William Shakespeare

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies : The Second Folio (1632)

 The Second Folio open at the title page

Click here to see a flat image of these pages

Here in Wadham's second folio we can see the portrait of Shakespeare, an engraving by Martin Droeshout. This was printed in the first folio of 1623 but Wadham's copy lacks the portrait, so it is shown here from the second folio. In Wadham's first folio the portrait has been sliced out, and unfortunately this happened quite often. As Shakespeare's fame and value increased, the portrait was traded as a separately valuable artifact. The second folio was printed in 1632, and debate continues over whether a nine year gap between first and second edition shows that Shakespeare's works were very popular, or the opposite; nine years can seem fast or slow, depending on which other works of literature it is compared to. It also remains a real matter of debate whether the first folio was printed because Shakespeare was marketable or whether its publication created a market as Shakespeare had suffered a loss of interest in the 1620s with playwrights like John Fletcher much more popular. The second folio is now a more common book than the first or third folios, perhaps suggesting more were printed.

The second folio of 1632 claimed to be 'corrected' and there are many small changes made to the text of the plays. This process of correction was probably conducted in the printing house itself and not with reference to other, more authoritative texts, but instead corrected in terms of fashion and sense. Some corrections show changes in fashion in spelling in the almost decade since the first folio. One, if not more, of the correctors seems to have known Latin and French, and uses these skills, for instance correcting quotations in Latin and the spellings of Roman characters. One of the correctors also seems to be particularly attentive to metre and to stage directions in his corrections.

Text kindly provided, especially for this exhibition, by Lizzie Scott-Baumann