Lecturer At The University Of Cambridge Makes Literary Dream Discovery Annotations on a 17th century copy of Shakespeare's plays were discovered to be written by English poet John Milton. James Scott-Warren of the University of Cambridge explains what the notes reveal.
NPR logo

Lecturer At The University Of Cambridge Makes Literary Dream Discovery

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/761831546/761831547" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Lecturer At The University Of Cambridge Makes Literary Dream Discovery

Lecturer At The University Of Cambridge Makes Literary Dream Discovery

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/761831546/761831547" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. So a lecturer at the University of Cambridge made the kind of discovery literary scholars can usually only dream of. Jason Scott-Warren was inspecting photographs of a first folio of William Shakespeare's plays when he recognized some handwriting in the margins.

JASON SCOTT-WARREN: When I first saw this handwriting, I thought, you know, that looks like Milton, something to do with the way that he spaces the letters.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After a lot of second-guessing about this being wishful thinking, scholars have come to a consensus. The handwriting did indeed belong to John Milton, the English poet best known for the epic work "Paradise Lost." Milton was a Shakespeare fan, and this discovery captures his comments about the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays published in 1623, seven years after the bard's death. It turns out, Milton had incisive comments about many of Shakespeare's plays, from "Romeo And Juliet" to "Hamlet." He marked up his copy of the plays profusely. Scott-Warren says the annotations reveal new ways to think about both writers.

SCOTT-WARREN: But what this volume is kind of inviting you to do is to put these two writers together and to see this moment of encounter and discovery where Milton is kind of opening himself up to some of the really exciting things that are happening in Shakespeare's writing.

MARTIN: Milton's margin notes show his appreciation for Shakespeare's plays but also more than that. Scott-Warren says it, quote, "gives you a sense of his sensitivity and alertness to Shakespeare."

SCOTT-WARREN: We kind of knew that Milton revered Shakespeare, but he's actually treating him with the seriousness of a classical author and he's giving a really detailed textual attention.

GREENE: One discovery - it seems Milton echoed a line from Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" in one of his own poems. Hopefully the expiration date on calling that plagiarism has passed. Maybe it was a tribute to Shakespeare.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAKENOBU'S "SNOW DAY")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.