On September 9th, one of the most important literary discoveries came to fruition. A copy of a First Folio was residing in the Free Library of Philadelphia, and this particular copy held notes annotated by an unknown source. For a long while, these markings were puzzling but held promising information on the note-taking itself. Claire M. L. Bourne, an English Professor of the University of Pennsylvania wrote an essay on these annotations and offered insight on not who the annotator was, but their process and execution. However, Jason Scott-Warren of Cambridge came across this essay and it’s many pictures of the Folio and thought the handwriting looked comparable to that of John Milton.
John Milton is another Early Modern English champion as well as an English Literary titan. His most famous work, Paradise Lost, examines the dramatic life and events of Adam, Eve, God, and Lucifer, and many scholars scale Milton’s importance to that of Shakespeare. Both Milton and Shakespeare’s lives overlapped briefly, but Shakespeare passed away when Milton was 8 years old. Still, Shakespeare’s influence on Milton proved enormous, yet there were never solid examples of Milton’s immediate interaction with Shakespeare. With recent evidence surrounding the annotated First Folio regarding Milton’s authorship, we finally have the concrete proof of both of these worlds truly colliding.
To quickly overview what has been mentioned so far, Scott-Warren’s examination and comparison of the Folio to the Trinity Manuscript (Miltons Notebook while working on Paradise Lost) lead him to believe that both hands were analogous in penmanship. With careful research, he wrote in his blog post the comparisons between each manuscript, and soon enough scholars everywhere began confirming his suspicion with their research. News began to spread of this finding and media outlets such as The Guardian and the Washington Post (links below) covered the incredible find, and it is indeed an incredible find.
So what are the takeaways of this? What does this mean for studying Shakespeare and Milton?
Well for one, this is not only proof of a Milton and Shakespeare crossover, but it’s one of the earliest looks at Shakespeare criticism. Milton makes numerous notes and marks throughout the entire Folio, and although it might look like he’s making changes because he thinks they’re mistakes, Milton greatly admired Shakespeare and his work, and it could changes he would have made and would implement in his writing. Many times throughout the Folio, we see Milton mark up a phrase that is seen in his other pieces. Not only is it an early form of criticism but its criticism produced by one of the most prolific writers of the Early Modern period about another important writer of the same period!
One fascinating notation I find is his transcription of Romeo and Juliet’s prologue on the back Titus Andronicus. The Folios omit the prologue from the play and it appears Milton might have liked it enough in the Quartos that he wanted it noted in his Folio.
There is still more to be studied and learned from this discovery, and Scott-Warren plans on writing more research on this subject alongside Bourne. This is a fantastic starting point regardless, and I can only wonder what else they might answer with the information they found.