John Hayward was imprisoned for his prose history of Henry IV, which he had too effusively dedicated to the Earl of Essex, and that in 1602 an “old play” of Richard II (opinions differ as to whether it was Shakespeare’s) was acted before the Essex conspirators. It is just possible that between 1598 and 1605 these happenings and the accession of a new dynasty may have created a special interest in historical plays, especially in those connected with changes of the crown, and thus account for these five editions being exceptionally hardly used.
At the opposite end of our list we have thirty copies extant of the Henry V of “1608,” twenty-eight apiece of the Merry Wives of 1619 and King Lear of “1608,” twenty-five of the Midsummer Night’s Dream of “1600” and twenty-three of the Merchant of Venice of “1600,” a total of 134 copies (or 132 if the two doubtful copies, Nos. 358 and 557, which have been reckoned with the majority, are excluded) giving an average of nearly twenty-seven copies of each edition. The corresponding figures for the First Editions are six, five, nine, eight and (for the Merchant of Venice) seventeen, a total of forty-five for the five plays, or an average of nine copies extant apiece, just a third as many as in the case of the reprints.
In Chapter IV of Shakespeare Folios and Quartos (1909) an elaborate argument was submitted to prove that these five plays, despite their varying dates, had all been printed and published in one volume (copies may also have been sold separately) in the same year, 1619, together with four others, viz., the Whole Contention between the two famous houses, Lancaster and York (n.d.), Pericles (1619), A Yorkshire Tragedy (1619) and Sir John Oldcastle (1600), and the fact that they had been thus preserved in exceptional numbers was an important link in the chain of evidence. The only volume now known in which all the nine plays are still found together is that in the library of Mr. Marsden Perry of Providence, R. I., bearing the stamp of the Seventeenth Century collector Edward Gwynn. But a similar volume belonging to Mr. Hussey was only broken up in 1906 and others must have belonged to Capell, Garrick and other early collectors.
The arguments put forward in Shakespeare Folios and Quartos to prove that all the nine plays were printed in 1619 were numerous and elaborate. They started with Mr. W. W. Greg’s demonstrations from the watermarks, devices and large numerals on the title-pages, and followed up with others based on the short imprints on the titles, on the types, on the spelling, on the number of copies extant, on an entry as to the Merchant of Venice in the Stationers’ Register in 1619, and on the hitherto unexplained continuity of the signatures of the undated Whole Contention and Pericles of 1619. The chapter was well received by reviewers, but Mr. Alfred Huth preferred an earlier theory of the same writer’s, which accepted the dates on the title-pages as truthful and supposed that new and
- The number of copies of the five plays at that time known to Mr. G. W. Cole, the Cataloguer of the Church collection, who had made a special study of the question, was 105, or an average of 21 apiece.