Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio at Maynooth University Library

Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian

Portrait of William Shakespeare from the ‘Fourth Folio’

Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio, printed in 1685, will be on display outside the Special Collections Reading Room in the John Paul II Library during May 2018.

The fourth edition of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, more commonly known as the Fourth Folio, was printed for Herringman, Brewster and Bentley ‘at the Anchor in the New Exchange, the Crane in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, and in Russell-Street Covent-Garden’ in the year 1685. The Fourth Folio was printed just twenty-two years after the printing of the Third Folio, many copies of which were destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The text features the engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droedshout which appears opposite the title page. It also includes the original dedication to William Earl of Pembroke and his brother Philip E. of Montgomery by compilers of the First Folio,  John Heminge and Henry Condell.

Jean Marsden suggests that the playwright and poet Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), based his 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s works on the 1685 Fourth Folio.[1] According to Valerie Hotchkiss and Fred C. Robinson the Fourth Folio contains standardised typography and improved punctuation along with consistently italicised stage directions.[2] Fredson Bowers argues that there are three distinct sections in the Fourth Folio and that each section was produced by a different printing house. Bowers notes inconsistencies in the use of woodcut ornamental initial letters and plain display capitals between the three sections. The first section of the text features floral woodcut initials, while the second section features just one initial letter, and the third does not feature any woodcut initial letters at all.[3] Bowers also identifies Robert Roberts as a printer of this folio.

The Library’s copy of the Fourth Folio was once owned by Edward Maurice, Bishop of Ossory from 1755-56 (the handwritten signature on the title page reads ‘Ed. Maurice’). The Folio is part of the Otway-Maurice collection which was recently transferred from the St. Canice’s Cathedral Library, Kilkenny to Maynooth University Library on a long-term loan basis. The collection includes over 3,000 titles printed before the year 1850, including four examples of incunabula (pre-1500 printing).

Our copy of the Fourth Folio features seven handwritten titles listed under ‘A catalogue of all the Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies contained in this Book’, which include: The London Prodigall, The Puritan Widow, and A Yorkshire Tragedy. The play Pericles is also listed, although as Eric Rasmussen and the Rev. Will Sharpe indicate, this play was not included in the First Folio, despite having appeared in the 1609 quarto.[4] The text of the Fourth Folio contains several errors but perhaps the most significant appears in the title of Hamlet which reads ‘RPINCE’ as opposed to ‘PRINCE’ of Denmark.

Image reproduced by permission of the Librarian, Maynooth University, from the St. Canice’s Cathedral Library, Kilkenny; on long-term loan from The Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.


[1] “Rowe, Nicholas.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. : Oxford University Press, 2015. Oxford Reference. 2015. Date Accessed 21 Oct. 2016;

[2] Hotchkiss, V., & Robinson, F. C. (2008). English in Print from Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton: From Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton. Baltimore, US: University of Illinois Press. Retrieved from

[3] Bowers, F. (1951). Robert Roberts: A Printer of Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio. Shakespeare Quarterly, 2(3), 241-246. doi:1. Retrieved from

[4] The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. : Oxford University Press, 2015. Oxford Reference. 2015. Date Accessed 21 Oct. 2016;

2 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio at Maynooth University Library

  1. Elizabeth Murphy May 15, 2018 / 10:49 am

    Belatedly reading your post, Barbara.

    Very interesting!




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