Shakespeare, William.
LOT SOLD. 2,808,000 GBP
Shakespeare, William.
LOT SOLD. 2,808,000 GBP

Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History, Fine Bindings, Private Press and Children’s Books, including the First Folio of Shakespeare


Shakespeare, William.

the first collected edition of shakespeare’s plays (‘the first folio’) in a contemporary or near-contemporary binding

a tall and exceptional copy of the most important book in english literature, the sole source for eighteen of shakespeare’s plays, and, with the king james bible published just a few years earlier, one of the two greatest books in the english language. As the current compiler of the most up to date census of Shakespeare First Folios has recorded, this copy has “no loss of text other than a few letters, has suffered little damage, is uncleaned, and has not been repaired (save minor repairs to the title-page and the last leaf)…” (Anthony West, The Shakespeare First Folio. The History of the Book. Volume II. A New Worldwide Census of First Folios, p.104).  No other such textually complete copy of the First Folio in a mid-seventeenth-century binding is known to survive in other than institutional hands (that formerly at Oriel College, Oxford, and now in the library of the late Sir Paul Getty at Wormsley, is in a binding from about 1650 but lacks two leaves from Romeo and Juliet). This copy is further remarkable in that it shows considerable signs of careful reading in the seventeenth century by a contemporary or near contemporary reader, has been seemingly owned since that time by only two persons, Dr William Bates (1625-1699) and Dr Daniel Williams (c. 1643-1716), both Nonconformist divines, and has since 1729 been in the library founded by the second of these—a library which is today of primary importance for the history and study of Nonconformist history and theology. it has therefore the longest uninterrupted ownership of any copy in the world.

Containing thirty-six plays (eighteen printed here for the first time) the First Folio is the cardinal point of all Shakespeare’s dramatic output around which all Shakespearean scholarship has revolved, and on which is based the world’s knowledge of his oeuvre. Together with the King James Bible, Shakespeare’s plays have for centuries formed the bedrock of the literary culture of the English speaking world, and the form in which they were first given to the world is as important and moving an artefact as a great painting. From this book Shakespeare’s image is as well known as the facts of his life are obscure, but it is the magnificence of what he wrote that is above all here commemorated, as Ben Jonson realised when he wrote in ‘To the Reader’

O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face; the Print would then surpasse
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Folio (332 x c.220mm.), 3 parts in 1 volume, 453 leaves of 454 (the ‘To the reader’ leaf supplied in engraved facsimile), the normal issue complete with Troilus and Cressida and Prologue (Blayney, The First Folio,  p.24),  press-variants on C4r, vv2v and vv3r all in state 2 (Blayney, introduction to The Norton Facsimile, p.5), title with inset engraved portrait by Martin Droeshout (193 x 160mm.), printed on French hand-made laid paper, text in double columns within rules, 66 lines, headlines and catchwords, Roman and italic letter (20 lines 82mm), woodcut head- and tail-pieces and initials, binding: mid-seventeenth-century (c.1640) panelled calf, fillets in blind on upper and lower covers enclosing small wheatsheaf tools, rebacked c.1889, spine in seven compartments, later calf label in second compartment lettered in gilt “shakespeare”, label in final compartment at foot lettered in gilt “lond. 1623”, all leaves with red edges, upper cover with central pentagonal gilt lozenge (enclosing lettering “D.W.| L.”), single endpapers at the beginning and end (initial endpaper loose),  [PI]A1+1 tipped to a binder’s inserted leaf (seventeenth-century) which is tipped to [PI]A2 (these leaves recently expertly re-inserted)

provenance: purchased in the seventeenth-century by Dr William Bates (1625-99); his library acquired in 1699 by Dr Daniel Williams (c.1643-1716); in the library established by his will, Dr Williams’s Library, 1716 to the present day, with the library stamp in red on title-page “Dr. D. Williams’s Library | Red Cross Street | London.”

collation:  [PI]A6 ([PI]A1+1, [PI]A5+ 1:2); A-Bb6 Cc2;  a-g6  ÷gg8  h-v6  x4; ‘gg3:4’ (± ‘gg3’) ¶ - ¶¶6  ¶¶¶1 aa-ff6  gg2 Gg6 hh6 kk-bbb6, 454 leaves

contents:  [PI]A6 ([PI]A1+1, [PI]A5+ 1:2) ([PI]A1r  blank, [PI]A1v Ben Jonson’s verses “To the Reader” [this leaf supplied in engraved facsimile and tipped to [PI]A1+1], [PI]A1+1r title-page with portrait by Droeshout in third state with slight shading on the ruff under the ear, small wedge of black piercing the white in Shakespeare's eyes, and single hair slightly out of place on right side: see Hinman pp.248-9), verso blank, [PI]A2 editors’ Dedication to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, [PI]A3 r editors’ note “To the great Variety of Readers”, verso blank, [PI]A4 Ben Jonson’s verses “To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author”, [PI]A5r  Hugh Holland’s verses “Upon  the Lines and Life of the Famous scenicke Poet”, verso blank, [PI]A6r “A  Catalogue of all the severall Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies…”, verso blank,  [PI]A5+ 1r verses by L. Digges and I.M. “To the Memorie of the deceased Authour”, verso blank, [PI]A5+2 r “The Workes of William Shakespeare…The Names of the Principall Actors”, verso blank); A-Bb6 Cc2 (Comedies: A1r The Tempest, B4v Two Gentlemen of Verona, D2r The Merry Wives of Windsor, F1r Measure, for Measure, H1r The Comedie of Errors, I3r Much Adoe about Nothing, L1v Loves Labour’s Lost, N1r A Midsommer Nights Dreame, O4r The Merchant of Venice, Q3r As you Like It, S2v The Taming of the Shrew, V1v All’s Well, that Ends Well, Y2r Twelfe Night, Z6v blank, Aa1r The Winters Tale, Cc2v blank);  a-g6  ÷gg8  h-v6  x4  (Histories: a1r The Life and Death of King John, b6r The Life and Death of King Richard the second, d5v The First Part of Henry the Fourth, f6v The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, ÷gg8r Epilogue, ÷gg8v The Actors Names, h1r The Life of Henry Fift, k2v The First Part of Henry the Sixt, m2v The Second Part of Henry the Sixt, o4r The Third Part of Henry the Sixt, q5r The Tragedy of Richard the Third, t3r The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight; ‘gg3:4’ (± ‘gg3’) ¶ - ¶¶6  3¶1 aa-ff6  gg2 Gg6 hh6 kk-3b6 (Tragedies: ‘gg3’r The Prologue, verso The Tragedy of Troylus and Cressida, aa1r The Tragedy of Coriolanus, cc4r The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, ee3r The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, Gg1v The Life of Tymon of Athens, hh6r The Actors Names, verso blank, kk1r The Tragedie of Julius Caesar, ll6r The Tragedie of Macbeth, nn4v The Tragedie of Hamlet, qq2r The Tragedie of King Lear, ss3v The Tragedie of Othello, vv6v The Tragedie of Anthonie, and Cleopatra, zz3r Cymbeline, 3b6r colophon, verso blank).

condition:  lacking preliminary leaf [PI]A1 (supplied in engraved facsimile, with note in ink on lower margin “This facsimile of missing leaf was presented by Mr Lionel Booth March 30th 1889”: see note below on theft of original leaf in nineteenth century), title-leaf mounted on leaf advertising “Books Printed by Peter Cole at the Exchange in London.” (dating from 1661 or later: see note below), title leaf with repairs to small tears (including above portrait, affecting “Copies”, and margin of lower corner), shorter singleton 31 (recto final page of Troilus and Cressida, verso blank: size 317 x 208 mm) probably supplied from another copy (probably when bound in the mid-seventeenth century), tiny wormhole towards the end of the preliminary leaves and first few leaves of text ( [PI]A5,[PI]A6, [PI]A5+ 1, [PI]A5+ 2, A1-B1), some ink marks or blots on approximately fifteen leaves (sometimes slightly affecting a few letters), small tears  to B5 ( just affecting border), I2 ( loss affecting two words), L4-5 (slight loss to a few words in inner margin), Q4 (touching five lines), S3 (tiny hole affecting one letter), T4, Z6 (slight loss to outer margin), e1(encroaching upon a few lines at lower margin), e4 (missing small piece of lower margin, affecting a few letters), l5 (lower margin, not affecting text), v4 (small piece torn off at lower corner), ¶¶4 (at lower margin affecting two lines), 31 (missing fore-corner, affecting satyr ornament), aa4 (slight loss to outer margin, affecting border), ee2 ( lower outer margin, affecting few lines), nn4, pp5 (inner column with loss of few letters), rr5 (bottom fore-corner missing, with loss of few letters and catchword), ss4 ( affecting border at lower margin), ss5, 3b6 (slightly creased and with repairs to short tears); a few other very minor tears or tiny holes and some insignificant spotting or staining of some leaves (chiefly at beginning and end)

Read Condition Report Read Condition Report


West 27; Lee 57; STC 22273; Greg p.1109ff; Bartlett 119; Pforzheimer 905; Pollard Shakespeare Folios and Quartos p.108ff; Grolier English 19; PMM 122

Peter Blayney. The First Folio of Shakespeare, Washington D.C.: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1991

Peter Blayney, introduction to The Norton Facsimile: the First Folio of Shakespeare, ed. Charlton Hinman, second edition, New York, 1996

Tarnya Cooper,  ed. Searching for Shakespeare, National Portrait Gallery, 2006

Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells, eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2001

Stephen Greenblatt, general editor. The Norton Shakespeare. Based on the Oxford Edition New York, 1997

W.W. Greg. The Shakespeare First Folio. Its Bibliographical and Textual History, Oxford, 1955

W.W. Greg. “The Printing of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in the First Folio”, in his Collected Papers, ed. J.C. Maxwell, Oxford, 1966

R. Travers Herford and Stephen K. Jones.  A Short Account of the Charity & Library Established under the Will of the Late Rev. Daniel Williams, DD, 1917.

Charlton Hinman. The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare, 2 volumes, Oxford, 1963, vol.1, pp.248-9

Stephen Kay Jones. Dr. Williams and his Library, 1947

Gary Taylor. “Making Meaning Marketing Shakespeare 1623”, in Peter Holland and Stephen Orgel (eds.) From Performance to Print in Shakespeare’s England, 2006

Stanley Wells. Shakespeare for all Time, 2002

Anthony West. The Shakespeare First Folio. The History of the Book, Vols. 1 and II, Oxford 2001—2003

Anthony West.  “A Model for Describing Shakespeare First Folios, with Descriptions of Selected Copies”, The Library, Sixth Series, Vol. XX1, No. 1, March 1999

David L. Wykes, “Williams, Daniel (c.1643–1716)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29491]

Catalogue Note

The Story of the First Folio
The First Folio contains thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays, printing eighteen of them for the first time. Two collaborative plays, Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen, were almost certainly deliberately omitted by the editors either because they knew they were not entirely Shakespeare’s own work or there were problems with the surviving texts or with the rights. A lost play, Love’s Labour Won, may have been omitted for similar reasons, or it may be an extant play under a different title. With the probable exception of three pages in the manuscript of the collaborative play Sir Thomas More, now held in the British Library, no contemporary manuscripts or prompt copies of any of Shakespeare’s plays survive (three manuscripts of a play called Cardenio, possibly by Shakespeare and Fletcher, survived until the eighteenth century, but are now lost). Without the Folio, therefore, these eighteen plays may well have been lost for ever: All’s Well that Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Henry VI part one, Henry VIII, Julius Caesar, King John, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Winter’s Tale. A German abridgement of The Two Gentlemen of Verona was published in 1620 by an English touring company, but aside from this no other printed versions of any of the eighteen had appeared before. The text for the second, third and fourth folios published later in the seventeenth-century is based upon it; furthermore it provides the copy- or ‘control’-text for twenty-seven of the plays in the most recent scholarly edition, The Oxford Edition (see Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, William Shakespeare, A Textual Companion, pp.145-47 and p.70).

Shakespeare had died in 1616 and seems to have made no effort in his lifetime to get an edition of his plays published. He may or may not have had a sense of his own greatness as a dramatist, but the lack of a proposed collected edition is not necessarily that surprising. At this time plays were written principally to be performed, and no author before 1623 had had one volume devoted entirely to his complete plays: this is another remarkable fact about the First Folio (Ben Jonson’s Workes appeared in the middle of his career in the year of Shakespeare’s death, but this included verse). It was also probably not thought to be in the interests of an acting company like the King’s Men, of which Shakespeare was a member and shareholder, to have the plays they were performing—and which were legally their property—circulating in print.

It is not actually known who came up with the plan for a collected edition of the plays. Shakespeare may have encouraged it in the last few years of his life, and it may well have been discussed by him with his actor colleagues in the King’s Men (formerly, before 1603, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men). As Stanley Wells has remarked, it is surely significant that the only three colleagues remembered in his will are Richard Burbage (1568-1619), John Heminges (c.1566-1630) and Henry Condell (c.1576-1627).  It was the intrepid Heminges and Condell, the two surviving colleagues, who took the prime responsibility for assembling the various texts and editing them, with no previous experience, into a form in which they could be published. The manuscripts would have included ‘playbooks’ (prompt copies) and what were rather uncharitably known as ‘foul papers’, i.e. Shakespeare’s own working drafts. Heminges and Condell remark in their epistle to the reader in the First Folio that “His mind and hand went together, and what he thought he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers”. Whatever the state of these ‘foul papers’ some of them were transcribed into fair copies by a professional scribe such as Ralph Crane, who worked for the King’s Men. Crane probably prepared transcripts of  The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, The Winter’s Tale and (possibly) Cymbeline. None of these survive, although other examples of Crane’s work are known. Heminges and Condell then had the job of deciding which plays to include and what to exclude (Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Sir Thomas More, Cardenio and Love’s Labour Won, if available, were excluded: see above), what printed editions and manuscripts to send to the printer, the order of the plays, and the categories under which they should be grouped. “They were exceptionally diligent” (Wells, foreword to Anthony West,  The Shakespeare First Folio: the History of the Book, vol.II).

The rights acquired by prospective publishers in the early seventeenth century differed markedly from copyright today. A play (one of the playhouse manuscripts from the King’s Men, for instance) would normally be acquired outright for a single payment of as little as 40s., and once it was in print publishers would have to negotiate with the owner of plays already in print, whose stock of unsold copies would be devalued by a new edition.

Condell, Heminges and other members of the King’s Men initially had to contend with an unauthorised edition of Shakespeare’s plays, which was initiated by Thomas Pavier in 1619. Pavier had acquired the rights to several Shakespearean and other plays and in this year hired William Jaggard to print a one-volume edition of reprinted quartos, beginning with the ‘Bad’ texts of Henry VI (parts 2 and 3) and Pericles.  The complete edition was prevented by a ruling by the Lord Chamberlain, who instructed the Stationers’ Company that no plays belonging to the King’s Men should be printed without their consent. Pavier responded by arranging for Jaggard to reprint seven more of the quartos with false dates, passing them off as remainders of earlier editions (see Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare). Before printing could commence the publishers of the First Folio needed to reach terms with Pavier on the four plays to which he owned rights, as well as with two other publishers (each owning one play).

To finance publication a syndicate of publishers was formed: as the colophon at the end records, this consisted of “W. Jaggard, Ed. Blount, I. Smithweeke and W. Aspley”. As the principal publisher Blount had almost certainly enlisted the others in order to secure the necessary rights to the plays. Jaggard had negotiated with Pavier on his four plays as described above (although Pavier may have held on to Pericles since it was excluded from the Folio); Smethwick held the rights to Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew; Aspley owned Henry IV Part 2 and Much Ado about Nothing.

The Printing of the First Folio
The printing of the First Folio began early in 1622 in the printing house of William Jaggard and his son Isaac. By then Jaggard senior had been blind for several years, and he died shortly before printing was finished in October 1623. It had been expected that the Folio would be ready by mid-1622, since it was listed in the Frankfurt bookfair catalogue as a book to appear between April and October 1622. In the event, however, printing took longer and was far more complicated even than had been envisaged.  In his monumental study The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio (1963) Charlton Hinman reconstructed the events in the printing house, consulting and comparing fifty-five of the copies in the Folger Library in Washington D.C. He demonstrated that the Folio took nearly two years to complete, involved as many as nine compositors (although one, compositor ‘B’, set nearly half the pages) and was set by formes (not seriatim as had been previously thought). He also identified the pairs of type-cases used by the compositors, and showed that copy was cast off so that two compositors could work at the same time on the same forme, thereby reducing the time required for composition in relation to press-work.

The compositors used Crane’s fair copy transcripts for the six plays mentioned above. Twelve plays were probably set up from previously printed quartos which had been annotated from ‘playbooks’ (prompt copies): Titus Andronicus, Richard the Third, Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard the Second, The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV part one, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and King Lear. Three plays were set directly from playbooks: Julius Caesar, As you Like it, and Macbeth; nine were set from Shakespeare’s foul papers: The Taming of the Shrew, Henry VI part two, Henry VI part three, Henry VI part one, The Comedy of Errors, Henry V, All’s Well that Ends Well, Timon of Athens and Antony and Cleopatra; and six from transcripts made by unidentified scribes: King John, Henry IV part two, Twelfth Night, Othello, Coriolanus, and Henry VIII.

Printing was halted on more than a hundred occasions to make small corrections to the text and consequently copies of the Folio almost always vary in their make up of uncorrected and corrected sheets. Indeed, to date no two copies of the Folio have been found to be exactly identical: see Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare, pp.14-15. “The Folio is by no means unusual in this respect. Virtually all English books printed before the eighteenth century vary to some extent from copy to copy, although few other books have been so thoroughly searched for variants”. Charlton Hinman found over 500 press-variants, although—as in other books of the period—most of these turned out to be trivial, consisting of corrections of obvious misprints such as inverted letters and incorrect pagination, and changes in spelling, punctuation and spacing. In his introduction to The Norton Facsimile: the First Folio of Shakespeare Peter Blayney has reduced the potential number of significant variants to five, using the criterion of what “might conceivably affect editorial procedure…For a variant to matter to an editor, the uncorrected reading must contain potentially useful information not found elsewhere (in the corrected state, or in an earlier edition)…”. It is these five variants that are included by Anthony West in his “Model for Describing Shakespeare First Folios” (see The Library, Sixth Series, Vol.XXI, No.1, March 1999). It should be noted, however, that this calculation of significant variants must remain provisional until all surviving copies of the Folio are collated: Hinman was restricted to 55 of the Folger copies, and Anthony West’s work, with fuller descriptions using the model outlined above, is yet to be completed (the first two volumes of The Shakespeare First Folio have been confined to an analysis of the Folio’s sales and prices, and to a worldwide census utilising shorter descriptions).

In Dr Williams’s copy these five press-variants are all in the second (corrected) state:
[The Two Gentlemen of Verona:] C4r, l.1383 “follow”, l.1395 “villaine”, l.1459 “grievously”; [Othello:] vv2v, l.2823 “hearts”, vv3r, l.3011 “Soule sat singing”.

By the summer of 1623 the Folio was nearly finished. However, it appears that Blount and Jaggard had failed to obtain all publication rights before printing began. Charlton Hinman’s analysis has revealed that there was an interruption during the printing of the history plays (during Richard II), probably caused by negotiations with Matthew Law (who owned this play and two others); a more serious problem occurred with the printing of Troilus and Cressida, which originally was to have been followed by Romeo and Juliet. It appears that much of Henry Walley’s 1609 quarto edition of this play remained unsold, and Walley was therefore unwilling to allow the play to be reprinted. Work was consequently abandoned on the play after one and a half sheets of the quire in which Romeo ended and Troilus began had been set. Leaves gg3 and gg4, therefore, with Romeo ending on gg3r and Troilus beginning on gg3v, were laid aside. The last page of Romeo was reset on the recto of the first leaf (signed ‘Gg’) of a new quire,  and Timon of Athens—the substituted playbegun on the verso of the same (Timon is, however, a shorter play than Troilus and it failed to fill the space, which is why there is a gap in the pagination and signatures between it and Julius Caesar). The Catalogue at the beginning was printed excluding Troilus from the list.  But then it seems on 8 November, when only the Preliminaries were left to be printed and Jaggard and Blount went to Stationer’s Hall to register their rights, a last minute search of the Register found that although Troilus had been entered by Henry Walley and Richard Bonian in 1609 there was in fact a previous entry, by James Roberts in February 1603. After Roberts retired William Jaggard acquired most of his publishing rights, and Isaac had just inherited these from his father. Last minute negotiation therefore allowed Troilus to be included.

The Three Issues
Peter Blayney has now established that the first issue of the First Folio was offered for sale in November 1623 without Troilus (three copies survive without the play). “Anyone who bought it obtained a complete book whose contents matched the Catalogue”. When Troilus at first became available the printers initially used the discarded leaves gg3 and gg4 (crossing through gg3r which contained the last page of Romeo and Juliet) and then completed the play using a series of arbitrary signatures, without pagination (¶ - ¶¶6 ¶¶¶1): the whole was then inserted in the only likely place, namely at the head of the section of Tragedies to which it had originally been assigned. This second issue has also survived in three copies, with the redundant page of Romeo and Juliet  “neatly crossed out from corner to corner, and the leaf-signature ‘gg3’…struck through” (Blayney, The First Folio, p.24). Finally, “after another detectable delay, somebody either noticed or remembered that the playhouse manuscript of Troilus contained a prologue that had not been included in the 1609 quarto. That provided an excuse for eliminating the crossed-out page of Romeo”. Leaf gg3 was cancelled therefore, and a fresh leaf—the last part of the Folio to be printed—substituted, containing the hitherto unprinted Prologue to Troilus on the recto, and the first page of the play reprinted on the verso. Dr Williams’s copy is in this third issue, as are the two presentation copies of the Folio which survive: (1) the deposit copy sent by the printer before 17 February 1624 to the Bodleian Library in Oxford (sold as “superfluous” in the 1660s after being replaced by a copy of the third folio; famously re-purchased after a national appeal in the face of stiff competition from Henry Folger for a record price of £3,000 in 1905) and (2) the copy presented by William Jaggard to his friend Augustine Vincent, whose Discoverie of Errours had accompanied the Comedies through the press. The earliest record of a retail purchase of a copy of the Folio is an entry for 5 December 1623 in the account book of the antiquary Sir Edward Dering, who purchased two copies: probably one for reading and one for use in his private theatricals at Surrenden Hall, Kent.

Number of copies
It is now thought that no more than 750 copies of the First Folio were printed (available unbound at a price of around 15s.). There seems no doubt that the venture was at least a respectable success, with demand strong enough to require a second edition within a decade (the 1632 second folio, printed by the inheritor of Jaggard’s shop Thomas Cotes, again for a syndicate of publishers: see lot 96) . Out of the c.750 printed, 219 copies are recorded as extant in known locations by Anthony West in his 2003 census (The Shakespeare First Folio. The History of the Book. Volume II. A New Worldwide Census). Of these 46 are in the British Isles (five in the British Library), 147 in North America (82 at the Folger Library in Washington), and 26 in the Rest of the World (including 12 at Meisei University in Tokyo). Nine other copies, originally recorded by Sidney Lee in his 1902 census, are recorded as “extant” but “at present unfound”: these include the copies stolen from John Rylands University Library at Manchester in 1972 and the University of Durham in 1998.

Many of the surviving copies are incomplete and lack at least one of their text leaves.  Only nineteen copies are recorded worldwide as remaining in private hands. Only one of these, the copy formerly owned by Oriel College Oxford and now in the late Sir Paul Getty’s Library at Wormsley, is in a mid-seventeenth-century binding. there is no copy such as dr williams’s that survives in private hands with all its text leaves in a comparable contemporary or near-contemporary binding (the Oriel-Getty copy lacks two leaves from Romeo and Juliet).

The Portrait
The portrait by Martin Droeshout the younger (1601—after 1639) is “the only portrait that definitely provides us with a reasonable idea of Shakespeare’s appearance” (cat.1, Searching for Shakespeare, National Portrait Gallery exhibition catalogue, ed. Tarnya Cooper, 2006). This cannot be said of any surviving oil portrait, not even the Chandos portrait (c.1600-10, attrib. John Taylor, d.1651), despite the fact that it was regarded as authentic within the playwright’s living memory. Droeshout’s engraving was probably commissioned by Heminges and Condell themselves; it is likely that the surviving members of Shakespeare’s family saw it, and Ben Jonson, in his preface, praises the artist’s ability to capture Shakespeare’s “face”.  It may well be that Droeshout based his likeness on an existing lifetime portrait, now lost.

The Folio title page was printed on a separate leaf. The engraved portrait may have been printed not by Jaggard but by a rolling press specialist elsewhere: perhaps the engraver himself, Martin Droeshout. Dr Williams’s copy is in the third and usual state. Only a few copies were printed before shading was added to the ruff, and “not long afterwards the plate was modified for a second time, when minor changes were made to the hair and to the highlights in the eyes. It is unlikely that anyone but Droeshout would have considered those alterations necessary.” (Blayney, The First Folio, p.18)

The History of this copy  
The Folio was part of the library bequeathed by Dr Daniel Williams (c.1643-1716), the leading dissenting minister of his generation, to his trustees on his death in January 1716. it therefore has the longest uninterrupted ownership of any copy in the world, with the exception of Bishop Cosin’s copy formerly at Durham (stolen in 1998, present whereabouts unknown). The Folio is recorded in the Library’s first printed catalogue published in 1727 under “Libri in Folio. English”, as Shakespear’s Works, Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.  Lond. Per Jaggard. 1623 (see Bibliothecae quam vir doctus, & admodum reverendus Daniel Williams, STP bono publico legavit, Catalogus 1727, p. 28).   In 1699 Williams had purchased the library of his fellow nonconformist minister, Dr William Bates (1625-99), for between £500 and £600.  Although there is no firm evidence, it is generally accepted that the more literary parts of Williams’s library, including the Shakespeare Folio, belonged originally to Bates.  

Dr Daniel Williams
Few personal details about Williams survive. He was probably born at Wrexham in Denbighshire in about 1643, but his parents have not been identified. His education is also unknown, but was almost certainly interrupted by his decision to become a nonconformist minister. In about 1664 he became chaplain to the countess of Meath in Ireland, and three years later he was called as minister by the congregation at Wood Street, Dublin. In 1675 he married Elizabeth Juxon, sister to Alice, countess of Mountrath.  As a fierce opponent of Catholicism, he felt it necessary in 1687 to withdraw to London for his personal safety and quickly gained an influential place amongst dissenters. In 1688 he became minister of the Presbyterian meeting in Hand Alley, Bishopsgate, remaining there until his death. Besides a number of controversial works and sermons he also published two substantial works on religious faith. His first wife died on 10 June 1698, and he remarried on 2 January 1701, to Jane Guill, the daughter of a merchant who had been a Huguenot refugee. Neither marriage produced any children, but through them Williams acquired much of his wealth, which he used sparingly.:  “he exercis’d a Frugality as to his own Person, possibly to an Excess” (John Evans, A funeral sermon …of … Daniel Williams, 1716, p. 44). He is known to have been consulted by William III on Irish affairs, and to have used his influence on behalf of dissenters in Scotland and the American colonies as well as in England and Ireland.

Dr Williams’s Library
In his will Dr Williams devoted the bulk of his estate to create a trust for 2000 years for religious and educational purposes. In contrast to the detailed and elaborate provisions he made for the encouragement of an educated ministry—he left money to Harvard University and for the propagation of the gospel among native Americans, provisions to support a preacher in the Irish tongue to convert catholic Ireland, and two preachers, one for North and one for South Wales—the provisions for his library were surprisingly modest, indeed inadequate. The opening of the first library building in Red Cross Street in 1729 was largely due to the efforts of the original trustees in raising the money. The Folio bears the Red Cross Street Library stamp on the title page.  Although the original benefaction was dominated by theology (as might be expected), the 1727 catalogue discloses an unexpectedly wide-ranging collection.   It included choice editions of classical, French and English literature, including, surprisingly, a number of printed plays, two with Ben Jonson’s autograph, first editions of Beaumont and Fletcher, and Dryden, and of course the Shakespeare Folio. There were a surprising number of Italian and Spanish books, a number of medical books, as well as books on mathematics and astronomy.  “The collections were greatly enlarged over the years with many important gifts, and Williams’s original benefaction of about 7600 books forms only a small part of the modern library. After several moves, the trustees acquired University Hall in Gordon Square, London, where the library opened in 1890” (Oxford DNB).

The backing on the title-page
The printed backing on the title page is headed “Books Printed by Peter Cole at the Exchange in London…” and contains four columns of text describing “Physick Books” and “Divinity Books”. Peter Cole (active 1637-65) was a bookseller and printer of theological books. The latest date of any first edition advertised on Cole’s sheet is 1661, for books by Burroughs (Wing B6066) and Marshall (Wing M747).  Thus it can be concluded that the sheet cannot have been pasted to the title before 1661. If pasted in as advertising the date would, therefore, be 1661-5, if as a reinforcement to a title-page already worn it could be a little later.

The Missing “To the Reader” leaf
The “To the Reader” leaf is supplied in facsimile, presented to Dr. Williams’s Library by Mr Lionel Booth in March 1889 (as recorded by note in ink on supplied leaf; see also West, Vol. II, p.104) The bicentenary account of the Library speculated as to whether the original was “removed by ‘Two gentlemen to examine Shakespeare folio’ entered in the Visitors’ Book on February 27th 1864” (R. Travers Herford and Stephen K. Jones, A Short Account of the Charity & Library Established under the Will of the Late Rev. Daniel Williams, DD, 1917).

The Manuscript Annotations
A remarkable feature of Dr Williams’s Folio is the extensive series of early markings and annotations found in the volume, throwing light on how seventeenth-century readers understood and studied Shakespeare’s plays, as well as on provenance and date of binding of the volume.

The Folio contains copious marks and annotations, written chiefly in dark brown ink, some pages marked in pencil (most notably, all of Troilus and Cressida). They comprise a series of distinct markings in the margins or alongside the gutter, including small circles, horizontal dashes, vertical lines, brackets, trefoils (twice), and in a few instances extended wavy lines, sometimes doubled, marking off long passages. Although it is impossible to determine whether these markings are all in one hand, their number and consistency throughout the volume suggest that the main series may well have been entered by one person, perhaps over a period. Moreover, in some five of the plays, there are verbal annotations in the margin, in the same coloured ink, in an italic hand of the mid-seventeenth century. These, and the fact that the annotations have been slightly cropped by the binder in that period, may serve as a guide to the likely date of the main series of markings throughout.

In addition, as is quite common with books of this period, the Folio has fallen into the hands of several other contemporaries or near-contemporaries, for the most part probably juveniles, who have used very occasional borders or blank pages for random scribbling, making pen-trials and the like. Their contributions include the repetition of one or two play titles and, unless it is in the hand of the main annotator, a quotation from Othello (I, ii). This is written, apparently from memory, three pages after the lines appear in the printed text (ss6, recto), as “you shall more command with yeares then with your treatnings”, the last word being a substitute for the printed “Weapons” (ss4, verso). Yet another marginal inscription of a somewhat coarser nature (“…But I desier the readeres mougth to kis the wrighteres arse”) is written in a rounded hand of the mid-seventeenth century. The fact that this too has been cropped by the binder supports the dating of the binding as mid-seventeenth-century or so. Then finally, on the very last blank page of the volume (3b6v), a set of amatory verses in French (beginning “Caliste O lieu de me punir ecoutie mon martire”) has been added in black ink, subscribed in another hand “John Plomer 1605”. Although reminiscent of the kind of verse written about that date by François de Malherbe (1555-1628), the ‘subscription’ is likely to be independent of, and perhaps written earlier than, the verses, which are inscribed in what would appear to be a late-seventeenth-century hand. In brief, the conclusion that can be drawn from this evidence is that the main set of markings and annotations and most of the scribbling were written before the mid-seventeenth century, when the volume was most likely bound, and that the French verses were added later in the century. All of these inscriptions would almost certainly have been present before the volume was acquired by the solidly respectable Nonconformist divine Dr William Bates (1625-99), even though the unlikely suggestion has been entertained that Bates might have been responsible for the main annotations himself (West, vol. ii, p.106).

Nature of the Main Annotations
The main set of markings and annotations, several hundred in number, extend throughout the volume, the only play left untouched by a reader’s pen being The Merry Wives of Windsor. The number of markings per play ranges from about 12 or 13 (in The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors) to around 360 (in Henry VIII, by far the most annotated play). Plays with quite large numbers of annotations include Hamlet (c.185), Anthony and Cleopatra (c.135), Julius Caesar (c.110), All’s Well that Ends Well (c.100), Richard III (c.94) and Richard II (c.90). By comparison, plays with moderate numbers of markings include Much Ado about Nothing (c.60), Titus Andronicus (c.55), and the two parts of Henry IV (c.46 and c.38). 

What is certain is that the markings bear witness to remarkably close attention paid to the text of virtually every play in the volume by a contemporary or near-contemporary reader. He is, moreover, likely to have been versed in the conventions of ‘commonplace books’, which were so fashionable in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially among the universities and inns of court. Students were, indeed, encouraged to compile compendia of quotations from their reading matter, preferably arranged systematically under topic headings. Lines and passages were characteristically selected for entry because they were sententiae, which encapsulated succinctly general truths or pearls of wisdom, or because they illustrated well particular subjects, or else because they exemplified clever uses of rhetorical devices or fine and eloquent writing and figures of speech, such as might be used as models. So widespread was this fashion that some Elizabethan and Jacobean literature, including plays, was even published with the ‘purple passages’ or fine phrasing highlighted by the use of double quotation marks or else pointing hands in the margin, so that readers might readily spot them for copying into their commonplace books.

The present reader makes a passing nod to the conventions of commonplace-book headings with a number of marginal annotations such as “joy”, love”, “beuty”, “virtue”, “war”, “victor”, “happy”, “comendacon”, “time”, “wit”, and (a word repeated frequently) “simile”. Since these sidenotes, which serve as sign posts, occur in only five plays (Much Ado, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It), the reader evidently tired of them and abandoned the practice, probably because he kept finding in Shakespeare’s text so many more instances that exemplified these and other topics and features. Otherwise the profusion of markings throughout, with alternating series of circles, dashes, vertical lines and other devices (the forms of marking apparently chosen at random, with no discernibly consistent system employed), evidently signal the numerous lines and passages that he found of special interest, because so eloquently or strikingly expressed. Such examples range from what are effectively pithy sententiae – such as “Fire that’s closest kept, burnes most of all” (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I, ii: B5, recto), or “Experience is by industry achieu’d” (ditto, I, iii: B5, verso), or “When sorrowes comes, they come not as single spies, / But in Battaliaes [Battalions]” (Hamlet, pp3, recto), among very many others – to large portions of scenes or whole pages. For instance, he vigorously marks off with a jagged line the scene in which the ghosts appear to Richard III on the eve of the battle of Bosworth, and the scene in Timon of Athens (I, I: Gg6, verso) where the senators banish Alcibiades is one where the reader seems to have begun to mark individual passages and then abandoned it in favour of drawing double jagged lines also down the whole margin.

A number of what are today among the most famous passages in Shakespeare are marked – such as Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech (II, ii: oo5, recto) or Macbeth’s dialogue with the doctor about a “minde diseas’d” (V, iii: nn3, recto). Yet many of these are overlooked in favour of a multitude of other lines and passages whose phrasing and imagery attracted the reader more: lines such as “Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath, / That the rude sea grew ciuil at her song” (Midsummer Night’s Dream, II, I: N3, recto), or “Bemocke the modest Moone” (Coriolanus, I, I: aa2, recto), or “Though Venus gouerne your desires, / Saturne is Dominator ouer mine” (Titus Andronicus, II, I:dd1, recto), among many other examples. What is probably the same reader even took the trouble on one page to correct the printed text, changing by hand three times the name ‘Elinor’ to ‘Margaret’ in Henry VI Part 2 (n3, verso). He also very occasionally underlines twice some particular word – for instance, “Corriuals” in Henry IV, Part I (f4, recto) -- probably because he thought it unusual.

In brief, the profusion of markings in this volume does much to illuminate a contemporary or near-contemporary reader’s taste for, and in some measure interpretation of, Shakespeare’s works. It is also instructive to see that what was clearly his favourite play was Henry VIII, which was partly written by John Fletcher. His plays seem to have been as popular as Shakespeare’s at least into the 1620s before they were collected in the Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647, a fashion which these markings seem to reflect clearly. The present markings and the selection of the text that they signal are effectively a major addition to the few recorded seventeenth-century manuscript and printed anthologies of dramatic extracts that include Shakespeare. They enhance the interest and significance of this exceptionally sound copy of the First Folio with an additional dimension of meaning and context.

Dr Williams’s copy is undoubtedly one of the two finest copies to appear at auction in London since the Second World War (bearing comparison only with the Houghton copy, sold in June 1980).

English Literature, History, Fine Bindings, Private Press and Children’s Books, including the First Folio of Shakespeare