Titled, “Shakespeare: Comedies and Tragedies,” the matchbook-sized notebook is written in a 17th century hand in Latin—believed to be the notes of a student. Was this student writing during the time of Shakespeare? To date, no other scholarship, notes, or edits on Shakespeare exist from that era.
At the time, literacy rates were low, access to Shakespeare’s written manuscripts was limited and English literature as a subject was not a trend (it didn’t become an active subject until 1900). Contemporaries saw Shakespeare as untouchable, having almost mythological status, so no one was looking at him in an academic way—except maybe this student.
The notebook is currently being transcribed. As far as anyone can tell right now, it does not contain any historical context, but rather quotes, passages or phrases directly from the plays. Manuscript specialist Matthew Haley said the keeper of the notebook was, “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.”
Thought to be from the collection of 18th-century antiquarian John Loveday of Caversham, the notebook was discovered among the belongings of a relative. Now, this family heirloom is one of the most remarkable finds ever seen on Antiques Roadshow. Haley said he was left, “trembling.”
Haley has big hopes for what they might find. Since the scholar was taking notes and writing direct quotes from what he was watching or reading, it is believed this notebook might prove that all the plays attributed to Shakespeare were not completely written by the Bard himself. Based on excerpts pulled from this contemporary notebook, scholars can see if lines changed over time.
The contribution of this tiny notebook to scholarship could be enormous. The estimated value? Upwards of £30,000 at auction ($37,500). As Haley said “Sometimes the best things come in small packages. My goodness is this a good thing.”