Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies

Chrzanowski 1632sPerhaps it was the groundbreaking Workes by Ben Jonson in 1616. Perhaps the King’s Men simply wanted to honor their deceased friend, fellow actor, playwright, and fellow company shareholder. Perhaps they were reacting to the publication in 1619 by Thomas Pavier and William Jaggard of a collection of plays without clear titles to print some of them. Or perhaps the Pavier quartos caused them to realize that there would be a demand for a collection of Shakespeare’s plays (and money to be made). In any case, the stage was set for the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.

After the death of Richard Burbage in 1619, John Heminge and Henry Condell became the principal shareholders of the King’s Men. They collected thirty-six Shakespeare plays, eighteen of which had not been printed. The world might have lost The Tempest, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth, among other dramas. A challenge they faced was that the ownership rights for printing as many as twenty of the plays were held by others. William Jaggard was brought into the effort because he had many theatrical connections. He likely helped to negotiate rights to print the plays that others owned; his son Isaac managed the printing. The first folio was published in 1623. It is uncertain how many copies were produced; estimates range from 750 to 1,500, of which about 240 copies survive (seventy-nine are in the Folger Shakespeare Library). Despite the likely cost of the about £1, the book must have been popular. The Second Folio was issued nine years later.

Thomas Cotes, who took over the presses after Isaac Jaggard’s death, printed the Second Folio in 1632. The preliminary poems in the new edition include a new “An Epitath on Shakespeare” by I. M., the first printed work by John Milton. The dramas in the volume are the same as those in the First Folio—in fact, it is a page-by-page reprint of the plays. The Second Folio benefits from the systematic work of a competent editor, who corrected foreign-language passages, foreign names, and some garbled mythological references. The inferior typesetting and proofreading of the text, however, introduced many mistakes.

In the present copy of the Second Folio, the first leaf (“To the Reader”) is in facsimile. The title page is trimmed and inlaid to size, and the lower half of the Shakespeare portrait is supplied in expert pen-and-ink facsimile. The last leaf is also trimmed and inlaid to size; the rules and imprint at the bottom of the page are in facsimile.

Chrzanowski 1632s *

STC 22274

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675