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Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were printed during Shakespeare's lifetime, in a small, inexpensive format called a “quarto.” A quarto is a book in which each printed sheet is folded twice—in half, and then in half again—to produce four double-sided leaves, or eight pages. Quartos were sold in flimsy bindings or sometimes no bindings at all, making them vulnerable to damage and loss over the years. The early Shakespeare quartos are now extraordinarily rare; some survive in only a single copy. The texts in the quartos sometimes differ significantly from the same plays in the 1623 First Folio, the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, which was published seven years after he died.

The first quartos of Shakespeare's plays appeared in 1594 and included Titus Andronicus, and Henry VI Part 2 (as it is now titled). Some plays, such as Richard III and Henry IV Part 1, appeared in multiple quarto editions, showing their popularity. Many of the earliest of the quartos do not include Shakespeare's name but highlight instead the acting company that first performed the play.

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1598
Richard III was an immediate success in the bookshops of London. Andrew Wise published the first edition in 1597, and copies seem to have sold out very quickly, since he published the play again the next year, in 1598, as shown here.
1598
This edition of Henry IV Part 1 is the earliest printed version of the play to survive fully intact.
1598
This edition of Henry IV Part 1 survives only as a single gathering of four leaves from a copy of the quarto published in 1598.
1599
The title page of the second edition of Henry IV Part 1 identifies William Shakespeare as the play’s author for the first time in print. The practice of including authorial attribution on title pages was becoming increasingly common at the turn of the century.
1599
Customers browsing in the bookshops of London in 1599 would have found a new version of a popular play based on the well-known story of Romeo and Juliet.
1600
This is the first edition of Henry IV, Part 2, printed in 1600 by Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise and William Aspley, who entered it into the Stationers’ Register on August 23, 1600, along with Much Ado About Nothing.
1600
This is the variant of the first edition of Henry IV, Part 2, printed in 1600 by Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise and William Aspley, who entered it into the Stationers’ Register on August 23, 1600, along with Much Ado About Nothing
1600
The first edition of Henry V, shown here, was printed in 1600 by Thomas Creede for Thomas Millington and John Busby.
1600
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1600
This is the first edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, printed by Richard Braddock for Thomas Fisher in 1600. Fisher registered the play on October 8 earlier that same year.

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