SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The second Impression. Edited by John Heminge (d. 1630) and Henry Condell (d. 1627). London: Printed by Thomas Cotes, for Robert Allot, 1632.

The Second Folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays. The second edition, first issue, of the most important work in the English language, containing for the first time Milton's anonymous epitaph to Shakespeare, the first of Milton’s English-language poems ever to appear in print. Shakespeare’s collected works are considered the most important and influential in the English language, described by Samuel Johnson as “the mirrour of life” and by his contemporary Ben Jonson as “not of an age but for all time.” The urge to read, rather than just see, Shakespeare’s plays surfaced in his own lifetime, with about half of his works appearing as single quarto editions. The First Folio, collecting Shakespeare’s plays for the first time and dividing them into the thematic categories of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies was issued in 1623; this Second Folio, appearing nine years later, is a page-for-page reprint of the First Folio. While errors were introduced during the course of reprinting, “the text of the present edition shows signs of careful, if unauthoritative, revision” (Greg).

John Milton’s epitaph to Shakespeare in 16 verses, beginning “What neede my Shakespeare for his honour'd bones” appears under an 8-line verse “Upon the Effigies” on leaf A5r. This leaf and the title-page, with which it is conjugate, are recorded in various issues and states, indicating which of the five publishers of the Second Folio was responsible for that allocation of copies. This copy with setting “A”, state 1b of the imprint; the watermark is on the Effigies leaf. According to Todd, this state indicates that this is one of the copies reserved for the Cotes brothers. Greg III:1113; Pforzheimer 906; STC 22274; W.B. Todd. ‘The Issues and States of the Second Folio and Milton's Epitaph,’ in: Studies in Bibliography V (1952-53), pp 81-108.

Median folio (311 x 209mm). 454 leaves. Roman and italic types. Double column, 66 lines, headlines and catchwords, pages box-ruled, woodcut head- and tailpieces and initials, engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout in third state (final leaf apparently supplied from another copy, tiny marginal tear at foot of title and blank upper margin of first 4 leaves, similar tiny tear repaired at foot of title, dedication leaf and 3d3, A3 with tiny rusthole affecting a couple of letters, occasional light spots or stains, heavier staining on F3 and 2c4-5, a few leaves lightly browned, washed and pressed). Early 20th-century red morocco by Riviere & Son, triple fillet gilt borders, spine and inner dentelles richly gilt, all edges gilt (minor stain on upper board, expert repair to upper hinge); housed in a modern cloth chemise and red morocco box. Provenance: Sir William Frankland, 1st Baronet, c.1640-1697 (faint signature on title) – ‘RR / D’ (faint initials on verso of title) – a few faint marginal pen trials or pencil decorations – small calligraphic ‘T’ to upper margin of ‘To the Reader’ leaf – 18th-century underlining and corrections in ink to several plays – Paul Caesar Alther, 1889-1961 (by descent to his daughter and sold, Sotheby’s New York, 10 December 2010, lot 87).
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