The Early Printing and Publishing of Shakespeare’s Works
Shakespeare’s first printed work was a narrative poem, Venus and Adonis, published in 1593 in London, his next was another narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, published in 1594. Both of the works carry dedications to Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, signed “William Shakespeare.” The poems of both volumes were printed by Richard Field, a man of Stratford, the poems were distributed through the bookseller John Harrison.
The Passionate Pilgrim appeared in 1599 in an edition by William Jaggard, almost certainly unauthorized.
Shake-speares Sonnets. Never before Imprinted were printed by George Eld for Thomas Thorpe in 1609 and were sold at the shops of William Aspley and John Wright. There were 154 sonnets in this collection.
In 1640 John Benson collected and published Poems: Written by Wil. Shakespeare Gent. Benson included 146 of the sonnets, changing the texts of some of them, the “Lovers Complaint,” The Passionate Pilgrim, and “The Phoenix and the Turtle” as well as poems not by Shakespeare at all. This “collected” edition is a reprint of the various volumes in which the poems first appeared. In his collection, as Benson often ran several of the sonnets together, the 146 separate items were converted into 72 “poems”, Benson also changed the order of the sonnets completely.
The first of Shakespeare’s plays to appear in print (quarto format) was Titus Andronicus printed by John Danter and sold by Edward White and Thomas Millington in 1594.
The first of Shakespeare’s plays to appear attributing the authorship to Shakespeare was Love’s Labour’s Lost, the first extant (presumed second) quarto. Imprinted in London by William White for Cuthbert Burby 1598.
The first attempt at collected works was some pirating by Thomas Pavier in 1619 which was stopped before completion.
Shakespeare wrote wholly or in part some forty plays of which we have record. About half that number were printed as separate editions during his lifetime. After Shakespeare’s death on 23 April 1616 his fellow actors assembled his plays, including those already published and published them in a collected edition in 1623 known as the First Folio which contained 36 plays.
The First Folio was followed , nine years after its publication, in 1632, by the Second Folio, a page-for-page reprint of the First.
The Third Folio, reprinting the Second, appeared in 1664 after the Restoration, and seven further plays were added that had been attributed to Shakespeare, namely: Pericles; The London Prodigal; The History of the Life and Death of Thomas Lord Cromwell; The History of Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham; The Puritan or the Widow of Watling-Street; A Yorkshire Tragedy; and The Tragedy of Locrine. Although Pericles is the only one to have been accepted as being Shakesperian, the rest, rejected by scholarly tradition, are classified with others as the Shakespeare “Apocrypha”.
The Fourth Folio, which appeared in 1685, was a reprint of the Third and in turn served as the base for the series of eighteenth-century editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Nicholas Rowe used the Fourth Folio text as the foundation of his 1709 edition, and subsequent editors — Pope, Theobald, etc. — both adapted and reacted to Rowe’s text in their own editions.
The Two Noble Kinsmen did not appear in any Folio edition, was not printed until 1634, although there is evidence of its being performed much earlier. The title page said “written by the memorable worthies of their time: Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakspeare , Gent.” It was not included in most editions of Shakespeare (e.g., the Cambridge/Globe editions of Wright and Clark, ca. 1863) until the latter half of the 19th century (it appears, e.g., in Dyce’s collected Works of Shakespeare in 1876, and in the Harvard Edition, edited by Hudson in 1881) but it was not generally accepted into the Shakespeare canon until well into the 20th century, when, for example, it was included in the Riverside edition of 1974.