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Shakespeare's Will and his Books

With Diana Owen

Is it suspicious that no books are mentioned in Shakespeare's will?


Owen: Books were not often mentioned in wills; they might have been listed in inventories. Sadly, the inventory of Shakespeare’s possessions doesn’t survive. Those of his possessions that are not named as bequests were inherited by his daughter and son-in-law, Susanna and John Hall; and in John Hall’s 1635 will, he bequeathed what he called a ‘study of books’ to his son-in-law, Thomas Nashe, ‘to dispose of them as you see good.’ In 1637, the study of New Place (Shakespeare’s home) was broken into as part of a legal dispute, and ‘divers books’ and ‘other goods of great value’ were taken away. 

In the collections of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are two books which might have belonged to Shakespeare. One is Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans of 1579. Our copy belonged to Lord Strange, 5th Earl of Derby, whose company of actors performed some of Shakespeare’s early works. Perhaps this is the very copy that Shakespeare used to write his Roman plays. In 1643, Queen Henrietta Maria (whose husband Charles I loved Shakespeare) visited Stratford and was given the life of Katherine de Medici by Susannah Hall, possibly from her late father’s own library.

Diana Owen Cropped

Diana Owen

Diana Owen is the former CEO of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. 


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