The Folger Shakespeare Library has never acquired another copy of a Shakespeare Folio since the Folgers’ time—until now. We recently added number 38 to our collection of Fourth Folios (S2915 Fo.4 no.38). Published in 1685, this was the last of the four great printings of Shakespeare’s collected plays during the 17th century. It was followed in 1709 by the first “modern” edition, by Nicholas Rowe, who followed the Fourth Folio text but added scene divisions, stage directions, and a character list (dramatis personae) for each play.
Several printers and publishers collaborated on the Fourth Folio, following the frequent practice in 17th-century England to share the printing and the financial risks involved in making a large book. The title page exists in three different states listing some or all of the contributors, possibly indicating that the financing of the book changed over time and that new partners were brought in to rescue the project. In our copy, the imprint has been torn away so that it is impossible to identify which issue of the title page this is.
The focus was clearly on the content of the book—to publish a newly corrected edition of Shakespeare’s plays—rather than on the aesthetics of their product. The printers did not hesitate either to use worn type, especially in the headings, or to print type set upside down.
They also rarely bothered to correct errors in the middle of the print run, even when they were in prominent places like the running title of a play. Their main concern was obviously in finishing this commissioned job in good time.
The owner of the Folger’s “new” Fourth Folio was an Anglo/Irish clergyman named Philip Francis (1708–1773). Born in Dublin, he matriculated at Trinity College, then in 1744 moved to England, where his friends included actors David Garrick and Colley Cibber. Eventually he became chaplain to Henry Fox, Baron Holland.
The Fourth Folio was treasured by the Francis family, who owned this copy for almost 200 years, as documented by the ownership inscriptions in the book, which create a dialogue between generations (shown below). Francis’s son, Sir Philip Francis (1740–1818), was the first to write a note authenticating that “the hints and alterations in the margin” were “by the Revd Doctor Philip Francis.” On a different leaf, he also stated that “[t]his book must never go out of my family / it was for many years, the delight of my good / father’s life to study and correct it […]”. His son, Philip Francis of Fulham (1768–1837), responded to his father’s wish: “It never shall. I hearby leave, give, bequeath it to all my children as a joint chattel property, on condition that they never sell give or in any manner alienate it. P Francis – Fulham. 24th February 1828.” The book then seems to have passed on to a daughter, Elizabeth Francis, before Augustus Lawrence Francis (?1848–1925) owned it. Augustus’s note, written below those of his ancestors, asserted his ownership and expressed his own judgment on the book, subscribing to the newly popular idea that Francis Bacon had written Shakespeare’s works: “Given me by my dear Aunt Elizabeth Francis, I bequeath this volume as an heirloom to my dear son Augustus Claude desiring him to leave it in turn to the member of his family most worthy to posses it. It is my firm conviction, based upon life long study, that the plays are the work of Francis Bacon.” Augustus’s son, Augustus Claude Francis (1878–1928?) was a Colonial governor in Nigeria. Perhaps this Fourth Folio copy traveled with him to Africa.
The original owner, Philip Francis, is of interest to us because he read his Shakespeare folio carefully, over a number of years, comparing it with various editions of his time, notably those of Rowe, as well as Sir Thomas Hanmer (whom he abbreviates as “STH”), and William Warburton (abbreviated as “W”), another clergyman. (The attraction of Shakespeare studies to members of the clergy is worth an article in itself!)
Philip Francis made over 2,000 notes in his Fourth Folio, with the most marks in Hamlet, as we would expect; after Hamlet, the plays that drew most of his attention were Troilus and Cresida and Coriolanus, followed by The Tempest, Anthony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, and Henry VIII. Notably, three of these are based on classical sources, which concurs with Francis’s own interest in classical studies; he translated the works of Horace into English verse, which he published in four volumes.
Francis’s method of study can be seen from his notes to Hamlet. For example, when Hamlet greets the Players in Act 2, Francis makes a note of Hanmer’s emendation of “valiant” to “valanc’d,” as in “Thy face is valanc’d since I saw thee last,” and comments “No such Word.” He also notes Hanmer’s “Ladieship” for “your Lordship is nearer heaven,” and supplies a definition of “Choppine” giving the Italian word: “Cioppina Cork soals for Shoes.”
Francis’s own classical training led him to suggest an explanation for Hamlet’s “sea of troubles” in the “to be” speech.
First he picks up Hanmer’s reading, “assailing,” for “a sea of,” (shown above) then he begins to make a longer note on the passage, which he crosses out and writes in full at the bottom of the page (shown below): “Perhaps — A Stream of Troubles — The Ancients, when their Armies were obliged to pass over any rapid River, used to send a Body of Men to oppose and break the Force of the current with their Shields.”
Later, at Act 4, scene 4, Francis realizes that a whole section of a scene has been omitted in the Fourth Folio of Hamlet. It includes Hamlet’s conversation with a Captain of Fortinbras’s army and the soliloquy, “How all occasions do inform against me.” Francis writes, “A whole Scene left out,” and he takes Hanmer’s reading which changes Horatio to “a Gent[leman].” “Safely on” was changed to “softly on” by Rowe, and also picked up by Hanmer, so noted here by Francis:
Why should we care about how Philip Francis read his Shakespeare? He was, after all, only a minor literary figure, but he was well-read, conversant with the theater of his age, and Shakespeare was important enough to him that he was trying to get the text “right.” Relying on contemporary editors, he, too, was endeavoring to form a Shakespeare that sounded good to him and made sense. In this volume we can witness the thought-processes of an educated 18th-century man who read his Shakespeare in the days when the text as we know it was still being formed, and we can learn a lot from that.