Twenty-one of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto
before 1642. They appeared in more than 70 quarto editions, all
of which can be seen on this site. The British Library holds nearly
every edition, and has more than one copy of many of them. Those
editions not held by the Library have been supplied by our partners
the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C. in the USA, the
Bodleian Library, Oxford, the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
and Edinburgh University Library, as part of the Shakespeare
Quartos Archive project. 107 Shakespeare quartos, 93 of which
are from the British Library, can be viewed on this site.
Of the British Library’s Shakespeare quartos, many came
from the library of the 18th-century actor David Garrick, bequeathed
in 1779. Many more came from the library of King George III, which
was presented in 1823. Other quarto editions were purchased in 1858
from the collection of the 19th-century Shakespeare scholar James
Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps. Among the quartos supplied by our partners
are several from the Bodleian Library which were once owned by the
Shakespeare scholar Edmund Malone.
None of the quartos has a binding contemporary with Shakespeare.
The majority of the British Library’s copies were rebound
by the British Museum Bindery in the 19th century, many in red leather.
Most of David Garrick’s books show his coat of arms in the
centre of both covers or on the spine. The quartos from George III’s
library nearly all carry his cypher in gold on the spine. Among
the quartos from our partners, several were also rebound following
their acquisition by the individual libraries.
All of the British Library's pre-1642 Shakespeare quartos and most
of those from our partners were digitised
a company which specialised in the creation of digital facsimiles
of rare books and manuscripts.
The digitised quarto editions are placed in context by a brief
introduction to each play. These discuss the date the play was created,
and when it was first performed. The editions, in quarto and in
folio, are listed. Shakespeare drew on a variety of sources to create
his plays, and some of these are listed. Each introduction includes
the story of the play.