Third Folio

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William Shakespeare, Mr. William Shakespear’s comedies, histories, and tragedies: published according to the true original copies. London: Philip Chetwinde, 1664.

Image source: Folger Shakespeare Library


The title page of the Third Folio advertises that it includes new plays by Shakespeare. Their generic range shows that at this time, publishers and readers were ready to believe that Shakespeare wrote more different kinds of plays than we now believe.

Published after the Restoration of the English monarchy after the English Civil War, the Third Folio enticed purchasers with the splashy claim that the volume contained “seven Playes, never before Printed in Folio.” Indeed, seven additional plays attributed to Shakespeare were printed after the familiar sequence of 36 “comedies, histories, and tragedies” which persisted unaltered from the First and Second Folios.

To find the new plays, the publisher, Philip Chetwinde, had reasonably enough tracked down plays published mostly during Shakespeare’s life and in some way identified with him (e.g. published attributed to him or to “W. S.”). Their inclusion only after the familiar group of 36 marked them as somewhat uneasy additions. (The decision to retain the original sequence of plays, of course, helped ease the typesetting process.)

These additional plays would continue to be printed in editions of Shakespeare’s works for more than another hundred years, with their authorship constantly in question. Ultimately, only one – Pericles  – would retain its association with Shakespeare’s pen. With some 300+ years’ hindsight, we can see that some of these plays were in genres that we assume Shakespeare did not attempt, such as English domestic tragedy or city comedy. Yet their inclusion shows that in 1664, the limits of Shakespeare’s interests and generic experimentation were still potentially unknown: these plays must have seemed plausibly Shakespearean.

Title page of Shakespeare’s Third Folio. Jonson’s poem has been placed below the portrait, perhaps to conserve pages.