The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

An alter’d case: An annotated copy of The Roaring Girl

A guest post by Victoria Myers

[Editor’s note: Victoria Myers was a student in the Fall 2012 Folger Undergraduate Seminar taught by Sarah Werner. As part of that course, Victoria researched the history of a copy of the first printing of The Roaring Girl (STC 17908). She continued her research for her capstone project for her Renaissance Studies major at the University of Maryland. This is a small excerpt from that project, focusing on the discoveries she made about the book’s annotations, a sleuthing process that ultimately revealed who the unknown marginalia writer was. Although this post is longer than the typical post in The Collation, it nicely illustrates Victoria’s research process and the type of contributions to scholarship that undergraduates are capable of making.]

The marks in the book

The reason that I found the Folger Shakespeare Library’s copy of The Roaring Girl especially interesting is because it is completely marked up. Most of these marks are corrections to the text, specifically updates to the spelling. These marks consist mostly of little lines through extra letters (often ‘e’ and ‘s’), but also include things like altering “I” to “aye,” when it is not meant to be a pronoun.

modernizing spelling (fol. 3Br)
modernizing spelling (fol. 3Br)

At first, I thought that this person must have been extremely serious in their dislike of Jacobean spelling, to correct every single word in the book. However, there were other marks that indicated some other reason for this editing. These led me to believe that this person was not editing the text for their own amusement (or out of annoyance), but rather that they were editing it for a new edition of the play. 

The mark that convinced me of this is on the page with Middleton’s letter to the reader, “To the Comicke, Play-readers, Venery, | and Laughter.” (sig. A3r). As expected, the reader changed “Comicke” to “Comick.” But they also removed the first comma, and, most importantly, underlined “and Laughter.” and wrote “Roman” in the margin to the right. The only reason that I could think that they would write “Roman” next to this is if they were making a note to change the words from italic to roman type for their edition of the play.

changing font? (sig. A3r)
changing font (sig. A3r)

With this in mind, I looked for ways to interpret the other marks in the book. One type of mark is a recurring note in the text that contains a number, letter, and then “Vol. VI,” and is written next to a line of text in a square bracket. I thought that perhaps this could mean that the new edition was a multi-volume work, probably an anthology of play, and that The Roaring Girl was in the sixth volume. However, I initially had no clue what the number, letter, or bracketed text could mean.

mystery marginalia (sig. E3v)
mystery marginalia (sig. E3v)

Another form of marginalia in the book is numbers. The numbers 21-71 are written sequentially in the margins starting on sig. E3r, and somewhere in the line next to each number, there is a caret. At first, I had thought that these referred to notes which the reader could not fit in the margins and therefore wrote in a separate book. However, if the reader was indeed preparing the text for a new edition, the numbers could be for future footnotes. I was not sure why the reader would start in the middle of the book, or at the number 21 instead of 1, but I hoped this would become clear after I found and studied the new edition.

marking a footnote insertion? (sig. E3r)
marking a footnote insertion? (sig. E3r)

Identifying the edition

Finding the new edition was extremely difficult. I decided to start with editions published from 1800-1900, because the handwriting looked to be from around that time. Some editions seemed to fit (the spelling would match, or some of the formatting would), but none of them could explain all of the marks in the original. Not all of the editions had footnotes, and the others’ footnote numbers did not correspond to the written numbers. After looking through as many nineteenth-century editions that I could get my hands on, and not having any luck, I broadened my search.

I pursued the “Vol. VI” clue, and concentrated on looking for multi-volume works which had The Roaring Girl in them. Though I found a number of them, none of them had The Roaring Girl in the sixth volume. I was about to give up my search and conclude that either the new edition was never printed, that all copies were lost, or that there were very few left when I found an edition through Google Books that looked promising: Robert Dodsley and Isaac Reed’s A Select Collection of Old Plays. 1 The work had multiple volumes, so that was a good sign; it was published in 1780, which would match the style of the handwriting; and there were “critical and explanatory” notes, which would hopefully correspond to the numbers written in the text.

After a close comparison of the two books, I have come to the conclusion that A Select Collection of Old Plays is indeed the edition that the Folger’s copy of The Roaring Girl was being edited for. Almost all of the marks in the Folger’s copy correspond to a part of Old Plays. I have compared every word in the two books, and the spelling in Old Plays perfectly matches the corrected spelling in The Roaring Girl. Of course, the corrected spelling is what you would expect to find in any modern edition, so that alone is not enough proof that the editor of Old Plays was the person who made the marks.

The next marks I studied were the numbers. I thought that they would probably correspond to the footnotes, so I found the 21st footnote in Old Plays and compared its placement to the number 21 in The Roaring Girl. They matched perfectly. The caret in the line next to the written 21 in The Roaring Girl is in the same place that the footnote number 21 is in Old Plays.

marginalia in The Roaring Girl
marginalia in The Roaring Girl
same passage in Old Plays
same passage in Old Plays

Up to footnote 70, all of the footnotes in Old Plays correspond to the carets and numbers in The Roaring Girl. Number 70, however, on page 116, does not. For this footnote, there is no corresponding number in The Roaring Girl, and there is no other kind of mark at that place to indicate that there should be a footnote there. There is also no evidence that there used to be a mark which was later torn out or covered up. Since this is the only instance of the footnote numbers not matching up, I believe that it was a note which the editor decided to insert after he had marked up the book. The subsequent numbers are off by one: number 71 in Old Plays corresponds to The Roaring Girl‘s number 70, and number 72 to 71.

This still left questions about the footnotes before number 21. Footnotes 1-21 are in Old Plays, so why weren’t they marked in The Roaring Girl? In fact, they were marked. However, they were marked differently than numbers 21-71. Instead of being marked with a caret and a number, they are marked with symbols. For footnote 4, for example, there is a little dash at the very edge of the page next to the line the footnote is intended for, and next to that dash is an “X.”

a variant method of marking footnotes
a variant method of marking footnotes
same passage showing footnote 4 in Old Plays
same passage showing footnote 4 in Old Plays

Another type of mark in the book is formatting marks. The first one I noticed was the one previously mentioned on sig. A3r: the editor had underlined “and Laughter” and written “Roman” next to it. In Old Plays, the phrase indeed appears in a roman font as opposed to italic. Other marks of this type include notes to split one line into two, format a speech as prose instead of verse, and notes to alter and add some stage directions. All of these marks match the formatting in Old Plays.

formatting marks
formatting marks

The marks that most confused me when I was first reading the book were the “Volume” marks. These marks were extremely perplexing, and until I compared them to A Select Collection of Old Plays, I had absolutely no idea what they could mean. After comparing them, however, I discovered that I was not even reading some of them correctly.

The first mark is on sig. B3v.  At first, I thought it read “17 13 Vol. VI.” The second is on D1v and reads “33 Vol.VI” and is followed by a squiggly mark I couldn’t make out. The third is on E3v and reads “49 D Vol. VI”; the next mark is on page G1r and reads “65 [squiggle] Vol. VI”. The sequence continues in similar fashion through the end of the play.

"volume" marks?
“volume” marks?

These marks greatly confused me. I assumed that “Vol.” meant volume and that “Vol. VI” referred to the sixth volume of some work. In that case, I thought maybe the number was a page number, but I was totally lost when it came to the letters and the squiggles that I couldn’t even make out. The bracketed text did not give me any hints about what these marks could mean either. Because these marks were such a mystery to me, I was very excited to compare them to Old Plays and hopefully make some sense of them. Since volume VI of A Select Collection of Old Plays contained The Roaring Girl, I was almost certain that I was interpreting the “Vol. VI” portion of the marks correctly. I found the place in the play in Old Plays where the first mark was written, and everything suddenly became clear.

The first mark in The Roaring Girl was not “17 13 Vol. VI.” Rather, it was “17 B Vol. VI.” The number referred to the page, 17, the letter referred to the signature mark, B, and, as I suspected, “Vol. VI” referred to volume six. I had been misreading “B” as “13” because there was a space between the straight and curved strokes. When rereading some of the notes, I noticed that this is simply how the editor writes the capital letter B, as can be seen in one of his corrective notes on F3r.

marginalia "B"
marginalia “B”

Comparing the rest of the marks confirmed what I discovered from that first mark. The squiggle in the second mark is a very ornate “C,” the third mark was (as I’d thought) a “D,” and the squiggle in the fourth mark is an “E.” The bracketed text in these marks are all the first line on the page. The purpose of these marks was to mark the beginning of a new signature in Old Plays.

Finding the annotator

After comparing all of the marks in the Folger’s copy of The Roaring Girl to Old Plays, it was clear that somebody involved with the production of Old Plays had owned that copy of The Roaring Girl. At this point, the only thing to determine was which editor it was that owned the book. Out of the ones listed, I decided to start with Isaac Reed, a lucky choice because it appears that he did in fact own the book.

I determined this by comparing the handwriting in The Roaring Girl to samples of Reed’s handwriting. The handwriting matches perfectly, even the “B”s that look like the number 13 (Figures 50 – 55). I read his diaries from the years before 1780, when he would have been working on preparing The Roaring Girl for publication, hoping that he would mention his work on it. Unfortunately, he did not record such activities. The entries in his diary mostly consist of notes about where and with whom he dined, and what plays he saw.

comparing Isaac Reed's handwriting
comparing Isaac Reed’s handwriting

Isaac Reed was born to a baker in 1742 in London, where he lived for most of his life. He was interested in history and literature from a very young age, and he spent most of his time reading and doing literary research. He was acquainted with many writers and literary scholars during his life, including Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Horace Walpole, George Steevens, Edmund Malone, and Bishop Thomas Percy. Reed’s enormous library and extensive knowledge of English literature were great assets to many of these men when they were working on their own texts.

Reed authored little himself, but was a prolific editor and commentor. The Roaring Girl is an excellent example of Reed’s knowledge about early English literature and history. Not only did Reed update the spelling, as can be seen in the Folger’s copy, he also added many explanatory notes. These notes are often on what a word used to mean in Middleton and Dekker’s time. Another common type of note were notes giving historical context to words or terms used in the play. For example, on page 10, Reed provides an extensive note about “falling bands” where he not only explains what falling bands are, but gives the history of the term as well.

When Reed owned this book, it was probably not in the binding it is today. First, he seems to have been working from a complete copy of the text (this copy is missing its final leaf). Second, his notes are often in what is now the gutter of the book, a place where it would have been extremely difficult to write. It seems more likely that the book was rebound by a subsequent owner.

Although we do know that the book was later owned by Edwin Thomas Truman and then became part of the Folger’s collections, it’s not clear who owned the book immediately after Reed’s death in 1807. At some point, the association with Reed disappeared from the record. But my research into the book’s history reveals Reed’s ownership and the volume’s role in the production of A Select Collection of Old Plays.


VICTORIA MYERS graduated this spring from the Individual Studies Program at the University of Maryland with a degree in Renaissance Studies.  As part of her individualized major, she studied many different aspects of the Renaissance, including art, history, literature, fashion, book history, and Italian language.  She is going to continue her education by pursuing a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

  1. Robert Dodsley, Isaac Reed, Octavius Gilchrist, and John P. Collier. A Select Collection of Old Plays.  In Twelve Volumes.  The Second Edition, Corrected and Collated with the Old Copies.  With Notes Critical and Explanatory. (London: J. Nichols, 1780). Digitizations of the entire twelve volumes are available through HathiTrust: Volume 6, which contains The Roaring Girl, can be viewed at


  • Congratulations to Victoria! Excellent literary sleuthing! It’s inspiring when material from the Folger’s astonishing collection encounters such a diligent scholar.

    And to think used books with annotations were once thought undesirable!

  • This was amazing work. Many years ago, I did an MA and then a PhD on marginalia. I think that your careful scholarship on this project is a credit to your industry and to the people who were supervising this capstone. I certainly hope that you are going to go on in the field.

  • Yay Vicki! Great job. I was very honored and pleased to be a reader on this independent study project at the University of Maryland. Wonderful work!

  • Reed’s extensive library (almost 9000 volumes) was sold at auction over the course of 39 days (Nov. 2-Dec. 16, 1807). The catalogue is titled “Bibliotheca Reediana”; the UCLA copy (annotated with prices realized, totalling more than £4100 according to the annotator’s reckoning) has been digitized ( Alas, “The Roaring Girle” is not listed (at least not among the quarto plays, where it would be expected). John Nichols has a substantial article on Reed in his “Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century,” v. 2, 664-672 (and 722 on Dodsley in particular). It’s tempting to imagine that other copies of earlier editions of the plays included in his new edition of Dodsley’s collection, with similar editing by Reed, are waiting to be discovered. — This is an excellent piece of detective work, and clearly lays out the evidence; however, it should be noted that this copy was identified as Reed’s copy-text in Paul Mulholland’s edition of the play (Manchester UP, 1987, in the series “The Revel Plays”); see the list of copies collated (pp. 1-2) and note 2, p. 53, which traces the identification of the copy as Reed’s to an article in “The Library” (4th ser., 17 [1937], 395-426, at p. 423) by R. C. Bald, dealing with a copy of “The Lost Lady” in the Library of Congress, similarly marked up, but by Dodsley for the first edition of the collection.

  • It’s true that the Reed connection has been noted before, but it’s fantastic to see a detailed analysis of this book— the careful study of the marginalia, and the excellent illustrations, help you understand it in a way those earlier publications didn’t.

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