Shakespeare quartos

Twenty-one of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto before 1642. They appeared in more than 70 quarto editions, nearly all of which are held by the British Library. Many of these editions are held in more than one copy. In all, 93 copies can be viewed on this site.

Many of the Shakespeare quartos 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.

None of the quartos has a binding contemporary with Shakespeare. The majority 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.

All of the British Library's pre-1642 Shakespeare quartos were digitised during 2003. The work was done by Octavo, a company specialising 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.

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