In the age of auto correct and the backspace button, we may find it hard to believe that there can be misprints in Shakespearian folios. But these errors, along with the stories of the past owners, only add to the intriguing history of these rare and precious books.
On the first day of my placement as a Library intern, we discussed how interesting, not to mention rare, it is to find a folio of Shakespeare's collected works which has been owned by a woman at any point in its history. You can, therefore, imagine how thrilled I was to be studying a folio which has been owned by not one, but two women throughout its existence.
The so-called 'Faucit Folio', a second folio published in 1632 named after one of its owners, Helena Faucit, has a unique provenance to it. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Faucit Folio was kept in the vast library at Condover Hall, as it was passed down from family members.
Marginalia has given us the information we know about the first owner of this folio; Letitia Owen. Her signature has survived conservation and sits in a top margin. This folio contains a few other pieces of marginalia which are definitely of interest to studying not just the provenance of this specific piece of history, but the history of Shakespearian folios altogether.
Within the print of 'Richard III', lies evidence of an interesting piece of folio trivia. You can see here that someone, possibly Letitia herself or maybe one of her descendants who inherited the folio after her passing has rewritten some of the prose in a slightly different way.
When I first saw this, I thought perhaps it was Helena Faucit, an actress who was an owner of the folio, rehearsing her lines using this text, in preparation for her role in Richard III in the 1830s. However, upon closer analysis of the handwriting, we concluded that this was not the case. In my research, I learned of a misprint in the second and third folios in the 17th-century, which explains this piece of marginalia.
There are stage directions in Richard III which read as:
Go thou to Richmond, and good fortune guide thee.
(to ANNE) Go thou to Richard, and good angels tend thee.
(to QUEEN ELIZABETH)
Go thou to sanctuary, and good thoughts possess thee.'
Richard III, Act 4, Scene 1
However, due to misleading marginalia in a first folio, printers thought the stage directions were part of the speech, hence why they read as such in this folio. This misprint was replicated in the third folio, yet later corrected in the fourth. Therefore, perhaps whoever wrote this inscription was doing so based on their knowledge of Richard III, and was correcting the published print to include the stage directions. Shakespeare lovers everywhere should take comfort in the knowledge that 'truth is truth', even if it means writing in the margins of a folio!
When studying folios, with them being such valuable and rare pieces of literature and history, it is always interesting to learn how they came to be in our collection. The story of our accession of the Faucit folio is a particularly sweet one to tell.
In 1899, Sir Theodore Martin donated the folio to the library. In this letter dated 10th January 1899 from Martin to Mr Savage, the Trust's librarian at the time, he writes that he has sent the folio by post. I can't quite imagine sending such a valuable piece of history by post nowadays, but at least it was registered!
This donation, whilst incredibly generous, does beg the question, why would someone donate such a valuable item? When we continue to read the letter shown above, the answer to this question begins to become clearer. Martin also writes that; 'It [the folio] happily has the writing of Lady Martin upon it, which adds to the interest of the volume'.
Lady Martin, otherwise known as Helena Faucit, was a renowned 19th-century Shakespearian actress. She was also an owner of this folio after her close friend Reginald Cholmondeley, a descendant of Letitia Owen, gifted it to her.
Faucit was accidentally discovered as an actress in 1826 after being overheard acting out the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene with her sister, and became hugely successful. Faucit was a huge fan of Shakespeare's works, but what is interesting about her is that she took an almost modern approach to prepare for her roles. Faucit got in between the lines when it came to studying Shakespeare's female characters, and even published her work On Some of Shakespeare's Female Characters in 1888, after she had been expressing her thoughts on the women she portrayed to her friends.
She did not consider herself a critic or Shakespearian scholar, just simply someone who had 'thought their thoughts and spoken their words'. However, having read some of these thoughts, it very much appears as though Faucit wants to look at these women outside of the remits of their characters on stage. She seems to have employed the technique of method acting in her preparation for taking to the 19th-century Shakespearian stage, including the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1879.
Faucit and Martin were both very closely associated with Shakespeare and his legacy, with Martin sitting on the board of Vice-Presidents for the tercentenary celebrations in 1866. Thus, it becomes more understandable as to why he donated the folio to the Trust upon Faucit's death. Historian Carol Jones Carlyle said that Martin was particularly eager to keep his wife's memory 'alive and forever associated with Shakespeare', so his donation of the folio on her behalf was his way of ensuring this was the case.