Beside/s Milton: Other Histories of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s First Folio

Date: 12 June 2023
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries (Philadelphia)
Lecturer: Claire M. L. Bourne - Associate Professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

The heavily annotated copy of Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (1623) in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia has recently become widely known for one thing: it was owned and marked up over several decades in the seventeenth century by the poet and polemicist John Milton. In this talk, Bourne will explain the significance of this attribution, which was first suggested by Jason Scott-Warren in 2019 and substantiated in a 2022 article, co-written by Bourne and Scott-Warren. But Bourne also suggests that the rapid accumulation of attention around this stunning fact of provenance risks muting other critical dimensions of this book’s past—ones either distinct from or only tangentially connected to Milton’s identity as one of its former readers. Bourne will spin out three other histories of the Free Library First Folio—its status in the second-hand and rare book markets; its impact on editorial history; and its interest as a repaired book object—to affirm the value of copy-specific study for a politically attuned history of the book (this book and the book, more generally) in the longue durée.