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The Fourth Folio
William Shakespeare, 1685
SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Original Copies. Unto which is added, Seven Plays, never before Printed in Folio … The Fourth Edition. Edited by John Heminge (d. 1630) and Henry Condell (d. 1627), except for Pericles and six other plays added by the publisher of the Third Folio, Philip Chetwind (d. 1680). London: Printed [by Robert Roberts and others] for H. Herringman, E. Brewster, and R. Bentley, 1685.

The Fourth Folio, the last of the 17th-century editions of Shakespeare's works. Charlotte Rowe's copy. The Fourth Folio remained the preferred edition, regarded by editors, readers, and collectors as textually superior until Samuel Johnson and Edward Capell established the primacy of the First Folio text in the mid-18th century. It was the first collected edition of Shakespeare to appear in over twenty years, meeting a renewed interest in the Bard’s work and becoming part of Herringman’s series of folio publications of the pre-Restoration “Triumvirate of Wit”: Shakespeare, Jonson, and Fletcher. It was set from the second issue of the Third Folio, containing the additional plays (of which only Pericles is now regarded as authentic) but now in a grander presentation, printed on larger paper with a larger type font and more with more liberal spacing. Herringman and his co-publishers decided on a larger paper size to increase the number of lines per page and decrease the bulk of the book. In common with the Third, the Fourth Folio dropped the final “e” from Shakespeare’s name, a habit which persisted until the beginning of the 19th century.

Tantalizingly, this copy bears the ownership inscription of Charlot Rowe, plausibly Charlotte Rowe (c.1718-1739), the only daughter of Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718). Nicholas Rowe was a dramatist, England's poet laureate, and considered the first professional editor of Shakespeare's plays. His six-volume edition of the plays appeared in 1709. It was the first edition to be illustrated and Rowe also introduced (for every play) act and scene divisions; character exits and entrances; and dramatis personae. Rowe based his text on that of the most recent comprehensive edition, the Fourth Folio. This practice was followed by subsequent editors for about fifty years until Samuel Johnson established the textual primacy of the First Folio with his edition published in 1765. Charlotte Rowe (who was christened "Charlot") is buried with her father in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, just steps from the monument to Shakespeare. A Fourth Folio associated personally with Nicholas Rowe and his family, and in such fresh condition, would be a monument in the history of Shakespeare studies.

Three issues of the Fourth Folio have been identified, differing only in the title-page; the present copy is the first issue, before Chiswell’s name was added to the imprint. Greg notes that 17 reprinted sheets are found in some copies; these sheets are in their original state here. Bartlett 123; Greg III, p. 1119; Jaggard p. 497; Wing S-2915; see Pforzheimer 910 and 911.

Folio (355 x 229 mm). 458 leaves. Engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout in its fourth state above the verses “To the Reader” on verso of the first leaf, title with fleur-de-lis device [McKerrow 263], Roman and italic types, double column text within typographical rules, headlines and catchwords, woodcut initials (light dampstaining from B1 to R6, first on the margins but eventually extending through about half of each page then gradually diminishing, picking up again in Ggg6 and gradually diminishing through Lll6, occasional marginal dampstaining elsewhere; about 5 leaves with repaired tears affecting some letters, rust-hole on penultimate text leaf affecting two letters). Contemporary English calf (restored with old spines and covers laid down, later endpapers, later titling piece on spine); custom full calf clamshell box by the Chelsea Bindery. Provenance: a few ink corrections to signature marks – Charlot Rowe (early ownership inscription on verso of portrait).

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Heather Weintraub
Heather Weintraub Specialist, Books, Manuscripts, & Archives

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