The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark

London: Printed by Andr[ew] Clark for J. Martyn, and H. Herringman, 1676.

The first Restoration appearance of Hamlet, and the first documented performance with women actors

(Item #5540) The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. William Shakespeare.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark

London: Printed by Andr[ew] Clark for J. Martyn, and H. Herringman, 1676. First Thus, Sixth Overall. First edition of Sir Willliam Davenant’s so-called “Players’ Quarto,” the sixth quarto edition overall. Quarto (208 x 159 mm). Nineteenth-century red half roan, Papier Tourniquet sides. Housed in a burgundy quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery. Unlettered book label, a simple woodcut of a baron’s coronet. Matches Bartlett’s physical description of the copy from the libraries of George Francis Richardson (1829–1912), sold Rains Galleries, New York, 25 Feb. 1937, lot 314, and the American actor Walter Abel (1898–1987); recent book label of Kenneth Rapoport, with his note of acquisition at Swann Galleries, 8 October 1987. Spine ends worn, stabholes where once stitched, sig. M2 torn at both outer corners, the upper corner restored with partial loss of page numeral on verso, the lower neatly repaired without loss, a few minor marks, a very good copy.

Hamlet probably was always too long for full presentation, and in performance Davenant’s version was shortened by some 841 lines. However, the printed text incorporates the cuts marked with prefatory double inverted commas, making it easy to see what was played on the Restoration stage, while preserving the original.

This edition is the first separate printing of Hamlet after the Restoration, the first edition to list the players (including two women, now allowed to appear on the public stage for the first time), and the first to divide the play into acts. Davenant made some refinement to the language in accordance with contemporary taste, but refrained from the wholesale alterations made to many other Shakespeare plays in the Restoration period.

Davenant and the Duke of York’s company had taken over the rights to perform Hamlet from the defunct King’s Men in the early 1660s. Davenant coached Thomas Betterton as Hamlet and Betterton’s future wife Mary Saunderson as Ophelia in the acting style he claimed to remember from the performances of Joseph Taylor, Richard Burbage’s successor as leading man, and his colleagues prior to 1642. The company first performed Hamlet at their new theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1661. Pepys records seeing the production on 24 August, “done with scenes very well, but above all, Betterton did the prince’s part beyond imagination.”

The online Shakespeare Census locates 27 extant copies of this edition, only 4 in private hands. There is another edition dated 1676, with the imprint in five lines, rather than four, as here. The five-line edition was in fact printed c.1683-4 for Richard Bentley.

Wing S-2950; Bartlett 84; Greg I 197 (i); Woodward & McManaway 336; ESTC R17530 citing ten copies in U.S. libraries.
(Item #5540)

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The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark
The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark

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