Shining new lights on Shakespeare’s will

As a contribution towards the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we draw attention to the remarkable scientific analysis, research and conservation of Shakespeare’s will that has been carried out by NHSF member, The National Archives.

The will was analysed using different lighting techniques to reveal information about its materiality. Transmitted light (light passing through the object) provides information about the mould used to make the paper or any watermarks. Raking light (when an object is illuminated from one side only, at an oblique angle in relation to the surface) shows distortions in the surface, for instance providing information about how the will had been folded. Examination under ultraviolet light was carried out to help identify the types of media used and reveal any damage, and x-ray fluorescence to provide information about the elemental composition of the paper.

In addition to this, the team at The National Archives worked with colleagues at UCL (an NHSF member) to carry out near infrared testing, and imaging specialists at the British Library (also an NHSF member) to carry out multispectral analysis of the will. Multispectral imaging can reveal differences in the composition of the inks being analysed. In this case there appears to be differences in the inks used on pages 1 and 3 of the will, compared to that used on page 2, leading The National Archives’ research specialist Amanda Bevan to propose a reinterpretation of the will, both in terms of its date and Shakespeare’s intentions.

The will is currently being exhibited as part of ‘By me William Shakespeare’ at King’s College London (Inigo Rooms, Somerset House) until 29th May 2016 as part of Shakespeare400.

Amanda Bevan’s blog on her research into the will ‘Shakespeare’s will: a new interpretation’, which includes some of the multispectral images produced as part of the analysis is, available at:

A blog on the conservation processes necessary before technical analysis could be carried out, by Conservation Manager Nicola Fleming, is also available on The National Archives’ website at:

The post includes short videos of the treatment process and provides an insight into the complex decision-making that accompanied this piece of work.


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