The Discovery of Eight Shakespeare Quartos in Bacon's Library

by Lawrence Gerald

Discovered on the property of the Verulam home in 1909 were eight quartos of Shakespeare plays: Titus Andronicus, Richard the Third, Richard the Second, King Lear, King John, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Henry the IV. The quartos were found wrapped up in brown paper and stashed behind some bookshelves. When the old Bacon home belongings were transferred back in 1754, the quartos were overlooked and were laying dormant for over 155 years! The originals were kept there until 1923 when the Bodleian Library stepped in to look after them and slow their deterioration.

Examining the facsimiles one can see a winged head image on the front page of Titus Andronicus. Two of the plays had no name associated on it. The implications of these quartos on Bacon's property are enormous. These rare plays were difficult to own during that time as well due to the printing costs and one had to be very, very closely associated with the playwright to be in possession of them. There is no record of them being purchased. If something like this was discovered in Stratford it would have made international headlines even in 1909, the same year Mark Twain published his book on the authorship issue. Why wasn't a big fuss made at the time of the discovery? Little has been written on the discovery. Jean Overton Fuller in her bio on Francis Bacon wrote of "The Gorhambury Quartos" and associated the dates with the Shakespeare Quartos:

Romeo and Juliet 1599
Richard III 1602
Hamlet 1605
King Lear 1608
Titus Andronicus 1611
King John 1611
King Henry IV 1613
Richard II 1615

Fuller states, "It is not known how they came to be there. The present family of Verulams think they must have formed part of Bacon's library, simply because they cannot think of anybody else who lived in that house who would have been likely to bring in Shakespeare Quartos. The binding could have been done by a more recent occupant, who thought good to secure together things of similar character."

"The likelihood of Shakespeare Quartos being acquired casually recedes with distance from the time in which they were produced. There are so few of them altogether, it is rather odd that seven should have as their provenance that house." Fuller adds in a footnote, "as the dates of the Hamlet Quarto are generally given as 1602, the "bad Quarto," and 1604, the "good Quarto," the 1605 puzzled me and I wrote about it to the Bodleian; the Keeper of Printed Books, Dr. R.T. Roberts, replied to me, "There are seven known copies of the second or "good" quarto of Hamlet. Of these, three bear the date 1604 and four the date of 1605. The Verulam copy is one of the latter. The texts are otherwise identical and the reason for the change of date is unknown. There is, I suppose, a possibility that the title-pages were printed about the turn of the year."

I wish to thank the Bodelian Library for these photocopies, made from microfilm of the original documents.

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