned later.
- Rowe’s act and
scene designations are precisely followed, with very few exceptions. In fact,
so far as I can surmise from my analysis of digitized page images of twelve of
the plays, there are only two exceptions to this pattern: Romeo and Juliet 1.2
and The Merchant of Venice 2.2. Moreover, Prater not only marks Rowe’s
act and scene designations wherever they
are lacking in the folio text: he
also modifies the folio’s designations
to conform to Rowe’s. In addition, Prater usually, but not always,
transcribes Rowe’s indicators of location.
- While Prater seldom shows
interest in textual emendations at
word level, he seems to have valued Rowe’s stage directions, including the entrances and exits which Rowe
enlarged. While he does not reproduce all of Rowe’s directions, he does
transcribe the majority of them, with the notable exception of the Ghost
“spreading his arms” and “cock crows”
in Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1 and “To
Juliet” and “Kissing her” in the sonnet sequence of Romeo and Juliet. Almost all Prater’s stage directions are derived from Rowe either
verbatim or in paraphrases.
- However, not all of Prater’s annotations can be attributed to
Rowe’s influence, for quite a few of his entries reflect his
interest in his contemporary Shakespearean stage, including titles of contemporary adaptations
as Faerie Queen and Bottom the Weaver and
The Injured Princess or the Fatal
Wager in the title pages of the
relevant plays. His
annotations also include, in
some cases with the date and venue of performance,
actors’ names, probably drawn from
the printed texts or some contemporary performance documents, if not from the memory of attendance at the theatres in person. For example, Prater refers to a performance of Macbeth at Haymarket
on 29 December 1707 in a cast list
that he prepares on a different sheet of paper and then attaches to the centre
of the finis box (pp2r). The listed cast, starting with Betterton
playing the part of Macbeth, is identical
with that recorded by The
London Stage, which lists a Macbeth
performance for that date at the
(Part 2 1700-1729,
- Moreover, the annotator often refers to
“Shadwell” or “the new” in his pen
and ink additions to the text of Macbeth,
as if he is trying to update his folio text by
recording what alterations were made
in the contemporary version of
the play. His annotations are justified if you compare them with
Davenant’s Macbeth first
published in 1674. He enters parentheses in the side margins to show the passage
omitted in Davenant’s play
(oo5r), and makes
brief notes about the new lines and scenes added as in oo2v: “ad 60 lines bet: Macduff & Wife in Shadw.” He is rather
careful about the characters
omitted or replaced in the adaptation
and revises the Folio entrance and exit
stage directions accordingly (nn4r). He also adds the new stage directions he finds useful to enhance the imaginary understanding of the play in performance, as in nn5r: “Macbeth going out Stops & speaks whilst ye K: talks
in Shadwell.” The annotator seems erroneously to attribute the Macbeth
adaptation to Shadwell (although he accurately attributes the Timon of
Athens adaptation to him).
Folger Third Folio copy
20: S2914 Fo.3 no.20
- The present state of Folger Third Folio copy 20 reveals the repair
work that the copy has undergone. It
is rather heavily damaged at the tail
throughout, so that many leaves are repaired with a reinforcing strip,
and the text that has been mutilated is written on a piece of paper interleaved where appropriate. These
interleaves are written in the same
hand as that of the marginalia of the main text, and both appear almost
exclusively to be either transcribed or to refer to the edition by Alexander Pope first published in 1725.
- Although John Fitchett Marsh was silent about them in his N&Q article, there are
three entries in which the annotator directly mentions
Pope in this copy. The three entries
are all about Pope’s rearrangement of
scene order as, for example, in Henry V: “This Chorus in Mr: Pope’s Edition is placed at the beginning of the 2d Act” (Ll4v). Almost all the other manuscript additions
and annotations in this copy can be safely said to have been derived from Pope’s.
- Pope built his edition of Shakespeare’s plays in part by
amending Rowe’s: by adding source information
for 13 plays, systematic scene designations, footnotes, commas
for shining passages, and stars for beautiful scenes, and by degrading parts of the text
that Pope thought unworthy of Shakespeare to the bottom of the page. To all of these features the annotator of
Folger Third Folio copy 20 pays rather close attention.
- Whereas John Prater
added scene information
he found in Rowe into the final page of each play, the annotator of this copy chose to place scene information in the upper margins above head titles of each
play. Pope supplied no scene information
to The Second Part of Henry the Fourth,
and the annotator followed suit. In
addition, Pope’s scene designations
are fairly faithfully introduced
throughout the copy. The annotator reproduces Pope even where Pope gives erroneous numerals in
Lear Act II, where
Scene VI is given to two consecutive scenes. As
for the location indicators usually accompanying
scene designations, the annotator follows
Pope a little half-heartedly. Although the Folio text space is often
forbiddingly tight to allow an easy practice of this sort,
even where ample space is available, location
sometimes just ignored.
- Pope famously wanted the lower margin of his edition to be the space where his
editorial duty discharged
should “show itself” to the readers. Thus, he puts “various
Readings” in the lower margin in footnote
form (vol.1, xxii). The annotator, apparently comparing Pope’s
emendations with the Third Folio’s readings, usually, although not universally,
records Pope’s emendations in the Folio margins when they are different.
Occasionally, he also employs Pope’s silent emendations to create an original
- Pope also explicates, in footnotes of various length, “The more
obsolete or unusual
words” (ibid.). The annotator seems to have been able to
cope with many of Pope’s short notes, but lengthy ones must have posed difficulty
in transcribing onto a copy with
such severely shaved margins. Sometimes
the annotator deals with the scarcity
space by summarising Pope’s
note, or just stopping in the middle of a transcription
- Finally, Pope evaluates passages of the play. For example, he
explains that “some suspected passages which are excessively
bad, . . . are degraded to the bottom of the page; with an Asterisk referring
to the places of their
insertion” (ibid.), and he places
triple daggers at the heads of scenes he found too gross in taste. Pope also
marks his approbation of certain passages and scenes: he writes, “some of the most
shining passages are distinguish’d
by comma’s in the margin; and where the beauty lay not in particulars but in the whole,
a star is prefix’d to the scene” (xxiii).
The annotator, apparently in agreement with Pope’s
evaluations, places boxes around those passages which Pope deemed to be
“excessively bad,” as seen in Figure 2. He also reproduced almost all of Pope’s commendatory marks,
using inverted commas and asterisks. Remarkably, the annotator not
only copies these marks from Pope but also contributes his own, using
double commas to signal his own
commendation of passages and asterisks to mark his favouring of specific scenes. He even
draws the profile of a face looking at the words “Scaena Quarta. X,” which
introduce the scene in which King Richard the second is killed in the prison cell (Ff4v), most probably as a token of admiration
(see fig. 2). Thus, the annotator seems to have judged the scene rather
- In addition to supplementing Pope’s evaluations of the play
with his own, the annotator appears to have consulted other sources. For
example, while the source information supplied by Pope is transcribed
diligently for twelve of the thirteen plays, the annotator
does not seem to have been sufficiently impressed by Pope’s observation that “This Story
was not invented by our Author; tho' from whence he took it, I know not” (vol.
6, 344). Instead, in a speculation probably derived from the edition by
Theobald (vol. 7, 226), the annotator wrote, “This
Story is taken from Saxo
Grammaticus in his Danish History.”
Fig. 2 S2914 Fo.3 no.20, Ff4v. By
Permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Meisei Third Folio: MR733
- Meisei Third Folio,
copy shelfmarked MR733, is the second issue
published in 1664. On its title page is inscribed “John Millett Prescot,”
who must have been an owner of this copy at one time, but whether the manuscript annotations in this copy are also in his hand
is difficult to say.
- The annotator demonstrates a selective attitude toward the
various features of the Sir Thomas Hanmer edition. In his preface, Hanmer
says he has devoted his attention to
emending the text, to placing
spurious passages at the bottom of
the page (adding in the process a few sentences to the passages that Pope had
degraded to the bottom of the page of his edition), to adding a glossary at the end of the edition, and to
supplying footnotes that clear up difficulties arising “from a reference to some antiquated customs now forgotten, or other causes of
that kind” (vol.1, v). For his or her
part, the annotator takes care to transcribe onto the recto pages of both the
front and rear flyleaves the glossary that Hanmer appended to his edition’s sixth volume. He or she also transcribed the explanatory footnotes, but
appears to have opted not to follow Hanmer’s practice of degrading passages of the text. As for
other editorial features, the
annotator transcribed all but
one explanation of source information that Hanmer supplied for 13 plays, and only one of the character lists that Hanmer
appended to all of the plays.
Although the annotator
does sometimes pick up scene designations, location indicators, stage
directions, and textual emendations, they
are quite clearly not his or her chief concern.
- There are about 430
footnotes in Hanmer’s
Shakespeare, 65 percent of which are those aimed
at explanations, while the rest are
for recording those portions of the text
that he discards because they are “spurious.”
The annotator copied more than 85 percent of Hanmer’s explanatory notes into his or her own
copy of the Third Folio. In 21 out
of the Folio’s 36 plays, the annotator transcribed all
of them. As in King Lear (Ttt1r) [see
fig.1], nearly 80 percent
of the entries the annotator brought
to the copy are transcribed very carefully and almost
verbatim, if we admit certain accidentals such as the use of capitalization, punctuations and
various forms of contractions. For
the remaining 20 percent of the
notes, the annotator edited them into shorter forms chiefly for the purpose
of saving space.
- Reproducing Hanmer’s notes verbatim wherever possible must have been the annotator’s preferred method, as the surviving errors seem to indicate. Only four errors can be found throughout the copy, an example
of which is shown in figure 3. Here the annotator had erroneously inscribed “Plenty” for Hanmer’s
“fullness,” an error which he corrected by crossing it out.
733, I1r. Meisei University Library.
- Had it not have been for the annotator’s
interest in copying Hanmer’s notes faithfully, these errors might have seemed
by no means serious enough to be crossed out, for these
corrections risk marring the text’s elegance, about which the annotator seems
to have been also very particular.
fact, his or her careful treatment of show-through clearly indicates the
annotator’s investment in producing an elegant text. As Akihiro Yamada repeatedly remarks
in transcribing the
marginalia left in West 201, show-through often made the annotations difficult
to read. Throughout MR 733, no case
is found where show-through from the recto page has made the
annotations on the verso difficult to read. The annotator successfully
avoids such difficulty, for example,
by shortening Hanmer’s
note in Lear TLN 355 (Ttt1v): where Hanmer’s notes reads “As the treading
upon another’s heels is an expression
used to signify the being not far behind him; so toe another
means to come up to and be upon even ground
with him,” the annotator’s is shortened to “To toe a Man, signifies to come up to & be upon
even Ground with him” (see fig. 4).
Fig. 4 MR733 Ttt1v. Meisei University Library.
- In one case, the annotator even prevents
show-through by transferring a note to another page. Hanmer’s note about the word “Nuthook,” which
the annotator should have inscribed
on D2 verso, is transferred to Ll1 recto, the sole alternative page
available in the Folio on which the same
word occurs, and unlike the D2 verso, free of show-through.
- And yet, the copy does not simply reproduce Hanmer’s
notations. While the copy includes 241 footnotes directly from Hanmer, it also
includes three which seem to have come from elsewhere. One of them is the case in Hamlet (Qqq4v), where the annotator added “Startling
means I should think sterling” as a note to the word “startling,” a
form peculiar to the Third Folio. The hand seems to me to be identical to the one above it on the page, but it may be a product of some second session of annotation. I think it possible to find in
the annotator’s employment of “I
should think”—the same phrase as
professional editors sometimes use in
their notes—a joyful feeling of the
- These three cases are not the
only cases of such Folio customisations.
Although Bodleian Gc. 9, so far as my
research has determined, is the only copy whose customisation is informed by
Rowe’s edition, Folger Third Folio copy 20 and Meisei MR 733 are
by no means the sole examples of Pope- or Hanmer-based customisations. For example,
some of the comedies in Folger Second Folio copy 22 are also annotated after
the edition of Pope. Hanmer’s
edition might have been used as a source for
another thorough-going folio customisation, namely Folger First
Folio copy 70 (West 128) which, as
far as I have been able to access to date, is the only copy among
the First Folios that has
similar types of annotations throughout.
- In one sense the particular
type of Folio customisation that the
eighteenth-century annotators of Shakespearean folios might be said to
demonstrate can safely be called “updating,” a process stimulated, perhaps, by
the successive publications of brand new editions of Shakespeare in the
eighteenth century. Yet the source of stimulation might be found earlier and elsewhere than in the printed pages of
newly edited Shakespeare. John Prater, if
we may regard him as the annotator of Bodleian Gc.9, seems to have begun somehow updating his Second/Fourth
Folio copy around 1700,
probably shortly after his acquisition of the copy.
He found his updating source in the contemporary Shakespeare, either in performance
or in printed material, including Restoration Quartos of
Shakespearean adaptations. In a
gracefully un-intruding way in the side margins, he recorded parts of the folio text
that were omitted or altered in the
“new” forms of Shakespeare. He also added some character lists, emendations, and helpful stage directions. We could not tell how long and how far he would continue his project of reconfiguring
Shakespeare by this method. However, what the remaining annotations in the copy indicate
is that once the brand new configuration of Shakespeare in the shape of Rowe’s edition appeared
in 1709, Prater found it both
valuable and convenient. This lead him to embrace it as the sole source for his
- In the case of
Folger Third Folio copy 20, the
updating project was part of the work of repairing the physically-damaged Folio copy. The annotator seems to have found almost every configuration of Pope’s worth transcribing. He or she, nonetheless, must have been alert
enough to notice Theobald’s
criticism against Pope’s edition in Shakespeare Restored
or in his published edition. The
annotator borrowed from this second
source as well, though he or she did so only in very limited
instances. His or her strong preference for Pope’s annotations never wavered.
- The annotations left
in Meisei MR 733 reveal the annotator’s great concern for the physical elegance
of the final product, as if he or she were seeking to rival the elegant beauty of the first Oxford edition of
Shakespeare. More importantly, however,
the annotator seems to have been fascinated by Hanmer’s elucidation of the text, especially
the footnotes and glossary that clarified obscure words and phrases. Yet the annotator’s admiration
for Hanmer did not prevent him/her from enriching the text with personal emendations
- I would like to conclude this short paper with a simple note of what the detailed
analysis of the annotations have revealed
to me about the three annotators: in using
Rowe, Pope, and Hanmer to update their folios,
these annotators are not
following their single source
blindly through and through. As we
have seen above, they are ready to choose otherwise or diverge if need arises,
a flexibility, I believe, only a
great reader of Shakespeare, if not
a scholarly reader, could possibly have.
like to thank Jean-Christophe Mayer and all the colleagues for inviting me to
read a paper at the 2010 “Shakespearean
Configurations” conference in Montpellier.
This essay is a modified version of that
paper. Karen Cosgrove-Smith helped me
with editing the earlier version of this essay and Margaret Vasileiou offered
me many valuable suggestions to make it more readable. I am pleased to
acknowledge both of them. Part of this work
was supported by
See also Sherman, “What
Did Renaissance Readers Write
in Their Books?” 119.
 URL: http://shakes.meisei-u.ac.jp/. This website incorporates data from Yamada, The First Folio of Shakespeare through
permission of the author. It should be noted that we were inspired
by University of Glasgow’s
pioneer contribution to the field of sharing
marginalia through the internet.
 Cf. Sumimoto, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009.
 At the moment,
the study of marginalia in Shakespearean
Folios apparently remains to be cultivated
and organized. Except for the marginalia in the First Folios,
the whereabouts and other basic information
of which are provided by
West’s Census of First Folios,
those in the Second, Third and Fourth
Folios are recorded in very few
research tools apart from
Hamnet, the Folger Shakespeare
online catalogue, which has also informed West.
 MR 733 and
Third Folio copy 20 are both second issues
of the Third Folio. Their “apocryphal”
pages (from Pericles
to Locrine [a1r - ¶G6v]) are void of annotations.
 The Oxford DNB has nothing to add
to what Whiting had already written
back in 1889 about Prater: “no information
[about him] can be obtained.”
other two entries are both in Cymbeline: “For ye 8th scene wch
pope places here / See ye 1st two Scenes mark” (Dddd4r)
and “This Scene Pope has placed at ye end of ye 3d
 The double commas given
to the first seven lines of Lear’s
“O reason not the need” speech (Ttt6r) or an asterisk to the garden scene in Romeo and Juliet
examples out of many.
 See also the word of reprobation,
“bad very bad,” in an ornamental style with the use of flourishes at the end of
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (D1v), which might have been
inscribed by the annotator.
 In a few cases, readings
derived from another
edition than Pope’s, probably from Theobald’s,
are recorded in the lower margin, as in the case of the “wretch/wench” emendation in Othello (Yyy2r).
 The source information of Macbeth is not recorded, and only Lear has the character list
 As You
Like It is the only exception in this copy where the annotator seems to have done a more thorough textual collation using Hanmer’s edition.
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and corrected by the former editions,
and adorned with sculptures designed and executed by the best hands.
Oxford, 1743-44. Print.
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The Works of Mr. William Shakespear; in Six Volumes.
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Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2013-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).