Something Surely Hidden: Conspiracies and Codes in the Margins of a First Folio Facsimile


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One page of 'Loves Labour's Lost' in the SUNY Buffalo State facsimile of William Shakespeare's First Folio from 1866.

So what have we learned about the marginaliast?

First, that s/he was a staunch Baconian, well-versed in some of the most popular Baconian ciphers and theories. As shown on this page, the marginaliast unpacks the Latin word honorificabilitudinitatibus, popularized as a Baconian anagram in Edwin Durning-Lawrence’s 1920 book Bacon is Shake-Speare. Supposedly, the letters in honorificabilitudinitatibus can be rearranged to spell a Latin phrase translated (as the marginaliast does) as “These plays concealed in themselves from Fr Bacon proceeded.”[1] Discussion of the “long word,” as it was known, became a touchstone of Baconian cryptography.

Second, we know that the marginaliast was well-read – at least among Baconian texts. The marginalia in the SUNY Buffalo State First Folio facsimile is inspired by the work of several different Baconians, meaning the marginaliast likely read multiple books on the subject. On the page shown here alone, the marginaliast pulls together anagrams, numerology, and ciphers, all theories coming from different Baconian authors. Baconian theory was most popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, coinciding with the publication date of the most of the Baconian books referenced by the marginaliast.

Third, we’ve discovered that the marginaliast was likely writing in the early decades of the twentieth century, and probably in the 1920s or ’30s. The handwriting shown on this page is final clue pointing to the early twentieth century. As discussed previously, the block letter (or “printing”) style of writing used throughout the facsimile mimics the font of the First Folio, suggesting it is not the actual penmanship of the marginaliast. As seen on this page, the marginaliast briefly breaks into his or her “actual” handwriting – an italic cursive. Such handwriting would have been more common in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Fourth, judging by the Latin fluency displayed on the page shown here and elsewhere in the facsimile, the marginaliast was likely a well-educated, probably wealthy, man. This idea is further supported by the marginaliast’s use of the Oxford English Dictionary and ownership of the First Folio facsimile itself. Only five facsimile versions of the First Folio were produced between 1866 and 1954[2], meaning it was likely difficult to purchase such a facsimile in the 1920s and -30s. The marginaliast likely had the education and wealth necessary to procure it.


[1] See Friedman, 102-6.

[2] T.L. Hubeart Jr., “Of Folios and Facsimiles: Photoreprints of the First Folio of Shakespeare”, accessed April 25, 2016,

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William Shakespeare, First Folio, marginalia, book history, Francis Bacon, cryptography, codes