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Droeshout's portrait of Shakespeare on the cover of the First Folio

Preface to The First Folio (1623)

Original spelling with explanatory comments in { }.

Ben Jonson
To the Reader

{This text is facing Droeshout's portrait of Shakespeare prefixed to the First Folio.}

This Figure, that thou here feest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut:
Wherein the Grauer had a strife
with Naure, to out-doo the life:
O, could he but haue dravvne his vvit
As vvell in frasse, as he hath hit
Hisface; the Print vvould then surpasse
All, that vvas euer in frasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his picture, but his Booke.


MR. William
Histories &
Published according to the True Original Copies
Printed by Ifaac Iaggard, and Ed, Bount. 1623


WILLIAM Earle of Pembroke, &c;. Lord Chamberlaine to the Kings most Excellent Majesty.


PHILIP Earle of Montgomery,&c;. Gentleman of his Majesties

Bed-Chamber. Both Knights of the most Noble Order

of the Garter, and our singular good L O R D S.

Right Honourable,

Whilst we studie to be thankful in our particular for the many favors we have received from your L.L. (Lordships), we are fallen upon the ill fortune, to mingle two the most diverse things that can be: feare, and rashnesse - rashnesse in the enterprize, and feare of the successe. For, when we valew the places your H.H. sustaine, we cannot but know their dignity greater, then to descend to the reading of these trifles: and, while we name them trifles, we have depriv'd our selves of the defence of our Dedication. But since your L.L. have beene pleas'd to thinke these trifles some-thing, heeretofore; and have prosequuted both them, and their Authour living, with so much favour: we hope, that (they out-living him, and he not having the fate, common with some, to be exequutor to his owne writings) you will use the like indulgence toward them, you have done unto their parent. There is a great difference, whether any Booke choose his Patrones, or finde them: This hath done both. For, so much were your L.L. likings of the severall parts, when they were acted, as before they were published, the Volume ask'd to be yours. We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his Orphanes, Guardians; without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame: onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow alive, as was our S H A K E S P E A R E , by humble offer of his playes, to your most noble patronage. Wherein, as we have justly observed, no man to come neere your L.L. but with a kind of religious addresse; it hath bin the height of our care, who are the Presenters, to make the present worthy of your H.H. by the perfection.

But, there we must also crave our abilities to be considerd, my Lords. We cannot go beyond our owne powers. Country hands reach foorth milke, creame, fruites, or what they have : and many Nations (we have heard) that had not gummes & incense, obtained their requests with a leavened Cake. It was no fault to approach their Gods, by what meanes they could: And the most, though meanest, of thins are made more precious, when they are dedicated to Temples. In that name therefore, we most humbly consecrate to your H.H. these remaines of your servant Shakespeare; that what delight is in them, may be ever your L.L. the reputation his, & the faults ours, if any be committed, by a payre so carefull to shew their gratitude both to the living, and the dead, as is.

Your Lordshippes most bounden,


To the great Variety of Readers.

From the most able, to him that can but spell: there you are number'd. We had rather you were weighed; especially, when the fate of all bookes depends upon your capacities and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well ! It is now publique, & you wil stand for your priviledges wee know : to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer saies. Then, how odde soever your braines be, or your wisedomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. Judge your six-pen'orth, your shillings worth, your five shillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, Buy. Censure will not drive a Trade, or make the Jacke go. And though you be a Magistrate of wit, and sit on the Stage at Black-Friers, or the Cock-pit, to arraigne Playes dailie, know, these Playes have had their triall alreadie, and stood out all Appeales ; and do now come forth quitted rather by a Decree of Court, then any purchased letters of commendation.

It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to have bene wished, that the author himselfe had lived to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings; but since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to have collected & publish'd them; and so to have publish'd them, as where (before) you were abused with diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos'd them : even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them.

Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together: And what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, that wee have scarse received from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our province, who onely gather his works, and give them you, to praise him. It is yours that reade him. And there we hope, to your divers capacities, you will finde enough, both to draw, and hold you: for his wit can no more lie hid, then it could be lost. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe : And if then you doe not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. And so we leave you to other of his Friends, whom if you need, can be your guides: if you neede them not, you can lead yourselves, and others, and such readers we wish him.

John Heminge.
Henrie Condell.

A CATALOGVE of the Seuerall Comedies, Historie, and Tragedies in this Volume


The Tempest.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Measure for Measure.
The Comedy of Errours.
Much adoo about Nothing.
Loves Labour lost.
Midsommer Nights Dreame.
The Merchant of Venice.
As you Like it.
The Taming of the Shrew.
All is well, that Ends well.
Twelfe-Night, or what you will.
The Winters Tale.


The Life and Death of King John.
The Life & death of Richard the second.
The First part of King Henry the fourth.
The Second part of K. Henry the fourth.
The Life of King Henry the Fift.
The First part of King Henry the Sixt.
The Second part of King Hen. the Sixt.
The Third part of King Henry the Sixt.
The Life and Death of Richard the Third.
The Life of King Henry the Eight.


The Tragedy of Coriolanus.
Titus Andronicus.
Romeo and Juliet.
Timon of Athens.
The Life and death of Julius Caesar.
The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The Tragedy of Hamlet.
King Lear.
Othello, the Moore of Venice.
Anthony and Cleopater.
Cymbeline King of Britaine.

To the memory of my beloved, MR.   W I L L I A M   S H A K E S P E A R E:
what he hath left us.


{Ben Jonson's Eulogy to Shakespeare}

To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame;
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho's right;
Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thine to ruine, where it seem'd to raise.
These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th' ill fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age !
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our Stage !
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion'd Muses :
For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,
And tell, how farre thou dist our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kid or Marlowes mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke
For names; but call forth thund'ring schilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to vs,
Paccuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
And shake a stage : Or, when thy sockes were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme !
Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit.
The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not
please;But antiquated, and deserted lye
As they were not of Natures family.
Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part;
For though the Poets matter, Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses anvile : turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
For a good Poet's made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou. Looke how the fathers face
Lives in his issue, even so, the race
Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines
In his well toned, and true-filed lines :
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance.
Sweet swan of Avon! what a fight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc'd, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight fro' hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.

B E N : J O N S O N

{Hugh Holland's Elegiac Sonnet to Shakespeare}

Upon the Lines and Life of the Famous Scenicke Poet, Master W I L L I A M S H A K E S P E A R E

Those hands, which you so clapt, go now, and wring
You Britaines brave; for done are Shakespeares dayes :
His dayes are done, that made the dainty Playes,
Which made the Globe of heav'n and earth to ring.
Dry'de is that veine, dry'd is the Thespian Spring,
Turn'd all to teares, and Phoebus clouds his rayes :
That corp's, that coffin now besticke those bayes,
Which crown'd him Poet first, then Poets King.
If Tragedies might any Prologue have,
All those he made, would scarse make a one to this :
Where Fame, now that he gone is to the grave
(Deaths publique tyring-house) the Nuncius is,
For though his line of life went soone about,
The life yet of his lines shall never out.

H U G H   H O L L A N D

{Dedication to Shakespeare by Leonard Digges}

TO the MEMORIE of the deceased Authour Maister W. S H A K E S P E A R E.

Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellowes give
The world thy Workes : thy Workes, by which, out-live
Thy Tombe, thy name must when that stone is rent,
And Time dissolves thy Stratford Moniment,
Here we alive shall view thee still. This Booke,
When Brasse and Marble fade, shall make thee looke
Fresh to all Ages: when Posteritie
Shall loath what's new, thinke all is prodegie
That is not Shake-speares; ev'ry Line, each Verse
Here shall revive, redeeme thee from thy Herse.
Nor Fire, nor cankring Age, as Naso said,
Of his, thy wit-fraught Booke shall once invade.
Nor shall I e're beleeve, or thinke thee dead.
(Though mist) untill our bankrout Stage be sped
(Imposible) with some new straine t'out-do
Passions of Juliet, and her Romeo ;
Or till I heare a Scene more nobly take,
Then when thy half-Sword parlying Romans spake.
Till these, till any of thy Volumes rest
Shall with more fire, more feeling be exprest,
Be sure, our Shake-speare, thou canst never dye,
But crown'd with Lawrell, live eternally.

L. Digges

{Dedication to Shakespeare by James Mabbe}

To the memorie of M.W. Shake-speare

WEE wondred, Shake-speare, that thou went'st so soone
From the Worlds-Stage, to the Graves-Tyring-roome.
Wee thought thee dead, but this thy printed worth,
Tels thy Spectators, that thou went'st but forth
To enter with applause. An Actors Art,
Can dye, and live, to acte a second part.
That's but an Exit of Mortalitie;
This, a Re-entrance to a Plaudite.

J. M.

The Workes of William Shakespeare,
containing all his Comedies, Histories, and
Truely set forth, according to their first

The Names of the Principall Actors in all these Playes.

William Shakespeare.
Richard Burbadge.
John Hemmings.
Augustine Phillips.
William Kempt.
Thomas Poope.
George Bryan.
Henry Condell.
William Slye.
Richard Cowly.
John Lowine.
Samuell Crosse.
Alexander Cooke.
Samuel Gilburne.
Robert Armin.
William Ostler.
Nathan Field.
John Underwood.
Nicholas Tooley.
William Ecclestone.
Joseph Taylor.
Robert Benfield.
Robert Goughe.
Richard Robinson.
John Shancke.
John Rice.

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