January 2016 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Shakespeare Documented, Online

Marking 400 years since the Bard's death, the Folger Shakespeare Library is pulling out all the stops in 2016: Readers of the most recent issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine may recall the Folger just launched a 52-city tour of a selection of its First Folios. Now, those wishing to learn more about the life and times of the "Swan of Avon" need look no further than their computer screens. The Folger's latest endeavor is an online exhibition called "Shakespeare Documented," in partnership from the Bodleian Libraries, the British Library, the National Archives and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The site bills itself as "the largest and most authoritative resource for learning about primary sources that document the life and career of William Shakespeare."

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Shakespeare Documented is a new online resource sharing the manuscripts and printed books that document the life and career of William Shakespeare. (PRNewsFoto/Folger Shakespeare Library)

Free and accessible as of January 20, "Shakespeare Documented"  provides a comprehensive portrait of the playwright, offering hundreds of print and manuscript documents for in-depth examination, including contemporary accounts (and gossip), anthologies, literary criticism and diary entries--all providing testimony to how Shakespeare became a household name.  Highlights include Shakespeare's signed last will and testament, wherein he bequeaths property to his daughters and his "second best bed" to his wife, Anne Hathaway. (Apparently this was not considered a slight, but a way to ensure Anne received the correct property. However, this is the only mention of her in the will.) A November 1596 petition against the construction of playhouse in Blackfriars argues that such a structure in the neighborhood would attract vagrants and "greatly disturbe and hinder both the Ministers and the Parishioners in tyme of devine service and Sermones." (Despite the resistance, Shakespeare eventually moved his company to Blackfriars in 1609, and in 1613 purchased the property. The mortgage documents are also available for closer review.)

"Shakespeare" by It may be by a painter called John Taylor who was an important member of the Painter-Stainers' Company.[1] - Official gallery link. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare.jpg#/media/File:Shakespeare.jpg

Though already exhaustive in its offerings, the site continues to be updated with textual descriptions and will no doubt become an invaluable cache of material for scholars and educators. "Shakespeare Documented" joins the Folger's other digital resources, Folger Digital Texts and Early Modern Manuscripts Online. Discover for yourself at ShakespeareDocumented.org