With the 400th anniversary this year of the death of one of our greatest and most influential playwrights, William Shakespeare, I found myself cropping images of some of his first printed quartos for the creation of an e-reader as part of the Shakespeare image collection. Now existing as high quality e-readers are the plays Love’s Labours Lost (1st Quarto Edition) and Romeo and Juliet (2nd Quarto Edition), both of which are used as part of the collaborative project concerning Shakespeare’s printed quartos, The Shakespeare Quarto Archive (http://www.quartos.org/index.html). These works themselves have very unique histories and are important in Shakespearean studies for many reasons. Their place in the Special Collections in the University of Edinburgh Library is invaluable.
Long before the publication of Shakespeare’s first folio edition, which we now often associate with the printed version of Shakespeare, was the first quarto editions of 21 of his well-known plays. 18 of these quartos were printed before his death in 1616, many of which had multiple editions printed within this time. The first to be printed in quarto form was the tragedy Titus Andronicus in 1594. It wasn’t until 1598 though that Shakespeare was accredited for his printed plays. We see his name appear first on the first quarto of Love’s Labours Lost, which the university holds a copy of and is now available digitally.
Ironically, the other e-reader I worked to create did not attribute Shakespeare in print, but rather his name was written in by a later hand. The inscription “WIL. Sha.” is penned neatly under the title. This second quarto of Romeo and Juliet, printed in 1599, is described as the “good” quarto, most likely taken from Shakespeare’s folio papers of the play. The first edition, or the “bad” quarto, is thought to be a representation of the play derived from the memory of the actors. The second quarto is nearly half the length of the first quarto with many corrections to the originally printed text.
To view these quartos in their entirety, head over to the Image Collections page specifically for Shakespeare’s work (http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/UoEsha~1~1). Or consult them in person at the Centre for Research Collections Reading Room, Shelfmarks De.3.73 for Romeo and Juliet (2nd Quarto, 1599) and De.3.74 for Love’s Labours Lost (1st Quarto, 1598).
Caitlin Holton, MSc Book History and Material Culture