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Write till your ink be dry

The Quartos – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice


1600 [i.e. 1619]

About the Items

A quarto is the name given to a type of book made up of handmade sheets of paper that are folded in half twice. Shakespeare’s plays were first published as quartos, beginning with Titus Andronichus and Henry VI Part II in 1594. The quarto was a common format for early modern printed works. By the time Shakespeare died in 1616, 18 of his plays had been published as quartos. The quartos are the nearest we have to Shakespeare’s works during his lifetime. 

A little detective work is required to understand the true story of the quartos pictured here.  These copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice are examples of the Pavier Quartos or False Folio. Despite the details on their title pages suggesting that they were printed in 1600 by James Roberts, they were in fact printed in 1619 by William Jaggard for publisher Thomas Pavier. 

Printed as separate plays and published as a complete set bound together, these quartos are believed to be the first attempt to publish a collected edition of Shakespeare’s works; perhaps stopped by the intervention of the Lord Chamberlain, as John Heminge and Henry Condell were known to be working on The First Folio. Thus, printing title pages with false imprints (publication details) was perhaps a way for Jaggard to sell them off as old stock when the project failed.  

Watch this!

Learn the difference between a quarto and a folio and how to make your very own hand-sewn notebook in this step-by-step video:


CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust