Bursary Funded Research: a visit to the Houghton

The Malone Society offers bursaries, fellowships, and grants to support research. This blog post is the first in a series of pieces written by scholars who have been awarded funding from the Society. It was written by C. K. Ash, a doctoral student at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.  

Houghton Library. Photo credit: C. K. Ash
Houghton Library. Photo credit: C. K. Ash

In 2012 I won a Malone Society Bursary that funded a research trip to the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The Houghton is home to rare books and manuscripts at Harvard, and so home to an original quarto of the Admiral’s Men comedy Look About You, first printed in 1600, and to an undated manuscript transcription of the play. Because I imagine you, dear reader, as a bibliographically kindred spirit, a few technical notes on the two quarto-sized volumes of Look About You housed in Houghton.

The Kemble-Devonshire copy is one of the eight known extant quartos from the 1600 printing by Edward Allde for William Ferbrand. The actor-manager Kemble’s tidy manuscript labels the title page as a ‘First Edition’ and announces it ‘Collated | & | Perfect.’ as of 1798. The text is in mostly good condition, but the inlay obscures many headlines and some catchwords; small tears exist on several pages. The Harvard library system sent high-quality digital images of the quarto to The Shakespeare Institute, from which I did my first collation. Having checked doubtful readings in person, I highly recommend their imaging services, and cross my fingers that more archives will be able to digitize their treasures so well.

The manuscript copy is bound in half red morocco leather with marbled paperboards, done in the shop of Scottish binder C. Murton sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. It has 82 leaves, and the pages of text are lined in red to create 10.5 cm x 16 cm boxes, lightly lined and filled with neat handwriting. The copy text is unknown, but it appears not to be based on the Folger Shakespeare Library (Huth) copy, which has uncorrected variants on the inner forme of L. As far as I can tell it is a unique copy. No clear provenance for the copy has been discovered – if you know something about the c 1830 practice of transcribing Renaissance plays, for any purpose, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter (@cassieash).

The bursary also allowed me to acquire a copy of Anne (Begor) Lancashire’s unpublished 1965 doctoral dissertation, the only other modernized edition of the play. Her careful research is an excellent beacon as I tramp through sometimes boggy editorial terrain. The Houghton reading room and its staff are lovely, and I spent a few happy days poring over the two copies of Look About You. (Honestly, it was one of the most pleasant guest-researcher experiences I’ve had.)

Malone Society Reprints are one of my most valued daily resources, and I am very fortunate indeed to have received the Society’s support for my research.

C K Ash


1. The Malone Society reprint of A Pleasant Commodie, called Looke about you was published in 1913. I bought my copy second-hand in Renaissance Books at Mitchell Airport (Milwaukee, WI). If you want one of your own, and why wouldn’t you, head over to the bookshop. It’s that easy.

2. For peeks at old things newly digitized (and more!) follow the Houghton Library on Twitter: @HoughtonLib

3. Sometimes I blog about my work, sometimes generally about the arts, and sometimes I forget I have a blog. If you like, you can check it out: fourthdegreeburn.wordpress.com

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