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What is the Second Folio of William Shakespeare?

The Second Folio is actually the second edition in the same format of Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. In fact the Second Folio was basically a page-by-page reprint of the First Folio and was published in 1632, nine years after the first was published. It was printed and published by people closely connected to the people in the first folio publishing syndicate. The names of the printer and publishers involved can be identified by the colophon of the Second Folio (Sig. ddd4):

The colophon of the Second Folio

The printer, Thomas Cotes, took over the printing house of his master and his son, William and Isaac Jaggard, after they had deceased in 1623 and 1627 respectively. John Smethwick and William Aspley were also members of the First Folio publishing syndicate. Richard Hawkins and Richard Meighen were included as the current rights holder for Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Robert Allot is thought to have taken over the role of Edward Blount, the principal publisher. Edward Blount died in 1632 leaving his shop, The Black Bear, St. Paul's Churchyard to be taken over by Allot. While the First Folio syndicate needed one and the same title page for all the copies in that edition, the Second Folio syndicate seemed to have found it convenient for each member to have a separate title page with different imprint telling the purchasers the location of each bookshop. The following are some available from the Meisei Shakespeare Collection:

Hawkins imprint (MR 3199)

Meighen imprint (MR 4355)

Allot imprint, first issue, first state (MR 3606)

The Allot imprint has been recognised in four variant patterns:

Allot imprint, first issue, second state (MR 3571)

Allot imprint, second issue (MR 782)

Allot imprint, third issue (MR 783)

The First English Poem of Milton's to Appear in Print

Whatever the imprint versions, the title page was printed on sig. πA2 (verso blank) and on its conjugate leaf, sig. πA5 (verso blank), which is the other side of the other half of the same sheet, was printed an unsigned poem `An Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare'. It is known to be written by John Milton (1608-74), whose Poems published in 1645 gives the date `1630' to this poem. Milton's father was a successful London scrivener and had his shop in the vicinity of St. Paul's Churchyard. Andrew Murphy in his Shakespeare in Print (2004) suggests it might have been the Cotes' idea to add a commendatory poem by a son of their neighbour's to their preliminaries.

Milton's poem and `Vpon the Effigies of my worthy Friend, the Author Master William Shakespeare, and his Workes' also printed anonymously on sig. πA5, and `On Worthy Master Shakespeare and his poems' signed I.M.S. on sigs. *3 and *3v are all that were introduced to the Folio for the first time in the second edition, which made the Second Folio preliminaries longer than those of the First Folio by two pages. The total number of pages, however, remained the same by the number of blank pages among the text pages reduced from four to two on the part of the Second Folio.

The Second Folio's page-for-page reprinting has been notorious among scholars for introducing many new typographical errors to the Folio texts, probably due to very insufficient proof reading, but it has also been noted to contain quite a number of corrections done to `improve' the First Folio texts, many of which have been counted worthy and found valid still to this day. This might well deserve to be called a work of editors, anonymous though they are. Apart from the hundreds of corrections of obvious typographical errors Matthew W. Black and Matthias A. Shaaber in their Shakespeare's Seventeenth-Century Editors, 1632-1685 (1937) listed 1679 `deliberate editorial' changes: 459 alterations of grammar, 374 changes affecting the thought, 359 affecting meter, and 357 affecting style, and 130 changes pertaining to the action (p. 45). The `editors' of the Second Folio apparently did not make use of earlier quartos of Shakespeare, modern editors' abc, when `editing' but they seem to have been quite competent in their classical and mythological knowledge to produce, for example, such a keen emendation as:
       F1: Plantaginet I will, and like thee,
          Play on the Lute, beholding the Townes burne:
       F2: Plantaginet I will, and Nero like will,
          Play on the Lute, beholding the Townes burne: (1 Henry VI, 1.4.95-96)
After further twists and turns proposed by the subsequent editors like Pope and Malone, all aknowledging `Nero' here, The Riverside Shakespeare (1972) now reads the lines as:
          Plantagenet, I will, and like thee, [Nero,]
          Play on the lute, beholding the towns burn:
The Arden 3 (ed. Edward Burns, 2000) reads, without brackets, `Plantagenet, I will; and like thee, Nero, / Play on the lute, beholding the towns burn'.

March 31, 2006

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