Zettelkasten Forum


Did Shakespeare take notes?

I was telling a friend of my interest in Zettelkasten and Obsidian. I mentioned that Z-gurus are strong believers in taking notes, whereupon he asked if Shakespeare took notes. I replied that I had no idea, but I doubted it. I understand that Shakespeare was a keen observer with a well-tuned ear who likely wrote drafts, but note-taking???

Comments

  • Fun question. Caveat: some of my answer is secondhand, from a friend who studied that the Shakespeare Institute in the UK or another friend who worked at the Folger Library for a while. However, I also taught literature, poetry, and drama for nearly a decade (and worked in other related humanities disciplines along the way).

    To the best of my knowledge, there exists a very small number of manuscripts where we see edits to a version of the text. At least one of these (for reasons I don't remember) is provably known to be in WS' own hand. There are also several editions of the texts -- the "First Folio" is a common reference edition. There are other editions, with slight changes. We know that some of these were approved by WS himself (such as one edition of his Sonnets), and another edition was approved by his troupe immediately after his death, as a way to preserve the legacy.

    Libraries like Folger have numerous documents, including manuscripts. WS certainly had quite a few papers (some of his letters are preserved). However, I know of no "notes" in the sense you mean. It was common practice to burn such notes once they had served their purpose for a final draft. On the other hand, he was also known to annotate his books. We know from his writings that he made regular use of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hesiod's Works and Days, and Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britannia (or History of the Kings of Britain).

    I hope this helps!

    Observations logged here: write.as/via-poetica

  • @Sociopoetic said:
    At least one of these (for reasons I don't remember) is provably known to be in WS' own hand.

    Taking things a bit too far, I believe! See this: https://shakespearedocumented.folger.edu/resource/document/shakespeares-handwriting-hand-d-booke-sir-thomas-more. As they say, six signatures is not a large sample. And there is probably at least some doubt that the signatures were made by Shakespeare himself.

    In short, we know next to nothing about Shakespeare, considering his present fame.

  • @Sociopoetic said:
    It was common practice to burn such notes once they had served their purpose for a final draft. On the other hand, he was also known to annotate his books.

    This reminds me of Immanuel Kant -- philosopher, certainly not poet if you read his stuff -- from whom did survive lecture notes and the like, but who also worked in the margins of his favorite text book. He had his printer make him a copy with extra wide margins for this reason. So when we think about "taking notes", it sounds sensible to look for more than a loose-leaf collection of ideas -- especially since the Zettelkasten technique scholars are known to have used for centuries was targeted towards assembling book manuscripts, not to create an idea hypertext.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

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