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BEAUMONT, Francis, & John Fletcher.

Comedies and Tragedies …

Never printed before, And now published by the Authours Originall Copies.

London, for Humphrey Robinson, and for Humphrey Moseley, 1647 Stock Code: 108348

The Prince of Wales's copy

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First edition, modelled on the first two folio collections of Shakespeare's plays (1623 and 1632) and the first two folios of the works of Ben Jonson (1616 and 1640-1). These folios are often credited with establishing a recognisably modern concept of the individual author, though the Beaumont and Fletcher folio is more problematic in that regard. It contains 39 plays, of which very few are actually collaborations between Beaumont and Fletcher. Even the preface acknowledges that several are written by Fletcher with Philip Massinger, rather than Beaumont.

Editorship is usually assigned to the playwright James Shirley, who wrote the preface. Fletcher's work has also been extensively studied in the context of his collaboration with Shakespeare on three plays in 1612-13 for the King's Company. His solo play, The Woman's Prize, first published here, is a mock-sequel to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and depends on knowledge of it. The printing of the folio was farmed out to several printers, including Susan Islip and Ruth Raworth, two female printers in the 17th century.

The gilt arms on the covers declare this to be the copy of the Prince of Wales, the future Charles II. Humphrey Moseley was a decidedly Royalist publisher and the 43 pages of commendatory material in this volume have been described as containing "a literary manifesto of Cavalier writers" (Wright, 82). From their point of view, the book was published during the darkest days of the Second English Civil War - Grandison's poetical address "To the Stationer" opens: "Tell the sad World that now the lab'ring Presse / Has brought forth safe a Child of Happiness".

Whether Prince Charles enjoyed personal possession of this volume is an interesting conundrum. Moseley's preface to the Folio is dated 14 February 1646 (i.e. 1647 New Style), eleven months after the prince had left England on his father's orders, first sailing to the Isles of Scilly, next to Jersey, and last to France, where he stayed until he moved to The Hague in June 1648, staying there a year. The volume is first traced in commerce as sold by Sotheby's, 28 January 1935, lot 235, wanting the portrait and 5 preliminary leaves of complimentary verses, to Quaritch, who supplied the missing leaves, as was customary at the time, had them cleaned and repaired by the noted paper restorer Arthur B. Drescher (his stamped and counter-signed invoice to the rear pastedown) and sold the volume to Robert S. Pirie in 1960.

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Folio (343 x 220 mm). Contemporary dark brown morocco for Charles II as Prince of Wales, gilt-ruled borders and frame with gilt-stamped floral cornerpieces, spine with six raised bands, divided into nine compartments by double gilt rules, gilt-stamped flower-head tool in each compartment, gilt-stamped supralibros (three ostrich feathers emerging from a coronet with motto "Ich dien"), early 19th-century marbled endpapers of the Schrottel Pattern.


Engraved frontispiece portrait of John Fletcher by William Marshall in second state (reading "Vates Duplex" for "vates duplex", and with "J. Berkenhead" in small type), woodcut head- and tailpieces, decorative initials.


Bookplate of Robert S. Pirie. Head and foot of spine renewed, the portrait and 5 prelims (A1, A3, e2, f1, g2) supplied and with skilful cleaning and paper restoration at lower edges, extreme edges of margins very lightly browned, a handsome volume.


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