British Library Treasures in full: Shakespeare in quarto
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Print Shakespeare quartos

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 by Octavo, 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.


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