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Play in Shakespeare's Hand in D.C. Display

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March 13, 2016

On display in March 2016 in Washington, D.C., is a sample of William Shakespeare’s handwriting.

It’s not just any sample of the famous playwright’s handwriting. It’s the last surviving copy of a play written in his own hand.

Shakespeare is generally thought to have written dozens of plays and sonnets and acted in a host of plays as well. Surviving examples of his handwriting are not all that common.

The manuscript on display is The Booke of Thomas More. The title character is the advisor to England’s Henry VIII who ultimately lost his life for refusing to acknowledge the religious supremacy of the Church of England. 

Shakespeare didn’t write the entire play himself, literature experts believe; rather, he was part of a number of playwrights who rewrote a play first written by Anthony Munday, a playwright famous in his own right for writing plays on Robin Hood and for writing history plays a few years before Shakespeare. Experts on Shakespeare generally agree that certain parts of the final version of the play were written by Shakespeare himself.

The book, on loan from the British Library, is on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The display is larger than that one book. The Folger Shakespeare Library has an ongoing exhibit titled “Shakespeare, Life of an Icon.” That exhibit is one of many across the U.S., across the United Kingdom, and across the world that celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare.

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