A 17th-century notebook containing the jottings of perhaps the world’s first Shakespeare scholar has left experts “trembling” in anticipation of what it may contain.
Entitled Shakespeare: Comedies and Tragedies, it was discovered among the collection of 18th Century antiquarian John Loveday of Caversham by a relative.
Matthew Haley, head of books and manuscripts at Bonhams, appraised the item for Antiques Roadshow, filmed at Caversham Park, Berkshire.
He said it was likely to fetch more than £30,000 at auction, and admitted that it’s “enormous scholarly value” had left him “trembling” as he held it at.
He said: “It’s a very small manuscript, a tiny little notebook about the size of a matchbox, and it’s in a 17th-century hand.
“We don’t know who the person who wrote it is, but obviously if it’s a 17th-century hand they were either going along to Shakespeare’s plays when they were being performed and taking notes, or they were reading one of the first four printed editions of Shakespeare, which is really amazing.
“Curiously, it doesn’t include the histories, and one could speculate as to why that is.
“As far as I could see the author was writing down quotes, passages or phrases that he liked.
“I noticed a quote from Twelfth Night, but I would imagine that it covers quite a large number of the plays.
“If he was working from the printed texts then by the mid-17th century all of Shakespeare’s plays were known about, although the books were not printed in huge quantities.”
“Obviously there weren’t that many people who were literate at the time and there weren’t that many people who would have had access to the printed editions of Shakespeare. It’s such a fascinating mystery.
“English literature as a subject didn’t come up until around 1900. Nobody was studying literature in that way, and particularly not plays. Prose and poetry were seen as slightly more scholarly or highbrow.
“Nobody started to edit Shakespeare’s works in an academic way or comparing texts until the 18th century. Shakespeare was known as the national playwright and the national poet, he’d acquired some sort of mythological status by that point, but people weren’t looking at him in an academic, analytical way. But maybe this note-taker was.
Mr Haley said the document, which is being transcribed, may provide evidence that not all of Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Bard himself in their entirety, while the lines quoted my differ from those in use today.
“I’m sure that very close study of it would identify quotes from some plays that are not necessarily all Shakespeare.
“It might be that he quotes something that appears in the 1632 second folio that doesn’t appear in the 1623 first”.