Collected editions of Shakespeare

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Many hundreds of collected editions of Shakespeare have been published.[1] This article can therefore cover only a selection, though this includes all 17th-century and most 18th-century editions.

Seventeenth century

(CC) Image: Jessie Chapman
William Shakespeare's first folio.

The first collected edition of Shakespeare is customarily called the First Folio, after its printing format. The actual title was Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. It was edited by his colleagues John Heminge[2] and Henry Condell, and published in 1623, some years after his death. The editors claim that it includes all his plays. They make no mention one way or the other of collaborations with other writers, or of works other than plays. It contains 36 plays, arranged as follows.




The titles listed above are the short forms by which the plays are commonly referred to. Some of them have fuller titles in the First Folio, and in some the title given in the table of contents is different from that given at the head of the play itself. Titles of histories and tragedies all include names of characters appearing in them; titles of comedies never do. (Some earlier editions of individual plays do not observe this practice.) The histories are arranged in historical order of the events depicted. The basis for the order of the other plays has not been established.

About half the plays had been previously published in separate editions (mostly quartos), some of them more than once: some anonymously, others under Shakespeare's name or initials.

The Second Folio (1632) corrected most of the obvious misprints. The original issue of the Third Folio (1663) was just a further corrected reprint. Their editors emended what they believed to be misprints. They simply used their personal judgment, not having any other sources to refer to. A major change took place in 1664, when 7 more plays were added. All of these had been separately published in Shakespeare's lifetime, and under his name or initials (which were shared with a minor writer named Wentworth Smith):

  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre
  • The London Prodigal
  • Thomas Lord Cromwell
  • Sir John Oldcastle
  • The Puritan
  • A Yorkshire Tragedy
  • Locrine

The Fourth Folio (1685) was a similar corrected reprint of the 1664 issue.

Eighteenth century

Nicholas Rowe's edition (6 volumes, 1709) is a corrected edition of the Fourth Folio. It adds Quarto material for Hamlet not in the Folio text, producing a conflated text. Subsequent editors extended this to other plays. Rowe was responsible for much of the apparatus of dramatis personae, acts and scenes. This is sometimes described as the first illustrated edition, including one picture for each play, though the First Folio included a picture of Shakespeare.

In the following year, a different publisher issued "Volume the Seventh", comprising non-dramatic poems, edited anonymously by Charles Gildon. In 1714, a reissue of Rowe by the original publisher (9 volumes) included these poems as its last volume. They comprise

  • 2 long poems, both published under Shakespeare's name in his lifetime
    • Venus and Adonis
    • Tarquin and Lucrece (now usually known as The Rape of Lucrece)
  • numerous short poems, including, rearranged, most of the contents of 2 collections published under Shakespeare's name in his lifetime
    • Sonnets
    • The Passionate Pilgrim

Alexander Pope's edition (6 volumes, 1723-5) was based on Rowe, but he omitted the 7 plays added in 1664, and the poems, as well as various passages he considered not good enough to be authentic. He rearranged the comedies and tragedies within their categories, and placed King Lear as the first of the histories. Similarly to Rowe, "The Seventh Volume" was issued by a different publisher. A second edition (1728) reprints the original material in 8 volumes, adding a ninth volume of the 7 extra plays. Another reissue of the poems by a different publisher does not seem to have ever been incorporated into this edition.

Lewis Theobald's edition (7 volumes, 1733) was severely critical of Pope's alterations to the text, though it made conjectural emendations itself. A famous example is in Henry the Fifth, where the account of Falstaff's death ends, in the Folio text, with the line "And a table of green fields", which makes no sense. Theobald suggested changing "table" to "babbled", which, together with the frequent use of "a" to mean "he" in Shakespeare's time, makes sense, and has been followed by many subsequent editions.

Doctor Johnson's edition (8 volumes, 1765) includes only the original 36 plays. This was the first "variorum" edition, giving the readings in various sources. Marvin Spevack found no substantial changes in a sample of text since this edition.[3] (Later editors suggested further emendations, but none became generally accepted.)

Edward Capell's edition (10 volumes, 1767-8) was the first to work directly from the original folio and quarto texts, rather than simply revise a previous edition.

In 1773, George Steevens produced a revision of Johnson's edition (10 volumes). In 1780 the same publisher issued a "Supplement" by Edmond Malone, comprising the following

  • poems (now restored to their original published collections)
    • Venus and Adonis
    • The Rape of Lucrece
    • Sonnets
    • The Passionate Pilgrim
    • A lover's complaint (this had been appended to the first edition of the sonnets)
  • the 7 plays added in 1664

In 1790, Malone produced his own edition (10 volumes), retaining only Pericles from the 1664 plays.

Nineteenth century

What is commonly known as the First Variorum edition (21 volumes, 1803) was edited by Isaac Reed. It was based on the Johnson-Steevens edition, and included plays only, not poems. An 1813 reprint is known as the Second Variorum.

The second[4] edition (6 volumes, 1818) of the Family Shakespeare, edited by Dr Thomas Bowdler, is mainly famous, or notorious, as an expurgated edition. It states openly on its title page that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read in a family". Its contents are those of the First Folio.

The so-called Third Variorum (21 volumes, 1821) was edited by James Boswell, son of Dr Johnson's biographer, but based on Malone's edition, including poems as well as plays.

In the 1860s Macmillan published two variant editions in parallel, edited by W. G. Clark and W. A. Wright. One is known as the Cambridge Shakespeare (9 volumes, 1863-6). It footnotes the readings of all the early editions, but only occasionally those of later editors. The difference in text between this and the single-volume Globe Shakespeare (1864) occurs where no original source gives an acceptable reading, and there is no consensus on an emendation. In such cases the Cambridge edition gives the reading of its preferred source, with suggested emendations footnoted, while the Globe uses the emendation the editors consider most likely. The editors include the same contents as Malone, except for the addition of a short poem called "The phoenix and the turtle", which had appeared untitled in some 18th centry editions.

F. J. Furnivall's Leopold Shakespeare (1877) arranged the works in what its editor believed to be the order of writing, and added two plays:

  • The Two Noble Kinsmen, first published in 1634 as by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare (both dead by that date)
  • Edward III, published anonymously in 1596.

Twentieth century

The Stratford Lane edition, originally published in 10 volumes between 1904 and 1907, was reissued as the 1-volume Shakespeare Head edition in 1934. This is currently available in the Wordsworth Classics series. It is arranged in the order its editors thought Shakespeare wrote.

Peter Alexander's edition (1951) is still in print from Collins. It is arranged traditionally.

C. J. Sisson's edition (1953?[5]) was the first to include the following play in full, though it clearly labels it as only partly by Shakespeare (some editions had included passages believed to be by Shakespeare):

  • Sir Thomas More

This had been first published, anonymously, in 1844, based on a manuscript thought to date from Shakespeare's time, with a small proportion thought (later, not in 1844) to be in his handwriting.

The Riverside Shakespeare (not to be confused with an 1883 edition with the same name) was first published in 1974. It rearranges the plays, with a new genre, called romances, added, comprising some plays previously classed as comedies and tragedies. Each genre is arranged chronologically. The Riverside edition is widely used by students.

The 1986 Oxford edition by Stanley Wells and others made a number of innovations. It rejected the tradition of conflated texts going back to Rowe, arguing that differences between quarto and folio texts were largely due to Shakespeare's rewriting. The edition mainly follows the First Folio as embodying his final thoughts. However, it uses the titles of the separately published editions, The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth, for Henry VI Parts 2 and 3, and a secondary-source title All Is True for Henry VIII. It also, controversially, restores the original Oldcastle for Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1, on the grounds that Shakespeare changed it for legal, not artistic, reasons (threats from the Oldcastle family), while it retains Falstaff in later plays. It omits parts of The Passionate Pilgrim as not by Shakespeare. It adds The Two Noble Kinsmen and a number of short poems attributed to Shakespeare in 17th-century anthologies, and includes both quarto and folio versions of King Lear, regarding them as two different plays. It lists a number of plays as of joint authorship, and arranges the works in order of writing.

A 2nd edition of Riverside appeared in 1997, adding Edward III.

Twenty-first century

The contents and arrangement of the 1-volume edition (2002) of the Pelican Shakespeare are largely traditional, but with some changes: the poems are at the beginning; each genre is arranged chronologically; and Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline and Pericles are reclassified from tragedy into comedy. This edition collects together separate editions of individual plays originally published over many years, starting in 1956.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works (2007) describes itself as the first new edition (as distinct from facsimiles and transcripts) of the First Folio in about three centuries. The 36 plays are arranged as in the original. The editors correct what they believe to be misprints (but giving the text the benefit of the doubt where possible), modernize spelling and punctuation, tidy up the headings, and add material not in the First Folio in smaller (though not too small) type: at the ends of some plays there are quarto passages omitted in the Folio; at the end of Macbeth there are full texts of songs indicated in the Folio by opening words only;[6] at the end there are Pericles, by Shakespeare and Wilkins, The Two Noble Kinsmen, by Shakespeare and Fletcher, an addition to the manuscript of Sir Thomas More believed to be in Shakespeare's handwriting, and poems (omitting Passionate Pilgrim and Lover's Complaint, but adding a short poem To the Queen, apparently not in any previous edition).

The 2005 revision of the 1986 Oxford adds Edward III and Sir Thomas More.

The most recent 1-volume Arden edition (2011), which collects together editions published separately over some decades, arranges the plays alphabetically for ease of finding. Individual editors were allowed to decide for each play which text to follow. Arden seems to be the first edition to include the following play:

  • Double Falsehood

This was first published in 1728 as an adaptation by Lewis Theobald of a play by Shakespeare. It is now widely believed to be his adaptation of a lost play, Cardenio by Fletcher and Shakespeare.

David Bevington's edition (7th edition 2013) is arranged similarly to Riverside. This edition is distinctive among recent editions in being the work of a single editor.[7] He variously chooses folio or quarto for his basic text of different plays.

The 3rd Norton edition (2015), unlike its predecessors, is an independent edition, not based on Oxford. Unusually for a 1-volume edition, it includes alternative versions of some plays.

The Oxford Modern Critical Edition by Gary Taylor and others (2016) contains one text of each work included (some works are only partially included). This may be the first edition to include the following play as partly by Shakespeare:

  • Arden of Faversham

This was first published in 1592, anonymously.

In deciding between quarto and folio texts, it simply chooses the longer (as a whole, not a conflated text with the longer version of every passage). The works are arranged in order of writing and edited using modern spelling. This edition also includes surviving original musical scores (by composers of Shakespeare's time) for some songs in plays.

The Oxford Critical Reference Edition by the same editors (2017) is in two volumes, and is arranged in order of preparation of source texts, with those dating to Shakespeare's lifetime in the first volume and posthumous sources in the second. This edition uses the original spelling. Its contents are the same, except for including the whole of Double Falsehood instead of only fragments the editors regard as original.


  1. By 1910, about 1200 editions had been published: William Jaggard, Shakespeare Bibliography, Shakespeare Press, Stratford-on-Avon, 1911, page 495
  2. so spelled there, but various other spellings are found elsewhere
  3. Marvin Spevack, 'The End of Editing Shakespeare', Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate, 6 (1996/97), 78-85
  4. The first edition included only selected plays.
  5. No date on title or following page. This is the date at end of preface.
  6. These full texts are taken from a work of Thomas Middleton where they also appear; it is thought likely that he actually wrote them and that they were added to Macbeth for a revived production after Shakespeare's retirement.
  7. since the 3rd edition; the 2nd edition credited him jointly with the editor of the 1st edition, Harden Craig.