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ENGL 3933: Shakespeare: EEBO for Early Editions of Shakespeare

This guide will cover the OSU Library resources to help you in English 3933 taught by Dr. Andrew Wadoski.

Brief History of Printing and Bookbinding

Book printing came to England from Europe in the late 1400s.  In Shakespeare's day, books were still mostly printed by small, independent printers who often worked with booksellers (i.e., publishers in that era).  It was a slow process setting the type, and not many books were published.  From the 1470s to the time of Shakespeare's death, a little over 100,000 books were published.  Printers had their own official guild called the Stationers' Company, and the Stationer's Company maintained a register of books printed each year that has helped us date early books.

The sizes of early books were based on the paper used to print them.  Pages were printed on large sheets of paper called "broadsides."  A quarto is a specific size of book in which the pages are printed on a broadside sheet  that has been folded and cut to make 4 leaves and is generally 12" x 9.5" in length and width.  The folded sheets ("gatherings") were then sewn together and covers or "boards" added to make a book, and then they were covered in leather binding.  A folio is a larger book formed by folding the broadside sheet of paper into half and today is approximately 15" x 12".  Other sizes include the octavo (broadside folded into 8 leaves) and even a small and even smaller sizes. 

For more information on Renaissance-era bookbinding, see the following video demonstration of a Gutenberg printing press:

Also, here are some images depicting how printed books were bound.

Below are some books on the history of printings and bookbinding.

Early Editions of Shakespeare: Quartos and the First Folio

Printers published the text of plays performed in the London theatres for general readers or, quite often, for other acting troupes to perform them.  Playwrights usually worked for the acting companies (Shakespeare for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men), and the companies "owned" the plays and had the right to publish or republish them.  Not all of the published versions were accurate, and there were also many pirated editions with many errors and omissions.

♦ Quartos of Shakespeare's Plays

No manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays have survived (except for a disputed fragment), so the texts we have today have come down to us from quarto editions published during his lifetime, most prepared from either his manuscripts or from transcripts, some from the recollection of actors who had roles in the plays. 

There are surviving quartos for 19 of his plays, and some plays exist in several different quarto editions.  These texts can vary greatly, and scholars over the centuries have been studying the different editions to reconstruct what we think was Shakespeare's original text.  There was no standardized spelling or punctuation in Elizabethan or Jacobean English, so as with all early texts, they can pose some challenges to modern readers.  Also, the text of the play itself can vary from edition to edition.  Some are so-called "bad quartos" that have heavily cut or corrupted texts; they are often pirated editions.  "Good quartos" have texts that are generally reliable, but often have errors or omissions that have to be checked against other editions.  Some quartos continued to come out after Shakespeare's death in 1616. 

The image above is the title page of the 1604 second quarto of Hamlet, the second stand-alone published version of the play.  The earlier 1603 quarto edition of the play had many errors and is usually considered a "bad" quarto reconstructed from memory.  This second "good" quarto of Hamlet has a much better text.  It was published by James Roberts for the bookseller Nicholas Ling (NOTE:  see the tab on Biographical Databases for online sources with information on the lives of these printers and book dealers)

First Folio (1623)

♦ The First Folio (1623)

In 1623, printer William Jaggard and others worked with two of Shakespeare's surviving colleagues, John Heminge and Henry Condell, to publish a complete edition of his plays (36 total; 2 plays are not included and 2 more are lost).  The First Folio is an important book, for it has the only texts for 18 of his plays including Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, Twelfth Night, and others.  It was presumably prepared using copies of the manuscripts, transcripts, or prompt books from Shakespeare's company, the King's Men.

Today a number of libraries around the world have copies of the First Folio.  It has been the basis for later complete editions of Shakespeare's work.  The engraving by Martin Droeshout on the title page is one of the few accepted portraits of Shakespeare.

Searching Early English Books Online (EEBO) for Quartos of Hamlet

You can search for digital copies of early Shakespeare editions using the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database, an online collection of books published in England from 1473-1640.  (Note:  you will have to log in with your O-Key id and password if you are off-campus.)  EEBO has both scans of the actual pages from over 126,000 books (a large percentage of the total number of books printed in England during that time) and for approximately 25,000 major books in the collection you can do full-text keyword searches.  EEBO contains the quartos and First Folio of Shakespeare, so you can view the original published versions of his plays.  It has a "Variant Spelling" option (checked by default) which allow you to use modern spelling of words.

Below is an example of how to use EEBO to find different quarto editions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, a play that was first performed in 1600-1601 and later published in various forms before the First Folio in 1623. 

Access EEBO HERE, or go to the OSU Library homepage, under FIND ARTICLES click on Databases, and then it is listed under "E."  It opens to the Basic Search page.  Fill in the Author Keyword box with "Shakespeare" and put "Hamlet" down for Title Keyword.  To search for quartos that appeared before the publication of the First Folio in 1623, change the dates so that it is 1423 to 1623 (instead of the default 1900).  Click the Search button.

EEBO Basic Search for Shakespeare's Hamlet

Your results page is reproduced below.  #2 on the list is the 1603 first quarto of Hamlet called the "bad quarto" because it is a shortened version of the play (probably reconstructed from memory by some of the actors); note that is is only 62 pages long.  The 1604 second quarto is called the "good quarto" and has much more complete and authoritative text of the play.  #1 in the list is the third quarto from 1611, and there are also additional other quartos as well not displayed here.

EEBO Results for Shakespeare's Hamlet

Click on the icon to view the scanned pages images and the  The icon, when available, for the full text of the book.  In this results list, the 1603 quarto is full-text searchable.  The icon is for maps or illustrations.  You can resize the images for printing.

One final note on searching for editions of Shakespeare in EEBO: the First Folio's actual title is Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies Published according to the true originall copies, so search for it with those title keywords, or search for Shakespeare as the author and 1623 as the publication date.