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William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Comedies, histories and tragedies, published according to the true originall copies / William Shakespeare. 1632

33.5 x 23.7 x 4.8 cm (book measurement (conservation)) | RCIN 1080415

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Charles I's copy of Shakespeare's complete works.

Second Folio. Eighteenth-century binding in red goatskin with gold tooling and crowned 'GR' monogram.

Around half of Shakespeare’s plays were published during his lifetime, deriving from multiple sources with the texts of different versions often varying considerably. Seven years after Shakespeare died his friends and fellow actors, John Heminges (1566-1630) and Henry Condell (1576-1627), compiled all his plays together, including ones which had never been published before, in what is now known as the First Folio. The Royal Library has a copy, RCIN 1047467.

This is the second edition, known as the Second Folio, printed in 1632. It has been annotated by Charles I: on the fly-leaf he has written 'Dum Spiro Spero' (While I Breathe, I Hope), and on the contents page he has written the names of some of the characters of the comedies next to the titles of the relevant plays.

Aged 15 when Shakespeare died, Charles probably saw his plays performed by The King's Men, the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged, while he was at his father's court.

Charles I was beheaded in January 1649 following civil war. It is believed that he read and annotated this copy of Shakespeare's 'Comedies, Histories and Tragedies' while imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.

Charles gave this copy of Shakespeare's complete works to Thomas Herbert, the attendant appointed to him by the Parliamentarians while he was imprisoned. Though part of rival factions, Charles and Herbert seem to have been companionable, the King giving Herbert a watch just before he was executed - an in-joke on Herbert's time-keeping.

The Second Folio descended through Herbert's family before being sold to a series of Shakespeare enthusiasts. One of them, the scholar George Steevens, annotated the fly-leaf to note that Thomas Herbert had been Master of the Revels to Charles I. When the book was sold at the sale of Steevens's library in 1800, it was purchased for the Royal Library by George III. Reading the annotation about Herbert, the King noticed that Steevens had erred, so he also annotated the book to record that Herbert had in fact been Charles I's Groom of the Bedchamber.

This Second Folio annotated by two kings is one of the treasures of the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.