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In her early twenties, Dickinson belonged to a group including men from the College and women in her circle who gathered over several months to read Shakespeare aloud. Her sister Lavinia’s diary entry on Friday March 21, 1851, mentions “The reading circle commenced this evening.” Dickinson turned to Shakespeare for inspiration for the rest of her life. Her family owned an illustrated set of his plays. References to his characters and quotes from his plays and sonnets feature heavily in her letters and poems. Late in her life, Dickinson wrote to sister-in-law Susan, “With the Exception of Shakespeare, you have told me of more knowledge than any one living –To say that sincerely is strange praise.” (L757)

Emily Dickinson to Susan Gilbert Dickinson (L757), about 1882, in The Letters of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), 3:733.

Bookshelf with a handsomely gilded 8 volume set of Shakespeare in center. Vol. 5 has been removed from the shelf.