Transcripts

William Drummond of Hawthornden video transcript

Many people bought Shakespeareʼs plays during his lifetime – some of them were so popular that they went through several editions. Only one manuscript fragment of drama in Shakespeareʼs handwriting survives, so it is thanks to these early purchasers, who were prepared to spend their money buying playbooks, that the texts of his plays were preserved. But we know who very few of them were.

One early reader about whom we know a great deal is William Drummond of Hawthornden. A Scottish laird, who wrote courtly and religious poetry, and spent most of his life in Edinburgh. He may seem an unlikely supporter of what was then seen as the rather vulgar and godless English stage, but Drummond was an enthusiastic reader and collector of plays.

One early reader about whom we know a great deal is William Drummond of Hawthornden. A Scottish laird, who wrote courtly and religious poetry, and spent most of his life in Edinburgh. He may seem an unlikely supporter of what was then seen as the rather vulgar and godless English stage but Drummond was an enthusiastic reader and collector of plays.

Drummond was born into a Scotland that was enjoying a flourishing court literature under James VI, himself a poet. It was here that Drummond was introduced to the love poetry of England, France and Italy which inspired his own poetry.

Drummond first went to London in 1606 where he may have seen Shakespeareʼs plays performed on stage.As his reading list for that year shows he certainly read them. Drummondʼs interest was love poetry and it may have been this that drew him to the plays. Is it a coincidence that the two Shakespeare quartos which he kept are the romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, and the romantic comedy Loveʼs Labours Lost, which he marked up to highlight the love sonnets spoken by characters in the play?

In 1626 Drummond gave the first of several donations of books to the Library of the University of Edinburgh, which was still only a few decades old. Among the books he presented were the quarto editions of Romeo and Juliet and Loveʼs Labourʼs Lost. It was extremely unusual for a scholarly library to take books like this – famously, Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford Universityʼs Bodleian Library, banned them as ʻtrashʼ.

In his Essay on Libraries, Drummond asked ʻwhat availeth the writing of books, if they be not preserved?ʼ It is thanks to his gift of these two books to the Library of the University of Edinburgh that they are preserved today, with only two careful owners in their history.

NLS Logo