Shakespeare in the Royal Collection. Shakespeare’s Second Folio.

Sally Barnden, in conversation with Emma Stuart, explores Shakespeare’s Second Folio, which was in possession of Charles I during his imprisonment.

One of the most prized objects in the Royal Collection is a ‘Second Folio’ edition of Shakespeare’s plays, first published in 1632. It contains handwritten annotations made by the deposed King Charles I in the final days before his execution on the orders of Parliament, during the English Civil War.

This copy, bound in red goatskin with gold tooling, was in the possession of Charles I during his imprisonment and it was probably at this point that he annotated it, notably writing ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ (‘while I breathe I hope’) on the flyleaf. He also notes the names of some characters next to the titles of comedies on the contents page.

The book left the Royal Collection on Charles’s execution, and was initially in the possession of his Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Thomas Herbert, who has inscribed the title page in Welsh: ‘Pawb yn y Arver’, or ‘everyone has his own customs.’ After passing through several other collections (including that of the scholar and editor George Steevens) it was reacquired in 1800 by George III – himself a prolific book-collector.

What has Shakespeare done for the royal family, and what has the royal family done for Shakespeare? This is the central research question of ‘Shakespeare in the Royal Collection’, a three-year AHRC funded project (begun in September 2018), which focuses on the Shakespeare-related holdings in the Royal Collection and Royal Archives and the stories they have to tell.

This website includes a searchable database of the Shakespeare-related objects in the Royal Collection, an online exhibition and an explanatory timeline.

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.

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