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“Incomparably the most important work in the English language”

SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies… the Second Impression

London: Printed by Tho. Cotes, for John Smethwick, 1632

Folio. Title-page with the engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout. Finely bound by Riviere in full crimson morocco gilt, a.e.g. Last leaf extended at blank inner margin, a few minor repairs, an excellent, honest, complete copy. Complete Second Folios with all original leaves are scarce in this attractive condition.

First issue of the Second Folio, the second edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays. Almost all Second Folios appearing for sale in the past decade have had substantial repairs or facsimile work to the first leaves (“To the Reader” and the title-page). This copy shows only minor restoration and is far better than most copies available in recent years.

No library of great books can be considered complete without a proper copy of Shakespeare’s plays, “incomparably the most important work in the English language” (Jackson, Pforzheimer Catalogue). The Second Folio is also noteworthy for containing John Milton’s first appearance in print, “An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet, W. Shakespeare,” composed in 1630, while Milton was still a student at Cambridge.

For almost four centuries Shakespeare’s transcendent genius has been recognized. In 1623 Ben Jonson wrote of Shakespeare, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” In 1840 Thomas Carlyle called Shakespeare, “the chief of all poets hitherto, the greatest intellect who, in our recorded world, has left record of himself in the way of literature.” And Harold Bloom recently wrote, “There is no  substitute for Shakespeare . . . Shakespeare is the Western Canon.”

The book was printed by Thomas Cotes for five publishers, each of whom had rights in one or more of the plays. For each a different title-page was printed identifying the publisher. There is no priority among the five. This copy was printed for and sold by John Smethwick, who had acquired the copyrights to Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew in 1607. This is the first issue of the Second Folio. There were two reissues, one with sheet 2.5 printed on thicker paper, the other with the word “Copies” spelled with two p’s on the title-page. With the price of a complete First Folio in excess of $6,000,000 and copies rarely available, the Second Folio has become one of the most desirable volumes in the book world. Copies with grave defects are now offered to advanced collectors at serious prices. Indeed, Second Folios with facsimile leaves have recently been offered in the $400,000 price range. This is an increasingly rare opportunity to own an excellent, complete, and authentic example of the Second Folio of Shakespeare.

Provenance: the Borowitz copy, which last appeared in the auction rooms at Sotheby’s New York, November 15, 1977, lot 211.

STC 22274e.

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