This is a copy of the ‘second quarto’, one of the three early modern printed editions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
What does ‘second quarto’ mean?
‘Quarto’ – the Latin for ‘fourth’ – is a printer’s technical term which refers to the size of the book. The paper has been folded twice, so as to produce four leaves, each a ‘fourth’ of the original sheet. It is described as the ‘second quarto’, or ‘Q2’, because it is distinct from the 1603 ‘first quarto’ (‘Q1’). Some editors have described Q1 as the ‘bad quarto’; a label invented by the critic A W Pollard to describe editions he thought to have been assembled from memory. (Not all critics agree with Pollard.)
Critics of Q1 are encouraged by the fact that Q2 announces on its title page that it has been ‘Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie’.
But because Q2 is missing passages which later appeared in the 1623 First Folio edition of the play – and vice versa – an editorial tradition has emerged of producing editions which combine Q2 and the First Folio.
This Hamlet has become the most familiar version, which has arguably encouraged people to disparage the less-known Q1. In Q1, for example, Ophelia’s father is called Corambis rather than Polonius, and the famous ‘To be or not to be’ speech occurs in 2.2 rather than 3.1. Yet the composite Q2/Folio text is nevertheless often cut in performance, since it can otherwise run to four hours.
What do we know about this specific copy?
Because it was printed over the New Year, some copies of Q2 were dated 1604, and others 1605. Three of the former survive, and four of the latter, one of which is shown here. This specific copy was owned by the famous playwright and Shakespearean actor David Garrick (1717–1779), who performed as Hamlet between 1742 and 1776. On his death, this copy was bequeathed to what was then the British Museum Library.