The National Archives' priceless handwritten Shakespeare documents recognised by UNESCO

By Richard Moss | 20 June 2014

A unique and valuable set of handwritten Shakespeare documents held at the National Archives gets UNESCO recognition


a portrait of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare © University of Texas Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons
A unique series of Shakespeare documents, including the will bearing his signature, held at The National Archives have been accepted on to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register.

Announced in Edinburgh last night the papers relating to the playwright’s life and work were nominated by The National Archives, together with a set from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The largest collection of its kind, the National Archives’ holding of Shakespeare documents features nearly half of all known contemporary references to the Bard’s life and provides a priceless perspective on Shakespeare’s life in London.

They show him appearing as a resident in the Elizabethan city, with the documentary trail then charting his rise in fortune, both professional and financial, reaching the heady heights of success at Court.

All of the nominated documents are handwritten sources bearing Shakespeare’s signature and were each discovered following pain staking research in the centuries after the playwright’s death.

They include a letter patent issued under warrants carrying the signet and privy seal authorising Shakespeare and his companions to perform plays throughout the realm under royal patronage.

An account of Edmund Tylney, Master of the Revels for 1604-5 lists plays performed at Court and William Shakespeare’s will made 25 March 1616 and authenticated  22 June 1616 bears his signature.

“It is testament to their importance not only to the UK but to the literary and cultural world globally,” said Clem Brohier, Acting Chief Executive and Keeper of The National Archives.

“They provide a tangible connection to Shakespeare allowing us to get closer to a man who died nearly 400 years ago yet continues to have an unparalleled influence on language and culture in the UK and beyond.”

The inclusion by UNESCO in the UK Register complements the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register, which is a catalogue of documentary heritage of global significance and outstanding universal value.

There will be an opportunity for the public to see some of the valuable documents in 2016 when The National Archives stages a programme of events to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.

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Latest comment: >Make a comment
Feel the pain!

A stake through the heart, finally. The last broken hand has fallen off the $2.00 Oxfordian watch.

Thank you UNESCO.
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