This is, of course, tremendously exciting in itself. However, the cover of the book has obviously been reinforced at some point in a rather amateur fashion. Inside the back cover there is a piece of parchment that appears to be a list of school sanctions (beatings and detentions) together with the boys’ misdemeanours.

There is a date that is partially obscured but seems to refer to “April 1573.” There are seven names listed, two are quite illegible; four others can be identified as Richard Tyler, William Smith, John Lane and Robert Debdale. The seventh name appears to be that of William Shakespeare (Gulielmus Shaxspere) who seems to have been beaten ten times—six of the best doesn’t seem to have been enough for young Will—for weaknesses relating to his studies in rhetoric. His knowledge of Latin is reported as “small” and his Greek was worse still (“less”).

This appears to connect with another fragment, a set of council disbursements, whose handwriting is typical secretary hand of the later Elizabethan period; the date is partially erased but is possibly June 1578.

It is the record of a meeting of the council including Shakespeare’s father John on the fifth of that month. The legible part of the new text reads: “At this hall yt was recorded that wm sonne of the said ioh. shaxpeare was brought into the councell chamber before the bayliffe and aldermen where very manifestlie and apparantlie yt was provid agaynst the said wm certayn mysdemeanoures; for which these receiptes: Item paid by m. ioh shsp for mending ye scole deske and a bord and nailes for it—iis. Item for mending ye quarrelles [glass panes] in ye scole howse—xiiid. Item paid for wm his sonne defaycing with inke of Ovid’s booke of Metamorphoses—xvd.”

Scholars are privately excited but as yet understandably cautious in their public response to the new find: “How this escaped the great 19th century biographers like Halliwell-Phillipps it’s hard to imagine,” said historian Michael Wood. “We thought everything is known that could be known about Shakespeare the Man”.

Emma Smith, Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford, enthused: “It’s long been thought that the hapless schoolboy Will in The Merry Wives of Windsor might have been a self-portrait—this is exciting new evidence for that theory.”

The book is currently undergoing further scrutiny in the rare books department of the British Library in London.

It is, of course, a remarkable coincidence that such a significant find should be announced on the first day of the very month of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.