cover image Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature

Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature

Stuart Kells. Counterpoint, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64009-183-2

Historian Kells (The Library) delivers a fascinating examination of a persistent literary mystery: William Shakespeare’s library. Through careful research, Kells constructs a narrative around the centuries-long search for this elusive holy grail for scholars, interwoven with anecdotes of the author’s roguish escapades and comments on the ongoing debate about the Shakespeare oeuvre’s true authorship. Citing records and studies from the 16th century to the modern day, Kells discusses various potential clues uncovered by scholars, such as a 1570 Bible filled with “more than a thousand underlinings and notes,” many relevant to Shakespeare plays. In addition, Kells includes his own interpretations of what can be gleaned from Shakespeare’s writing, such as the playwright’s “close familiarity with the physicality of books and the mechanics of their production.” He also relies heavily on the legwork of John Fry, a 19th-century bookseller whose efforts uncovered many primary sources for the plays, such as the manual Practice of the Use of the Rapier and Dagger; and the Honor of Honorable Quarrels (stabbing, Kells notes, is “the principal cause of death” for Shakespearean characters). Shakespeare fans will surely be riveted by the new information brought to light in Kells’s rich literary survey. (Apr.)