The Richard Stonley diary: Rediscovering an early Shakespeare purchase

Richard Stonley diary
Richard Stonley. Diary labelled “KK.” Manuscript, May 1593 to May 1594. Folger Shakespeare Library.

The diary that Richard Stonley left behind is fairly typical for his time period, with daily entries about activities, family happenings, and expenses. It’s a brief and easy-to-miss record of one of these expenses—a book purchase—that makes Stonley’s diary stand out from the crowd, as Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, explains:

Forty-five years ago on Shakespeare’s birthday, the Folger announced that Laetitia Yeandle, then curator of manuscripts, had “rediscovered” a long-lost diary entry marking the first recorded purchase of Shakespeare’s first publication, Venus and Adonis.

Richard Stonley, one of Queen Elizabeth’s accountants who was later imprisoned for embezzlement, recorded his purchase of the narrative poem in his diary in 1593, less than two months after it was licensed to be printed.

While this Shakespeare reference was known to scholars in the late 18th century, the diary disappeared from view until 1972, when it was purchased by the Folger. The diary was recently selected, along with five other Folger documents related to Shakespeare’s life, for inclusion on the UNESCO International Memory of the World register.

Learn more about the Richard Stonley diary on Shakespeare Documented.