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Photo of Shakespeare -  Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies magnify
Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies

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“INCOMPARABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE”: THE SECOND FOLIO OF SHAKESPEARE, 1632,AN EXCEPTIONAL AND COMPLETE COPY

SHAKESPEARE. Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression. London: Printed by Tho. Cotes, for Robert Allot, 1632. Folio (9 by 12-1/2 inches), early 20th-century full red crushed levant morocco gilt, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

The extraordinarily rare 1632 Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, with engraved title page portrait of Shakespeare by Droeshout. A complete and lovely first issue copy, very handsomely bound in full morocco-gilt by Riviere & Son. It is believed there are fewer than 200 copies, many of which are incomplete or defective. This edition contains the first appearance of John Milton in print.

The four folios of Shakespeare are the first four editions of Shakespeare’s collected plays. These were the only collected editions printed in the 17th century (a 1619 attempt at a collected edition in quarto form was never completed). The Second Folio, like the First Folio of 1623, contains 36 plays, all the plays that are considered to be wholly or in part by Shakespeare (with the exception of Pericles, which was added to the Third Folio edition of 1663). “The folios are incomparably the most important work in the English language” (W.A. Jackson, Pforzheimer Catalogue). The folios of Shakespeare, because of their incalculable impact on the language, thought and literature of our world, are the most desirable of all English language books, the prize of any collection.

The Shakespeare Folios “have an aura of book magic about them. For a bibliophile it is a volume devoutly to be wished for and rarely attained; to a library it is a crowning jewel of a collection… Shakespeare, indeed, is a name to conjure with. No lengthy explanations are needed; he is simply the most distinguished author in the English language” (Legacies of Genius, 36). It may seem strange that the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works did not appear until seven years after his death, and that 17 of the 36 plays had never been published before (and might have been lost had the folios not been printed). But in the 17th century, plays were not routinely printed and often survived only in manuscript form. They were not considered “serious literature” in the sense that poetry was, so the publishing of a play was not likely to bring social prestige to the author, nor was there a great market for the published work; plays were to be performed and attended, not read. “Had Shakespeare not enjoyed the affection of his fellow actors his plays might not have survived. About three-fourths of the prolific output of playwrights in his lifetime has disappeared. But Shakespeare’s fellow actors, as a token of friendship to him, did us the great service of preserving the texts of his plays when they arranged publication of the First Folio in 1623. What other playwright of that age was so well served by his fellows? The First Folio Shakespeare, the compilers explained, was published not for profit but ‘only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare” (Boorstin).

It is estimated that no more than 1000 copies of the Second Folio were printed, and it is believed less than 200 copies are still in existence today, many of which are incomplete or defective. The Second Folio corrects some textual errors of the First Folio and is notable for containing the first appearance of John Milton in print, his anonymous “Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare,” composed about two years before the publication of the Second Folio while he was still a student at Cambridge. Second folio edition, first issue, Todd’s imprint setting “A,” State 1b. Watermarks consistent with those described by Todd in the first issue: leaf A3, dedication leaf, signed “A2” on paper with watermark of a small fleur-de-lys (Heawood 1420); A5 “Effigies” leaf with watermark of a large crown with fleur-de-lys (Heawood 1731); A6 Digges’ verses leaf with small pot watermark, found on other text leaves. This copy is complete with original engraved portrait by Martin Droeshout, printed from the same plate as the portrait in the First Folio, in third state, as usual (Grolier, 6). With woodcut initials and head- and tailpieces. Final leaf supplied from another copy of the same edition; this copy is complete with no text supplied in facsimile. STC 22274a. Pforzheimer 906. William B. Todd, “The Issues and States of the Second Folio,” in Studies in Bibliography, 5, 1952-53, pp. 81-108. Greg III, 1113-1116. Jaggard, 496. Faint signature of William Frankland, 1st Baronet, of Thirkleby, York, on title page. Eighteenth-century notes in lower margins of some leaves in the more popular plays (Macbeth, Hamlet, etc.) defining some obscure words; errors in pagination neatly corrected. Leaf A1 “To the Reader” with small calligraphic ‘T’ penned in a 16mm square in upper margin and two small pen-trials effaced in lower blank region.

Some light inkstains on a few leaves especially pages 30-33 of Coriolanus, interior generally clean, preliminary and final leaves skilfully washed. Front inner hinge expertly reinforced. A beautifully bound copy of this cornerstone of English literature. Most rare and desirable.