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“thy unvalued Booke”: John Milton's Copy of the Shakespeare First Folio

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Bourne, Claire ML 
Scott‐Warren, Jason 


John Milton’s earliest extant published poem was an epitaph on Shakespeare, which appeared anonymously among the commendatory verses prefacing the Second Folio of Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies in 1632 (sig. A2r). In eight couplets, the poem expresses adulation for a writer who is hailed as a personal possession (“my Shakespeare”), and who is destined to live forever in his “unvalued [i.e. invaluable] Booke.” Shakespeare is here, as in “L’Allegro,” the poet of an “easie” outpouring that puts “slow-endevouring Art” to shame. He is also an inspired and prophetic poet, penning “Delphicke Lines” that impress themselves deeply in their readers. While critics have in recent decades been given to sift the terms of the epitaph’s praise for hints of rivalrous critique, the influence of Shakespeare on Milton’s oeuvre cannot be doubted (Hunt 2004; Guillory 1983, 18-9; Poole 2017, 37-9). Youthful works like A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle are tissues of Shakespearean allusions, and the playwright’s presence is still palpable in Milton’s later writings—perhaps most notably in the “soliloquies” of Satan in Paradise Lost. As William Warburton observed in the early eighteenth century, the young Milton had “Shakespeare very much in his Eye” (quoted in Birch, xiv). Despite this accepted diffusion of influence, however, four lines from Richard III are all that Milton ever cited directly from Shakespeare’s writings.



47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4705 Literary Studies

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Milton Quarterly

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