The first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, 'the First Folio': the most important book in English Literature and, with the King James Bible published just a few years earlier, one of the two greatest books of the English language.
Very rare in this state: a fine copy, in a handsome late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century English calf binding, of the sole source for eighteen of Shakespeare's plays.
This copy lacks four preliminary leaves, but, as Anthony West has recorded, "one of the noteworthy features of this copy is the cleanness and crispness of the text leaves, all of which are present. The text is virtually unmarred, with the loss of letters, rather than words, on about ten leaves..." (The Shakespeare First Folio. The History of the Book. Volume II. A New Worldwide Census of First Folios, p.131).
Containing thirty-six plays the First Folio is the cardinal point of all Shakespeare's dramatic output, around which all Shakespearean scholarship has revolved since publication in the early seventeenth century.
Folio (312 x 207mm.), 3 parts in 1 volume, 450 leaves of 454 (title and three other preliminary leaves supplied in 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), 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, early annotation on verso of q4
Binding: late seventeenth-century or early eighteenth-century (c.1690-1730) English panelled calf with alternating light and dark panels, covers with fillets and tooled borders in blind, floral corner tools, spine in six compartments with red morocco label, red speckled edges, single endpapers at the beginning and end, preserved in folding chemise and full brown morocco pull-off box
Provenance: William H. Robinson Ltd of Pall Mall, London, catalogue 81, 1950, item 104; acquired by Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh (d.1955), with Easton Neston shelfmark on upper paste-down
Collation (of a complete copy): [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
Condition: lacking four of the preliminary leaves ([PI]A1, [PI]A1+1 and [PI]A5+1:2, all supplied in engraved facsimile), [PI]A2 repaired (chiefly at inner and outer margins, with some restoration affecting a few letters), [PI]A3 extended, repairs at inner margins of [PI]A4 and [PI]A5, slight restoration to edges and margins of [PI]A6, minor worm hole to text near inner margin of leaves A6-H2 (chiefly affecting B5-C3), minor repairs to lower corners of A1-B4, tiny loss to outer corners of D1-D2, neat repair to tear at lower margin of H3, tiny loss to lower corner of m3, neat repair and restoration to tear near lower margin of v6, further small repairs or tears to edges or corners of L1, k3, mm1, nn4, qq2 and aaa2 (slightly affecting border), penultimate leaf bbb5 repaired at corners, final leaf bbb6 repaired at corners and outer edge (affecting border), some tiny rust or burn holes to some leaves, sometimes just affecting one or two letters (including O6, P3, P5, Bb2, b6, o4 and v6), some occasional ink blots or water-staining (chiefly affecting o6, cc4, ee3-5 and oo2-3), borders at head of q3 and gg2 very slightly shaved, borders at head of m3-m4 recto and verso cut close, near contemporary inks squiggles to upper margin of X3 (with one note in the margin), some very occasional creases, head and base of spine repaired, repairs to covers and corners, edges slightly rubbed
West 44; [Non-Lee copy]; STC 22273; Greg p.1109ff; Bartlett 119; Pforzheimer 905; Pollard Shakespeare Folios and Quartos p.108ff; Grolier English 19; PMM 122
Jonathan Bate, extended version of his General Introduction to The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works, 2007: http://www.rscshakespeare.co.uk/pdfs/Case_for_Folio.pdf
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
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
Charlton Hinman. The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare, 2 volumes, Oxford, 1963, vol.1, pp.248-9
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
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, the following 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 and 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 recent scholarly editions such as 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. 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: another remarkable fact about the First Folio (Ben Jonson's Workes - see previous lot - 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 initiated 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.
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, working on 55 of the Folger copies, 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)...".
In the Hesketh 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 play - begun 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. The Hesketh copy is in this third issue, as is usual.
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). 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). One must now be added to this total, the University of Durham copy stolen in 1998 and recovered, albeit in a mutilated state, in 2010.
Many of the surviving copies of the First Folio are incomplete and lack at least one of their text leaves. West (2003) records nineteen copies of the Folio worldwide in private hands: a twentieth is the copy formerly in Dr Williams' Library (W27), sold at Sotheby's on 13th July 2006, and another is the Munro copy sold at Christie's on 4th June 2008. Of these twenty-one private-held copies only a few are textually complete, and very few are comparable to the Hesketh copy in terms of binding or condition of the leaves.
The Case for the First Folio
The history of Shakespeare editing, like all such endeavours, is the history of the search for the correct or most authoritative text of the plays, influenced by the prevailing theoretical principles in the field of editorial scholarship. Between 1632 (the date of the second folio edition) and 1709 (Nicholas Rowe's modernised version of the First Folio) "editing Shakespeare meant correcting and modernizing the Folio" (Jonathan Bate, "The Case for the Folio"). From 1725 (Pope's edition, making use of the quartos) until around 1986 "it meant attempting to restore 'the original Shakespeare text'" (op.cit.), whether this meant making extensive collations and comparisons of quarto and folio editions, using principles of authenticity (e.g. Edward Malone in 1790) or using the "scientific" principles of "the new bibliography" of the first half of the twentieth century to establish copy-text for each play (e.g. Sir Walter Greg, John Dover Wilson, R.B. McKerrow and others). Since the Oxford edition of 1986 edited by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor and others a radical shift has occurred, with editors far more focused on the actual performance of the plays, seeking to reconstruct or best approximate the first performance as opposed to what was initially written by Shakespeare. This new emphasis on performance has resulted, most recently, in the RSC edition of Shakespeare's Works edited by Jonathan Bate, which reasserts the utter primacy of the Folio as "the text nearest to Shakespeare's stage, to Shakespeare's ownership, to Shakespeare's authority" (Charlotte Porter and Helen Clarke, preface to their Pembroke Edition, 1903, quoted by Bate). Bate's edition is not without its detractors, and fierce and often personal debates continue in the pages of the literary and scholarly journals, but his three main arguments for the Folio remain compelling:
(1) that it represents the first authorized 'Complete Works', the best that Shakespeare's friends and fellow-actors could do in the way of preparing a text: instead of simply reprinting a number of quartos they consulted playhouse 'promptbooks' and playhouse manuscripts; Hemings and Condell "were trying to present the most theatrically-inflected versions of Shakespeare they could find..." (op.cit.)
(2) in terms of the best possible principles of general editorial theory it is the closest we have or are every likely to have to any final published text authorized by the author, in the sense that it is the published text authorized after the author's death by his friends and closest colleagues, the people who knew his plays best because they performed them
(3) that the intermediaries between Hemings and Condell (managers of the Kings Men) and Jaggard's printing team, namely the personnel who prepared the texts such as the scribe Ralph Crane and the book-keeper Knight, were in effect editors of the First Folio, adding stage directions and making intelligent corrections and emendations (thus explaining the small number of really substantive press variants found by Charlton Hinman, for example, in his exhaustive analysis of 55 copies of the Folio - each containing nearly a million words of Shakespeare - in the Folger Library in the 1950s and 60s); the First Folio, therefore, "was better proof-read and has fewer significant press variants than is often supposed"
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