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The vast majority of buyers of the First Folio in 1623 were men. Despite this, many readers, annotators and later owners, were women.
In 1623, very few women were able to read and write and yet some women took the First Folio to their hearts, leaving traces of themselves within it.
One copy includes annotations from two different women. In the 1600s, Mary Child inscribed her name on several different pages and on the final page of Romeo and Juliet she wrote: ‘Mary Child is the true possessor of this booke’.
The book was also signed by Elizabeth Brocket. Her husband’s name appears on a bookplate in the opening pages, but the notes within it are hers. She signed her name three times, in 1695, 1702 and 1712. She also added verses from the work of poet Lady Mary Chudleigh: ‘Wife and servant are the same,/ And only differ in the Name’. A telling addition to a volume ‘owned’ by her husband.
These notes are exceptions rather than the rule, but they highlight that women readers found the plays relevant and felt the need to claim them for themselves.
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