Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (1632)

Liam Sims (Rare Books Specialist, Cambridge University Library)

Fig. 1. Title page with inscription by Nathaniel Dalton.

Earlier this year I spent some time examining the Shakespeare folios at Cambridge University Library, on behalf of the Shakespeare Census, edited by Adam Hooks and Zachary Lesser. The First Folio of 1623 has long been the recipient of attention, from collectors and academics alike. But the later folios (1632, 1663/4 and 1685) have not – until now – been as well studied.

Until the end of the nineteenth century Cambridge University Library had only the fourth folio of 1685, which arrived in the Library in 1715 with the vast library (30,000 volumes) of John Moore, Bishop of Ely. The collection had been purchased by King George I for the huge sum of £6450 and presented to Cambridge. But in 1894 copies of all four folios arrived on our shelves. In this group the second folio of 1632 (shelfmark SSS.10.7) is particularly interesting when it comes to provenance, chiefly for the inscription of a woman – Anne Browne – made in the late seventeenth century. This appears on the blank recto of the “To the Reader” leaf along with half a dozen other inscriptions, some dated and others not. These include “Samuel Sampson 1673,” and undated “Charles Sampson” and “William Watts his book 1693.” Who Anne Browne actually was is hard to say. She may have to remain simply as one of a number of untraceable names associated with this copy.

Fig. 2. Anne Browne’s inscription (upper right) on recto of ‘To the reader’ leaf.

One of its early owners (whether Anne or not is impossible for me to say) read the text extremely closely and made amendments to it (I hesitate to use the word corrections as I’m not sure they are). For example, in The Winter’s Tale (p. 281) the printed text “I appointed him to murther you,” by Camillo, is amended to “I am appointed by him to murther you.” The four folios give slightly different renderings of this passage: the first “I am appointed him to murther you” and the third and fourth “I appointed him to murder you.” Another example occurs in Henry IV, Part 1, when on p. 70 the phrase “Supposition, all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes” is amended to begin with the word “Suspicion.” One final example comes in the form of a description of action on the stage in Henry VI, Part 3 (p. 151): next to the line “I marry Sir, now lookes he like a King” is added in the margin “She put’s on his Head a paper-crown.” It would be hard to imagine anyone sitting though a performance of Shakespeare with a folio on their lap, but perhaps such an addition was made mid-performance. I am no scholar of Shakespeare reception and leave it to others to mull this over.

Fig. 3. Annotation to margin of Henry VI, Part 3 (p. 151).

Later, the book was in Oxford: a Nathaniel Dalton, who matriculated at Queen’s College Oxford in 1772, has boldly inscribed the title page (see fig. 1 above). It may have been Dalton who commissioned the volume’s current binding of full scarlet morocco, gilt, by John Mackenzie of Westminster (executed between 1817 and 1850). It was acquired in this binding by Samuel Sandars (1837–94), a Cambridge student in the 1850s and friend of Cambridge University Librarians Henry Bradshaw and Francis Jenkinson. It came to the Library in 1894, upon his death, as part of his collection of about 1500 volumes of early English books and fine bindings. A rich assemblage, it continues to give up secrets about its contents and will do so long into the future.

Source: Cambridge University Library, shelf mark SSS.10.7. Images reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

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