17th Century editions of Hamlet-Q1, Q2, The Folio

17th Century – The majestic legacy of Queen Elizabeth I continues to reign long after her death in 1603.   However, the  beloved Queen dies  without leaving a direct blood heir.  Queen Elizabeth’s crown falls to a descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.  James I of England, formerly James VI of Scotland inherits the monarchy that beheaded his mother, Queen Mary of Scotland.

The Elizabethan and successive Jacobean (James I, formerly James VI of Scotland) dynasties are the first to publish The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark in playbook, quarto, and Folio form.  The collected works of Shakespeare, also known as the Folio were not printed until 1623, seven years after the death of William Shakespeare.


(Note to Reader:  The photos are patches of Royalty of England, a poster designed by C.L. Humby. Abydos Publishing, 1970.  (01-960 1650 or 01-586 2370.)  This poster was acquired at a gift shop run by the British National Trust several years before the wedding of Lady Diana to Prince Charles.  

Select British monarchs are included in this Transmission history of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Also, the Elizabethan and Jacobean era spellings of certain cited sources are retained and preserved to the fullest extent possible. 


Also, because this document (website content) is born digital and subject to frequent online emendations, corrections, and complications, many updates may be delayed.  Therefore, this site can not yet be described as a fully “fixed” or “situated” text until it is rendered by the author in final print format.  Follow MLA guidelines for citing an online source if you wish to reference any original comment or idea contained within this website.  Otherwise, follow the links provided, or go to the original sources to verify ideas and materials.

The little piece of kitsch pictured below represents an Elizabethan era dwelling inspired by the cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.   A building construction that is thousands of years old, wattle and daub structures cover wooden frames and platforms to form walls of latticed wood strips daubed with mixtures of mud, soil, sand, clay, and animal dung.  The straw thatched roofs invited rodent infestation; thus the peasants as well as lords and ladies built canopy beds to catch the mouse and rat droppings lest the animal feces befoul them in their snoring sleep.


1603.  The reign of Queen Elizabeth I ends, and James I (formerly James VI of Scotland) marks the beginning of the Jacobean Era and the merger of Queen Elizabeth’s Tudor and the King James Stuart Monarchies.

The First Quarto, Q1; The Second Quarto, Q2, The First Folio, F1, etc.

A facsimile (photocopy) of the 1623 Folio reprinted by Charlton Hinman in the 20th Century shows in the top left hand first column of text brief stage directions (entrances and exists) were likely carried over from Shakespearean quartos and Elizabethan theatrical texts.  A list of dramatis personae with famous actors such as Richard Burbage indicates the enormous role that actors played in Shakespeare’s theatre company.

1603.  The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shake_speare. First Quarto.  The First Quarto, also known as “the bad quarto.” The title inscription states, “as it hath beene diverse times acted by his Highness servents in the cittie of London: as also in the two vicinities (?) Cambridge and Oxford and else-where” (ivx).  Few copies of the first and second quartos are known to exist in quarto form. Copies of the Folios are not as rare and yet have been known to sell for upwards of six million dollars.  Yet,  if one had to determine the authenticity of a newly discovered true fair copy text of a the first quarto, one would want to examine the ornament on the title page. The ornament is the stamp or business logo of the man who held the copyright to Shakespeare’s plays. And who was that man?

The answer is revealed in the ornament. It shows winged human figures riding dragons or serpents on the top corners of the ornament and the back torso view of two naked nymphs on the bottom corners. The nymphs appear to be straddling the tail of the dragons or serpents; and they are holding a pen or quill in the left hands closest to reader while their right arms reach upward to a vine that ensnares a large fish at the center of the ornament.  Just above the vine-entangled fish is the enlarged pistol and stamen of a lotus or lily or another botanical. The letter N appears as a cameo before the nymph on the left and the letter L appears on a cameo before the nymph on the right.

The bottom copyright reads, “At London printed for N.L. and John Trundell. 1603.” However, the stationer’s register dated 26 July 1602 states that copyright is held under the name of James Roberts and that it is “Entered for his Copie under the handes of m ® Pasfield & m ® waterson warden A booke called the Revenge of Hamlett [sic] Prince of Denmarke as it was latelie Acted by the Lord Chamberleyn his servants. [register C, fol. 84 verso].” Roberts did not print this quarto until 1604, however. Herein lies the crux of many research ventures in textual transmission history.  So, if James Roberts held the copyright, what do the initials N.L. stand for in the copyright imprint ornament?

Meanwhile, a copy was printed during the time that King James I, formerly King James VI of Scotland, succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603 when the Lord Chamberlain’s men became The King’s Men under King James I.  So Q1, identified as having been printed in the shop of one Valentine Simmes for Nicholas Ling and John Trundle, is witnessed by the initials N.L. in the details of the ornament on the title page of Q1, otherwise known as “the bad quarto.”  Therefore, the initials N.L., for Nicolas Ling, in the ornament make sense, despite the fact that Ling and Trundle must have pirated the copyright from James Roberts.  At any rate, it consists of 34 unnumbered leaves and 2,221 lines of type, less than either Q2 or The Folio of 1623.

Except for the description of the ornament, all of this information regarding Q1 is paraphrased and properly poached from The Three-Text Hamlet:  Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and First Folio, Second Edition Revised and Expanded and edited by Bernice W. Kliman and Paul Bertram with Introduction by Eric Rasmussen.  Published by AMS Studies in the Renaissance: Brooklyn Navy Yard: Brooklyn, New York, 1991.


parrral texts hamlet

A photo of The Three-Text Hamlet:  Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and First Folio by Bernice W. Kliman and Paul Betram.  This is a must-have for any serious scholar of 17th Century Shakespearean textual criticism.


1604 or 1605. Second Quarto:  The quarto is 4,056 lines.  The trends in 20th Century editions favor Q2 as the O Prime, or copy text upon which to base all notes, emendations, and updates from previous editions.  The title page reads “The tragedie of Hamlet Prince of Denmark.  Newly printed and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was according to the true and perfect Coppie.”

It begins with character identifiers preceding each line.  The opening includes a dialogue between Francisco and Barnardo, whereas the first quarto begins with a dialogue between Marcelles and Hamlet.  The stage direction for Q1 reads, “Enter two Centinels” whereas the stage direction for Q2 reads “Enter Barnardo, and Francisco, two Centinels.  Marcellus and The Ghost of Hamlet’s father have more lines in the Q2 version; however Horatio has more lines in Q2 and the Folio version for Act 1.  Claudius’ first scene with Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius, and Laertes is absent in Q1.  In Q2 Claudius is called by name; whereas in The Folio he is identified by King, before each line of dialogue.  The Folio has scene identifiers such as “Scena Tertia.”  Laertes speaks more in Q2.  In Act I, Hamlet’s soliloquy is extensive “to the maner borne; it is a custome more honoured in the breach than in the observance” is particular to Q2 and nearly absent from both Q1 and The Folio.  The Polonius and Reynoldo scene in 1.5 is not in Q1.

There are too many differences between Q1 and Q2 for this brief annotation. See Bernice W. Kliman and Paul Betram’s Parallel Texts cited above to view the differences for each act. However, it is important to remember that Kliman and Betram contend that the acting companies who held the rights to the plays forestalled the printing of the play to prevent pirates from stealing playbooks and scripts, and to make certain that theatre audiences would not rely on the printed page in lieu of the performance.

Because the actors in Shakespeare’s acting company held stock in the King’s Men Acting Company, headed by William Shakespeare, they had a privileged right to protect the playbooks until the complete works of Shakespeare were published by the Shakespeare company actors, Heminges and Condell,  seven years after Shakespeare had died.  However, technically speaking, Shakespeare never owned the copyright on his own byline.

So, the printed copies of all the plays became available approximately two years after the plays opened on stage. (Lukas Erne qtd. In Betram and Kliman). As per the printing of the Kliman & Betram introductory textual criticism, there were seven extant copies of Q2 that had been owned and curated by the actors that later belonged to the famed actor John Philip Kemble. It came into his possession by means of Isaac Reed, editor of the First Variorum of 1785.

Another copy was found in the home of Francis Bacon, and another somehow traveled to The Convent of Mary Magdalen in Warsaw in the late 17th Century or early 18th Century; so it is possible that it moved into continental Europe before the printing of the First Folio (Kliman & Betram xv).  However the three quartos are established to have been printed by Roberts and published by Ling, who held the 1602 copyright along with Trundle, in 1604-05.  While the Kliman & Betram triple-play edition of the three texts proves extremely valuable, it should be noted that the introduction states that William Shakespeare’s signature did not appear on his will that was signed, “by me.”

This error is decidedly proven false by the 2016 exhibition and Celebration at The Folger Shakespeare Library that clearly displays his signature on his last will and testament wherein the Bard leaves his Stratford-upon-Avon property to his daughters and his furniture and “second best bed” to his wife, Anne Hathaway.

1607:   Translated by Lucas Fernandez into Portuguese (?)  Hamlet is reported as a performance aboard Captain Keeling’s ship named The Red Dragon.  (Manuscript in Sierra Leone?) Possible source of “The Bad Quarto” or Q1?  https://shine.unibas.ch/translators.htm

1623First Folio.    3,097 lines. Hamlet the Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare.  The title page reads, “Mr. William SHAKESPEARE’S COMEDIES, HISTORIES & TRAGEDIES, published according to the True Originall Copies. “ A picture of William Shakespeare replaces the ornament with “LONDON”  Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blunt, 1623 at the bottom.    Shakespeare’s players in the King’s Men, Heminges and Condell (who held the copyright on the edition) address readers with a preface or “epistle” titled, “To the Great Variety of Readers.”

The production of the Folio of 1623 took about two years and was completed seven years after William Shakespeare’s death.  Charlton Hinman concluded in the mid-twentieth Century that the Folio had been printed by about four or five (or more) different compositors who left evidence of disparate accidentals through idiosyncratic, individualized errors in the composing process.

Although the Folio is shorter than Q2, the length may not be as significant given the performance requirements that necessitated the writing of the quartos as playbooks.  The Folio was reprinted in several editions in the 17th century.  A little over 200 copies are extant.  Most are housed in Great Britain, The Folger Shakespeare Library, and a significant number are held in Japan.

1623-?  A number of quartos are printed and several editions of Folios printed as well.  See Farley-Hills’ Bibligraphy in the encyclopedic Critical Responses to Hamlet.

1649-1660  The Interregnum Period  between execution of Charles I and succession and restoration of monarchy with Charles II.  (Cromwell banned theatres during this period)  Still I am left wondering why a few resources are listed in the Farley-Hills Bibliography of editions and critical responses during this period.  Of course, the essay regarding the profane dramatic arts in 1698 by Collier could explain why theatre attendance became rare. Among those cited in Farley-Hills are as follows:

1662.  The Grave Makers from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ the Wits, or Sport Upon Sport. London, 1662.”  The Third Folio.

1676..  The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark as it is now Acted at his Highness the Duke of York’s Theatre.  London. The Farley-Hills citation includes a note that alludes to the rather extensive editing and possible censorship in transmitting via textual playbook or live production an abbreviated form of the drama.

1685.  The Fourth Folio containing Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories.

1695.  Single edition of Hamlet is printed in London.

Textual criticism, stage history and related texts printed during the 17th Century. (The following list is extrapolated from Critical Responses to Hamlet by Farley-Hills, Vol 1.)

1600  Harvey, Gabriel. A Note on Hamlet

1604  Scoloker, Anthony, Diaphantus.

1605 Chapman, Jonson Marston, Easterward Ho Act III, scene ii. 

1605  Anon.  Sir Thomas Smithes Voiage and Entertainment in Rushia.

1608.  Captain Keeling of HMS Dragon, Hamlet performed.

1609.  Dekker, Thomas.  Lantherne and Candle-light.

1619.  Anon.  A Funeral Elegy on the Death of Richard Burbage.

1624 ‘E.S’ Anthropophagus. 1624.

1624.  Gee, John.  New Shreds of The Old Snare.

1631.  Wye, Saltonstall, Picturae Loquentes.

1631.  Weever, john.  Funeral Monuments.  1631.

1644.  Anon.  The Execution of Archbishop Laud.  

1655.  Wright.  A Note on Hamlet. c 1655.

1669.  The Diaries of Pepys, Samuel and John Evelyn.  1660-1669.

1685.  Gould, Robert.  The Play-House.

1693.  Rhymer.  Thomas.  A Short View of English Tragedy. London.

1698.  Collier, Jeremy.  A Short View of the Immorality and Prophaness of the English Stage.  London

1698. The Defense of Dramatick Poetry, London.

1699.  Drake, James.  The Ancient and Modern Stages Survey’d.  London.


Modern Criticism about the 17th Century textual transmission and production of Hamlet

1888.  Wright. James.  Historica Histrionica.  1699. in Beaux and Belles of England, ed. R.W. Lowe, London.  

1927.  Hazelton, Spencer.  Shakespeare Improved:  The Restoration Versions in Quarto and on the Stage.  Cambridge, Mass.

1947.  Conklin, Paul S.  A History of Hamlet Criticism 1601-1821.

1950.  Williamson, Claude.  Readings on the Character of Hamlet 1661-1947.  London.

1952.  Nicole. A.  A History of English Drama 1660-190o. 6 volumes, revised edition Cambridge 1952-9.

1960.  Highfield, P.H., Burnin, and Langhans. A biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers…1660-1800. 18 volumes. Carbondale. 

1960.  Van Lennep. W., and E.L. Avery and A. H Scouten.  The London Stage 1660-1800, 11 volumes.  Carbondale. 

1984.  Frye, Roland, Mushat.  The Renaissance Hamlet:  Issues and Responses in 1600.






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Elizabethan Tudor styled-cottage decoration.