|... you were abused with diverse stolen, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealth of injurious imposters, that exposed them ...|
"To the Great Variety of Readers," John Heminge and Henry Condell, 1623 First Folio
In their preface to the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, two of his former theater colleagues, John Heminge and Henry Condell, write that they collected the plays for the First Folio themselves, and disparage the earlier quarto versions as "stolen, and surreptitious" as well as "deformed." Similarly, the title page declares that these plays are printed "according to the True Original Copies." Many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Shakespeareans duly regarded the Folio plays as superior to the quartos.
Once we examine the Folio plays, however, it is difficult to take Heminge and Condell at face value. For one thing, some are essentially reprinted from earlier quartos. Today's editors must choose whether to base their editions upon quartos or the Folio for other reasons.
Early twentieth-century editors speculated that some much shorter, seemingly garbled quartos were produced when audience members took notes, or actors recreated the plays from memory. Among the examples of these is the 1600 quarto of Henry V; the First Folio offers a much fuller version. But most of the quarto texts are much better than the so-called "bad quartos" and may be equal to or better than those in the First Folio.
Speculation continues about how the plays got to be printed. All that we have are the printed texts.
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Adapted from Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (editors), Folger Library Shakespeare editions. © 2005 Folger Shakespeare Library
Shakespeare. Plays. 1623. London, 1623
Shakespeare. Henry V. London, 1600