Page:A Census of Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto (1916).djvu/15

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Thus of these eighteen editions which, as we shall see, have great, if varying, importance for the construction of a text, the average number of copies extant is just eight apiece, and less than half of these are in private hands, though probably enough remain unregistered to bring the two classes to an equality and make the average number of copies still extant nine instead of eight.

The hypothetical pirated First Edition of Love’s Labors Lost, if it ever existed, has left no trace behind except a possible allusion on the title-page of Burby’s edition. The First Edition of Henry IV, Part I, is represented by a fragment of four leaves, Titus Andronicus by one copy, the first Hamlet by two, Richard II by three, the first Romeo and Juliet by four, Richard III by four and a bit, the Merry Wives and second Hamlet by five, Henry V by six. There is no seven, nor nine, nor twelve, nor fourteen, nor sixteen; otherwise from zero to seventeen all the numbers are filled. Is there any basis for a guess, or guesses, why so many more copies of some plays should have been preserved than of others? Mr. Falconer Madan, in commenting on the story of the original Bodleian copy of the First Folio, which disappeared from the library in the Seventeenth Century (it was probably sold as a duplicate when the third edition appeared in 1663) and was bought back in 1906 for £3000, found evidence of the degrees of popularity of different plays in the comparative amount of wear and tear shown by the leaves on which they were printed. We may safely invert the deduction and connect the disappearance of copies with the popularity of the plays, or (which is not quite the same thing) their vogue with the play-reading public at the moment of issue. It is noteworthy that the four quartos which everyone admits to have been pirated, the first Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, the Merry Wives and the first Hamlet, only muster seventeen copies between them, or just half the average of the First Quartos as a whole. We are not to attribute this fewness of copies to any high minded objection of book buyers to piracy, leading them to purchase copies in order to burn them, or even to burn them after they had been read, as scrupulous people might burn foreign editions of copyright novels which they had brought home to finish. We should rather remember that the pirate ex hypothesi always got out his edition at least a little before the time when the players would have printed the play of their own accord. If he could not effect his piracy when the vogue of a play was at its height, he must needs come in as soon as possible after this, or he would have had no temptation to take the risk of getting himself into trouble. What concerns us is that the nearer to the psychological moment his edition appeared the more likely would it be to be thumbed to pieces.

Turning to the quartos which we believe to have been printed with the players’ consent we find that Richard II, Richard III and Henry IV, Part I, represented respectively by three, four and three copies of the first edition, went through five or six editions apiece before 1623, whereas Henry IV, Part II, of which nineteen copies survive, was never reprinted in quarto. It is disconcerting to find that, on the theory this suggests, so fine a play as