Twelfe-Night, Or what you will

Chrzanowski 1663sTwelfth Night, Or What You Will is one of William Shakespeare’s most acclaimed comedies with Malvolio, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Feste providing much memorable merriment. It was likely written in 1602 to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas—the first record of performance was February 20, 1603. The play was first printed in 1623 as part of the First Folio, and the present copy was extracted from the Third Folio, published in 1663–4. This printing of Shakespeare’s dramatic works added seven plays, only one of which, Pericles, is now accepted as a work by Shakespeare. The Third Folio is the rarest of the first four folios due to an event shortly after publication. The 1660s decade was star-crossed for London.

With the Restoration and Charles II taking the throne, new theaters began to open. Then the Great Plague of London hit in July 1665. Outbreaks of the disease had occurred many times before, including the plague of 1603 that forced a temporary closing of the theaters and resulted in the death of about 30,000 Londoners. The 1665 outbreak of the bubonic plague was not the worst, but it was the last large one and very memorable. Over twenty percent of London’s population died and about 100,000 total in England. By September about 7,000 people per week died in London. The death toll slowed down enough for Charles II and his entourage to return to London in February 1666. Cases continued at a reduced rate until September, when another tragedy struck: the Great Fire of London.

The fire started at a bakery on Pudding Lane after midnight on Sunday, September 2. It rapidly spread across the City of London, an area bounded by the Thames and the city walls in which about 80,000 people lived at the time. The principal means for firefighting was to demolish structures in the path of a fire to create firebreaks; the Lord Mayor, however, was indecisive in reacting. Street violence including the lynching of foreigners broke out on Monday. By Tuesday the fire spread over most of the City, destroying St. Paul’s Cathedral, over 13,000 houses, eighty-seven parish churches, and most of the City’s buildings. The Great Fire finally was contained before it reached Whitehall (the King’s palace), helped by calming winds and effective use of gunpowder from the Tower of London to create firebreaks. But the London that John Stow had so meticulously described was gone.

Booksellers’ shops and printworks were lost in the conflagration. Many stationers tried to save their books by relocated them into a crypt beneath the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Fire, however, broke into the vault, and as reported, the books “were all consumed, burning for a weeke following.” The loss to stationers was estimated at some £200,000. Most certainly a large number of yet-to-be-sold Third Folios were destroyed.

Chrzanowski 1663s *

Title List

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