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Publication Chrono

Publication Chronology

The table below lists the dates that Shakespeare's works were written* and then appeared in print. Some works were reprinted several times, Venus and Adonis by far the most. Eighteen of his plays (in Bold below) never appeared in print before the first folio. A few related works are included in this list: Greenes Groats-Worth of Witte (1592)1, Palladis Tamia (1598)2The Passionate Pilgrim (1599)3The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (1616)4, and the “False Folio” (1619)5. Footnotes on these publications appear below the table.
  1. Greenes Groats-Worth of Witte (1592) is a short book by Cambridge-educated author and playwright Robert Greene. It includes the first mention of the young Shakespeare in London. This mention occurred a year before any work by Shakespeare had appeared in print, but certainly after Shakespeare's early plays appeared onstage. Greene calls Shakespeare an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers,” and “an absolute Johannes fac totum” (jack-of-all-trades), perhaps suggesting that Shakespeare was writing, acting and maybe even managing some of the company business. Greene adds that Shakespeare “is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.”
  2. Palladis Tamia (1598) is a book of literary history and criticism written by Francis Meres, who compared Shakespeare with Seneca for tragedy and Plautus for comedy. He described him as “Mellifluous and honey-tongued,” and added, “the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speak English.” This book refers to twelve plays written by Shakespeare – Two Gentlemen of Verona, Comedy of Errors, Love's Labours Lost, Love Labours Won, Midsummer's Night Dream, Merchant of Venice, Richard II, Richard III, Henry the IV, King John, Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet. This is one reason we know these plays were written no later than 1598. The mention of Love's Labor's Won intrigues scholars, especially since it is mentioned again in a 1603 book seller's catalogue. The play has never been found and it was not published in the First Folio. Some scholars speculate that it may have been an alternate title for another comedy, perhaps Much Ado About Nothing.
  3. The Passionate Pilgrim (1599) is a poetry anthology published in octavo format by William Jaggard, who later printed the first folio. This book contains twenty poems that Jaggard purported to be written by Shakespeare but only five are now considered authentic.
  4. The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (1616) is the first collection of stage plays printed in folio format. This publication, which appeared the year Shakespeare died, set the precedent for printing Shakespeare's works in folio format seven years later. Jonson published his own folio and lived another twenty-one years. Shakespeare's folio was published by his colleagues and friends,  John Heminges and Henry Condell, seven years after his death.
  5. The “False Folio” (1619) is so named because it appears to be the first attempt to print a collection of Shakespeare plays in a single volume. The ten plays published in 1619, once again printed by William Jaggard, were not actually in folio format but in a somewhat oversized quarto format. Customers could choose to bind them together or singly. This collection is also known as the “Pavier quartos” after Thomas Pavier, a printer and associate of Jaggard, who owned the rights to several but not all of the plays. Title pages to some of these plays were falsified to obscure actual rights and original printing dates. The only known extant copy of this publication is in the Folger Shakespeare Library. This “False Folio” may have provided the impetus to publish the more comprehensive and authoritative First Folio.
  6. Henry VI, Part 2 is the title the play was given in the First Folio printed in 1623. In 1594, when this play was printed in quarto format, the title was, The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey…
  7. A Taming of a Shrew, printed by Peter Short with anonymous authorship in 1594, is different from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which was not printed until the First Folio in 1623. A Shrew may have been an early draft of The Shrew by Shakespeare or a pirated version of Shakespeare's or an original by someone else that Shakespeare used as a source. A Shrew was reprinted in 1596 and 1607.

* The dates of the writings of each work are taken from Oxford Reference, and are based on the “Canon and Chronology” section in William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion, by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, with John Jowett and William Montgomery (1987). Plays are listed in the first year each is conjectured to be written. A “+” sign indicates that the play may have been written the following year or later. Other scholars differ about the years these works were written. In many cases, the best we can determine is a year after which they were not written. For example, the date on the title page of the earliest printing of Venus and Adonis is 1593 so we know it was not written later than that. In another case, the date on the title page of Pallis Tamia is 1598, and some of the plays Meres lists in that book did not formerly appear in print so at best we know those plays were not written later than 1598.

** The Sonnets are conjectured to have been written from about 1503 to 1603.