Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies


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SHAKESPEARE, William. Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Original Copies. The Second Impression. London: Printed by Tho. Cotes, for Robert Allot, 1632. Folio (9 by 13 inches), early 18th-century full paneled calf rebacked in calf-gilt, raised bands, red morocco spine label; pp. [xvii], 303, [1]; 46, 49-100, [2], 69-232 [i.e., 264]; 168, 269-419. Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box.

The extraordinarily rare 1632 Second Folio of Shakespeare's plays. This copy comprises complete original second folio printings of all the plays—as well as the Effigies leaf that contains John Milton's first published poem, the anonymous "An epitaph on the admirable Poet, W. Shakespeare"—with the exception only of the last leaf of the final play, Cymbeline. This final leaf, along with the title page featuring Martin Droeshout's engraved portrait of Shakespeare, and the preceding leaf with Ben Jonson's "To the Reader" have been supplied in very fine facsimile, the only leaves so supplied. Overall a very good copy of this extraordinary highspot of English and world literature, an exceptional rarity.

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. As the title page is present in facsimile, the issue of this particular copy is impossible to ascertain; its conjugate leaf, the "Effigies" leaf, is present in Todd's first state. (See William B. Todd, "The Issues and States of the Second Folio" Studies in Bibliography, V, 1952-53, pp. 81-108). Collates in accord with the Pforzheimer copy, including all irregularities of signatures and pagination (leaf A3 signed A2, etc.), text complete with the exception of the aforementioned three facsimile leaves: the title page, the facing "To the Reader" leaf, and the final leaf, all as often. With woodcut initials and head- and tailpieces. STC 22274a. Pforzheimer 906. Greg III, 1113-1116. Jaggard, 496. Bookplate (C.H. Wilkinson, designed by Badeley, 1938). Occasional early ink marginalia and annotations, along with a few inoffensive scribbles to preliminaries.

Occasional soiling and staining to text, not affecting legibility. A few preliminary leaves rehinged, a few marginal paper repairs, particularly to final three leaves, with very small portions of the ruled border and a handful of words supplied in neat pen facsimile to those leaves. Expert restoration to extremities of paneled calf.

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