The Rare Books Program’s acquisitions budget – new this year – has brought some wonderful additions to our special collections. Most recently, we’ve acquired a beautiful copy of The Tragedie of Julius Caesar, printed in London in 1632 as part of the Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. Accompanying Julius Caesar in the same binding is a copy of Timon of Athens, from the same historic printing.
The Second Folio was notable in several respects. Hundreds of words in the First Folio, which had been printed nine years earlier, were changed or corrected for the Second Folio printing, and most of those changes have come to be included in modern editions. Many scholars regard the Second Folio as the first Shakespeare publication to reflect conscientious editing. The paper used for the folio was of such quality that in the 1630s William Prynne, a Puritan who abhorred all things theatrical, expressed outrage that mere plays should be printed on paper finer than that used for many Bibles. (Prynne was on to something: the plays were indeed printed on good paper, and happily for us, it remains flexible and durable today.)
When the folio was originally issued, the texts of Timon and Caesar, in that order, were adjacent. But their order is reversed in our volume, which is bound in handsome marbled boards with a leather spine and gilt lettering.
Julius Caesar is a masterwork by any standard. Timon of Athens may not be top-tier Shakespeare, but we’re very glad to have ancient Greece, along with ancient Rome, represented in this welcome addition to our ever-growing rare book collections.