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
of the Contention
Houses of Yorke
and Lancaster, retitled in the first folio of 1623 as The
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
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
and Lancaster, The
Duke of York (retitled The
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
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.