Notable Shakespeare Editions in Martin Bodmer’s Collection

Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (1609)

The Bodmer copy of the 1609 quarto of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida survives uncut, i.e., with its margins untrimmed. It is the only copy of a Shakespeare playbook published during his lifetime to do so. The copy’s large blank margins can serve as a useful reminder of the amount of space many early readers would have had to annotate their copies.


Shakespeare, 2 Henry IV  (1600)

Of the quarto edition of 2 Henry IV, two issues appeared, both in 1600. In the first printing, a whole scene (corresponding to Act 3 Scene 1 in modern editions) was omitted, which is why a replacement was printed in a second issue, with two leaves of quire E being superseded by a four-leaf quire (E3-6v), to accommodate the missing material. Of the twenty-two extant copies, five do not contain the complete text. Of the remaining seventeen copies, eight belong to the first issue, which means they have leaves E3-4 in their original setting but lack leaves E3-6 in their second setting, and eight belong to the second issue, meaning they lack leaves E3-4 in their original setting but have leaves E3-6 in their second setting. Only one copy, namely that at the Bodmer, contains E3-4 in its first setting and, directly thereafter, E3-6 in its second setting. Only the Bodmer copy, in other words, contains the whole of the 1600 quarto of 2 Henry IV.


Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing (1600)

The ownership history of the Bodmer copy of Much Ado about Nothing can be traced with no interruption. Frances Egerton, Countess of Bridgewater (1583-1636), collected plays, including by Shakespeare. Her books became part of the Bridgewater House Library, and the playbooks in the Countess’s bound volumes were disbound and rebound separately. Lawrence Manley has tried to reconstruct the volumes by means of a conspicuous feature of playbooks from the Bridgewater collection: a handwritten numeral inside a square bracket in the upper right hand corner of the title page. In the Bodmer copy, the number and the square bracket around it have been bleached, but they remain visible, the number having likely been a ‘9’. The Bridgewater Library remained intact until the twentieth century, when it was sold to Henry E. Huntington in March 1917. The American collector and publisher Herschel V. Jones (1861-1928) purchased Huntington’s copy on 26 April 1918 for $10,100. Jones sold it on 4 March 1919 for $11,900 to G. D. Smith for the American collector John L. Clawson (1856-1933), from whom Rosenbach acquired it in 1936 for $21,000. Bodmer acquired it as part of the Rosenbach collection in 1951-52.


Shakespeare, Sonnets (1609)

Martin Bodmer acquired his copy of the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets from A. S. W. Rosenbach in 1942. The Bodmer copy has a manuscript note after the last sonnet by an unappreciative early reader, often quoted by modern scholars: ‘What a heap of wretched infidel stuff’. Apart from this note, there are a number of short vertical strokes in the margins, presumably highlighting passages a reader deemed noteworthy. The copy bears a provenance note on a binder’s leaf: ‘From the collections of Bishop Percy and Lord Caledon’. The stamp of Lord Caledon is visible on the first, second, and last leaves.


Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1619 [‘1600’])

William Jaggard printed the second quarto edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1619, the date and the printer’s name in the imprint, ‘1600’ and ‘Iames Roberts’, being deliberate misinformation. The title page of A Midsummer Night’s Dream features a printer’s device with the arms of the city of Geneva (the Half-Eagle and Key), including the phrase ‘post tenebras lux’, which had been adopted as the city’s Calvinist motto. Through a remarkable twist of history, a Shakespeare book that is now in Geneva but was published in London in the early seventeenth century displays on the title page the Geneva arms. Jaggard had owned the device since 1606, when he took it over from James Roberts, who sold his business to Jaggard that year. Quite a bit earlier, the device had belonged to the printer John Charlewood, who had also had a shop ‘at the signe of the halfe Eagle and Key’. Charlewood died in 1592, and his widow married Roberts on 9 September 1593, following which the device passed to Roberts. The device goes ultimately back to Rowland Hall, who was active as a printer in Geneva from 1559 to 1560, and is known to have used the arms as his sign in 1562 and 1563. Among the books Hall printed in Geneva is the first edition of what came to be known as the Geneva Bible (1560). Not long after his return to London, Hall printed The lawes and statutes of Geneua (1562), which has the ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ device on the title page, with an English translation around it: ‘after darkness, light’. Hall seems to have passed on his shop and device to Richard Serle, who, appropriately enough, used it in A briefe and piththie [sic] some of the christian faith, by Theodore de Beza (1566?). Beza had settled in Geneva in 1558.