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3. Printing Shakespeare

The first of Shakespeare's plays to be published was Titus Andronicus, which appeared in a quarto edition in 1594. The same year saw the printing of The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, retitled in the first folio of 1623 as The Second Part of Henry the Sixt. An almost regular publication of his plays began in 1597, with the first quartos of Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and Richard III. Romeo and Juliet is now described as a 'bad' quarto, with a text thought to be a memorial reconstruction. The 'good' quarto of 1599 printed a text which was nearly half as long again and with many changes, now thought to derive from Shakespeare's foul papers of the play.

The year 1598 saw the publication of the first quartos of Henry IV, Part 1 and Love's Labour's Lost, as well as second quarto editions of Richard II and Richard III. Love's Labour's Lost was the first of Shakespeare's plays to appear with his name on the titlepage. The two history plays were among the most often reprinted of Shakespeare's works, with six and eight quarto editions respectively.

More plays by Shakespeare were newly printed in 1600, 1602, and 1603. Scholars have always accepted that Shakespeare took no interest in the publication of his plays. This pattern of publication has recently led to the suggestion that the Lord Chamberlain's Men (including Shakespeare) intended to have his plays printed regularly. Hamlet was printed in this period, in a 'bad' quarto in 1603, followed by a 'good' quarto in 1604/5. The 'bad' quarto of Hamlet (which is only half the length of the 'good' quarto) was explained by theories of memorial reconstruction and printing piracy. The latter is now almost entirely discounted.

After a period when there were only reprints, more of Shakespeare's plays were printed. King Lear appeared in 1608, Troilus and Cressida and Pericles appeared in 1609. The differences between the first quarto (thought to derive from Shakespeare's foul papers) and the first folio text of King Lear have been much debated. Scholars now believe that they are different versions (both by Shakespeare) of the same play. Troilus and Cressida and Pericles were the last of Shakespeare's plays to appear in quarto editions before his death in 1616. Othello, which appeared in 1622, was the last play to be printed in quarto before the publication of the first folio. The Taming of the Shrew appeared in quarto only in 1631, in a text printed from the first folio.

Shakespeare's plays went on being printed in quarto until 1639, when the eighth quarto of Henry IV, Part 1 appeared. His history plays were most popular, followed by his tragedies. With the exception of Pericles, which had six editions, none of Shakespeare's comedies had more than three quarto editions before 1642. Pericles, of course, was omitted from the first folio, because either it was not thought of as Shakespeare's or a good manuscript text was not available. Every quarto of Pericles is a 'bad' quarto. Pericles also highlights the general practice of printing each new quarto edition from its predecessor.

Shakespeare's popularity as a dramatist is shown by the inclusion of his name on the titlepages of his plays as early as 1598. It was probably why, in 1619, the publisher Thomas Pavier apparently sought to print a collected edition of his plays. Pavier owned the rights to several of Shakespeare's plays, including The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of York (retitled The Third Part of Henry VI in the first folio), and perhaps Pericles. He reprinted all three plays in 1619, alongside several others to which he gave false imprints. The latter included King Lear, Henry V, and A Midsummer Night's Dream for which the rights belonged to other publishers. Pavier's false imprints may not have been a cover for piracy. The King's Men, perhaps already thinking of the first folio, seem to have persuaded the Lord Chamberlain to instruct the Stationers' Company not to allow further printing of Shakespeare's plays without their consent. The resulting order did not stop Pavier from having the plays printed, but he did hide the fact.

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