Cheers to the Bard!

Title page of the Second Folio (London, 1632).

Title page of the Second Folio (London, 1632).

Some of the earliest editions of Shakespeare’s plays can be consulted in Rare Books and Special Collections, including, notably, a copy of the Second Folio (1632) of collected plays, and two copies of the Fourth Folio (1685).

Like the rarer Third Folio (1663; 1664), the Fourth Folio includes seven plays not part of the First (1623) or Second Folios, most of which are now considered spurious. This fourth and last of the great seventeenth-century folio publications of Shakespeare’s plays was an important source for later editions.

All four can be compared side-by-side in the facsimile editions produced by the London publisher Methuen in the early twentieth century.

An interesting difference between the First and Second Folios is the addition, in the latter, of a poem by John Milton about the Bard (shown below): “An epitaph on the admirable dramaticke poet, VV. Shakespeare.”

As Milton commemorated him then, we commemorate him today, on the 450th anniversary of his birth.

John Milton’s poem on Shakespeare (lower page) in the Second Folio

John Milton’s poem on Shakespeare in the Second Folio

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