Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shakespeare Forgeries

John Payne Collier

John Payne Collier, portrait
John Payne Collier, portrait
John Payne Collier was a contented man. He had a charming wife, six lovely children and a fine home where he entertained friends and fellow scholars. Most of all, in 1841, he published a very well received edition of Shakespeares plays. The volumes did not sell well, but they were admired. To a genial and pleasant man like J. Payne Collier, that was more than enough.

In addition to his publishing accomplishments that included a history of the English drama, Collier founded the Shakespeare Society. Now a vigorous 63-year-old at the pinnacle of his career, Collier could look forward to a pleasant retirement. With 23 grandchildren, he was the pater familias of a proper middle class English family.

However, J. Payne Collier had more to offer the world of Shakespeare scholarship. It had been his good fortune to acquire a copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare published in 1632, some nine years after the famous First Folio and a mere 16 years after the death of the great poet. This Second Folio was called the Perkins Folio, after its previous owner, who had the foresight to identify his ownership of the book with his signature on the cover.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
Here, then, in the year 1852, Collier was to present to the world his most amazing discovery. This was even more significant than the various papers he had found at Bridgewater House, the home of the Duke of Devonshire, where Collier had been the Dukes librarian some 30 years before.

The Perkins Folio had thousands of emendations, notations in ink that changed some words and word orders in some of Shakespeares plays. The notations were in a 17th Century hand. Collier asserted that only someone with an intimate knowledge of the plays could have made these corrections, and that the Old Corrector, as Collier called him, must have worked from original copies of the plays. This truly was amazing. Collier published his remarkable finding in an article, Notes and Emendations in the Text of Shakespeare. He at once set about producing a new edition of Shakespeares plays that incorporated the changes in the Perkins Folio. This would make his 1841 edition, and all previous editions, irrelevant.

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