The first item I would like to consider in this post is truly a ‘hidden treasure’. At first glance it seems like an insignificant, very ordinary, 19th century copy of Shakespeare’s 'Hamlet'—on the inside, however, the pocket-sized book tells a completely different story. On the half-title of the play lies an extraordinary inscription: 'Thomas Hardy. (at Stratford-on-Avon.) 1896’. This signature, along with a small bookseller’s label, record the volumes purchase in Stratford-upon-Avon by the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy when he visited the town in 1896. This was the famous writer’s first and only visit to Shakespeare’s hometown. He bought the book from a small bookshop in the centre of the town where Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith, is believed to have lived after marriage. Hardy was 56 years old at the time of his visit and had just published his last novel, ‘Jude the Obscure’, the previous year. After Hardy's death, this volume came into the possession of Harley Granville-Barker, a theatre director, playwright and Shakespearian critic, who had known Hardy for many years.
Another item that has certainly made our digitisation list is a favourite amongst those who venture down into the vaults on our stack tour. It is a 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s works titled ‘The Works of Mr William Shakspear; in six volumes. Adorn’d with cuts. Revis’d and corrected, with an account of the life and writings of the author’ edited by Nicholas Rowe. This six-volume edition was a first in many ways and plays a critical part in how we view Shakespeare’s works today. Rowe, a successful dramatist and poet of his own day, was the first editor to include a complete biography of William Shakespeare (aided by research carried out in Stratford-upon-Avon) as well as the first to modernise Shakespeare’s text (punctuation and spelling) to the practice of his day. Rowe was also the first editor to include a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of each play, divide the plays into Acts and scenes and the first to include illustrations based on contemporary stage productions. In addition to the books appearance in Eye Shakespeare, a digitised page depicting ‘The Tempest’ also features in our current ‘Shakespeare’s Stories’ exhibition and has been included in educational resources developed by our learning department. The following illustration, however, accompanies 'Hamlet' in Rowe's edition: