Significant Literary Discovery Made – Poetry News September 17th

Today on My Poetic Side we look at what is being hailed as one of the most significant literary discoveries of modern times.

Milton’s Note on The Bard

Possibly one of the most significant discoveries of modern times has been made in the archives of a poet. Handwritten text in an edition of the plays of William Shakespeare appears to have been made by the poet John Milton.

Shakespeare’s first folio was published in 1623, not almost 400 years later scholars think that they have discovered the identity of one of the early owners of a copy of the folio. They believe that the person who made insightful annotations, hundreds of them, was John Milton.

The discovery was made by Jason Scott-Warren, a fellow at Cambridge University. He was reading an article which discussed the anonymous annotator. The article was written by a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, she had been studying the Universities copy which they had had since 1944.  The professor dated the annotations to the mid-17th century. It was the images of the handwriting that she has included in her article that caught the eye of Scott-Warren. He immediately felt that it showed similarities to the handwriting of Milton.

This isn’t the first time that Scott-Warren has believed he has recognised handwriting. However, he is often wrong. In this case, however, the evidence to support his thinking began to stack up and he felt he was onto something.

The first collected edition of the plays of Shakespeare is the first folio. It wasn’t published until seven years after the death of The Bard. 18 plays, including The Tempest and Macbeth may wall have been lost if it had not been published. There were around 750 copies of the first folio published and it is believed 233 are still in existence. The last one that came up for auction sold for £1.87m.

A detailed comparison has been made by Scott-Warren between the handwriting of the annotator and Milton. He is of the belief that the work that the annotator carried out- such as suggesting corrections and offering additional material – is not dissimilar to work that Milton undertook on Life of Dante by Boccaccio.

Hoping that he might be right in his identification Scott-Warren mention it in a blog post, completely expecting to be knocked back by other academics, however to his surprise many of them agreed with him. The feeling was that not only did the writing seem like Milton’s hand but that it read like writing already identified as Milton’s elsewhere.

What scholars are finding most interesting about all these annotations, in light of the possibility that they were made by Milton, is the paragraphs that have been picked out for comments. These are amongst some of the most famous passages of Shakespeare’s work as we know it. They go a long way towards showing just how much the work of The Bard influenced the poet.

Now that these annotations have been identified, experts believe that it may be possible to identify other books that Milton may have annotated. This is one way in which digital technology Is really opening up the world of research and allowing scholars to make some amazing discoveries.

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