The copy of Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, which was bequeathed to the College in 1775 by Richard Warner, is a collection of 36 plays in a book produced by actors, but clearly meant for an audience beyond actors and theatre-goers; namely a courtly audience.
According to Emma: “This is a book that’s been much read: lots of stains, marks and small burns (probably from strands of tobacco) are pretty consistent across all the plays. It also has a number of distinct hands annotating or marking it for different purposes.”
In the Rasmussen, E. & West, A., edition, The Shakespeare first folios: a descriptive catalogue (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) these features have been described, but Emma’s reading sheds new light on the marks and annotations.
The men responsible for bringing this collection of plays together were John Heminge and Henry Condell, senior actors of the King's Men (formerly the Chamberlain's Men), an acting company for whom Shakespeare had been writing and acting since 1594. Shakespeare had died in 1616 after twenty years with the company so Heminge and Condell had a working relationship with Shakespeare that allows them to present the folio as a personal tribute. It also provided them with their material; the folio claimed that the plays were 'published according to the true originall copies', presumably in the possession of the actors. The texts printed from the folio have a range of provenances: some are reprinted from quartos (smaller format books), others apparently taken from authorial papers or theatrical promptbooks which have not survived. There are almost twenty plays by Shakespeare, including The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, which we would not have at all if it were not for the first folio.
Read Emma’s notes on Wadham’s copy-specific features below as you click through the pictures.