"INCOMPARABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE" THE FOURTH FOLIO OF SHAKESPEARE, 1685, AN EXCEPTIONALLY LOVELY COPY
SHAKESPEARE. Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Original Copies. Unto which is added, Seven Plays, Never before Printed in Folio… The Fourth Edition. London: Printed for H. Herringman, E. Brewster, and R. Bentley, 1685. Folio (10 by 14-1/2 inches), period-style full paneled speckled calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands, red morocco spine label. $92,000.
Rare 1685 Fourth Folio of Shakespeare's plays, first issue, with the engraved frontispiece portrait of Shakespeare by Droeshout in neat facsimile, the ten-line poem by Ben Jonson and John Milton's first poem. The folios are "incomparably the most important work in the English language" (William A. Jackson). Because of their incalculable impact on the language, thought and literature of our world, they are among the most desirable of all English language books, the prizes of any collection. In handsome period-style paneled calf-gilt.
The "four folios of Shakespeare" are the first four editions of Shakespeare's collected plays, which were the only collected editions printed in the 17th century. At that time, plays were not considered "serious literature"; they were to be performed and attended, not read, and thus they were not routinely printed and often survived only in manuscript form. Hence, the first collected edition of Shakespeare's works did not appear until seven years after his death, and 17 of the 36 plays included had never been published before (and might have been lost had the folios not been printed). This Fourth Folio "contains the additional seven plays that first appeared in the 1663 [third folio] edition [only one of which, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," is now attributed to Shakespeare], as well as a good deal of correction and modernization of the text designed to make it easier to read and understand" (Folger's Choice 6). It was the last edition of Shakespeare's plays printed in the 17th century—last to appear before the editorial onslaught of the next hundred years. Because the Fourth Folio had been "modernized," it was therefore nearer a modern text than either the Second or Third, and became the edition of choice for future editors. Shakespeare's first acknowledged editor, Nicholas Rowe, for example, used the Fourth as the basis for his famous 1709 edition. The Fourth was printed on Dutch Demy Royal sheets, a larger format than any of its predecessors, and the type "is in a larger font than the three earlier editions, and more liberally spaced" (Jaggard, 497). In addition to Ben Jonson's famous epitaph, this edition also includes the unsigned "An Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, William Shakespear," regarded as John Milton's first published poem, written when he was a student at Cambridge and appearing for the first time in the Second Folio (1632). Frontispiece portrait of Shakespeare supplied in facsimile. First issue, without Richard Chiswell listed in the imprint statement, as in the second issue (a third issue lists Herringman alone). For this fourth edition, Shakespeare's text was cast off to three different printers (one of whom has been identified as Robert Roberts), who typeset their sections simultaneously, thus shortening the time it took to bring the edition to market (and tying up as little type as possible from any one printer). When the work was finished and the three sections of printed sheets collated, there was a shortage of 17 sheets from the second section, which were then hastily reprinted without the characteristic borders around the text. Copies have been found with these second state sheets. All of the relevant sheets in this present copy, however, are the original settings, with the page-borders. A second anomaly distinguishes this edition: in collating the sheets it was also discovered that text had been omitted from the first section, so that leaf L1 had to be reset in a smaller point-size to accommodate the missing text. Although there is no accurate census of the number of folios still extant today, it is believed that copies of each printing number only in the hundreds. Gap in pagination between pages 96-99 and 160-63 in Comedies, and several other mispaginations, as issued. Two leaves of Titus Andronicus, [*Ccc6] and *Ddd, pages 299-302, bound out of order within the following play, Romeo and Juliet; two leaves of Romeo and Juliet bound out of order: *Eee3 follows *Eee4 and [*Eee6] follows [*Eee5]. Text complete. Wing S2915. Pforzheimer 910. Jaggard, 497. Bartlett 123. Miller, 138-39. Greg III, 1119-1121. Dawson, "Some Irregularities in the Shakespeare Fourth Folio" (Studies in Bibliography, 1951).
Title page skillfully remargined; marginal closed tear to leaf Y3. A clean and beautifully bound copy of one of the great rarities in English literature.