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Six quarto editions of The Life and Death of Richard III. were published before the appearance of the folio of 1623. The title of the first quarto is: THE TRAGEDY OF | King Richard the third. | Containing, | His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: | the pittiefull murther of his innocent nephewes: his tyrannicall vsurpation: with the whole course / of his detested life, and most deserued death. | As it hath beene lately Acted by the Right honourable the Lord Chamber-1 laine his seruants. | AT LONDON | [Pri]nted by Valentine Sims, for Andrew Wise, dwelling in Paules Chuch-yard [sic], at the Signe of the Angell. / 1597.
In the title of the second quarto (1598), printed for Wise by Thomas Creede, the words "By William Shake-speare" occupy a new line after “seruants." The fourth, fifth, and sixth quartos also spell the author's name with a hyphen. The third quarto (1602), also printed by Creede, gives it as "Shakespeare,” and adds, in a line above, the words “Newly augmented” followed by a comma, which appear in the titles of the remaining quartos. The fourth (1605) and the fifth (1612) were printed by Creede for “Mathew Lawe, dwelling in Paules Church-yard, at the Signe of the Foxe, neare S. Austin's Gate." The title of the fifth alters the title of the actors to "the Kings Maiesties seruants." As the licence by virtue of which the Lord Chamberlain's players became the King's bears date 19 May, 1603, this alteration probably should have appeared in the previous quarto. It occurs in the rest. The sixth quarto (1622) was printed for Law by Thomas Purfoot; the seventh (1629) and eighth (1634) by John Norton.
The title of the play in the first folio (1623) is: The Tragedy of Richard the Third : | with the Landing of Earle Richmond, and the Battell at Bosworth Field. The pages are headed: The Life and Death of Richard the Third. The play is divided into acts and scenes.
The fourth scene of Act III. includes scenes iv.-vii. as at present arranged. In Act Iv. there are four scenes instead of five, scenes ii. and iii. being treated as one. The second scene of Act v. embraces scenes ii.-v. of the modern editions.
While the quarto editions present many internal variations, they form one text of the play which was derived originally from Q 1, and in the remaining editions underwent steady degeneration. Q 1 is the basis of the text of Q 2; Q 2 supplies a basis for Q 3, and transmits to it, as a general rule, its own characteristic errors and variations. The rest of the quartos, with one possible exception, follow the same plan of reprinting the most recent edition, so that, in each, the accumulation of printer's errors and alterations grows. The Cambridge editors hold that Q 5 was printed, not from Q 4, but from Q 3. For the present edition a minute examination has been made of Qq 1-4 and 26; but for Q 5 the editor has relied upon the Cambridge collation. But his impression is that of Mr. P. A. Daniel, who thinks that the Cambridge collation “suggests that 2 5 was printed from a copy made up of Q 3 and Q 4." It is sufficient to refer to the first scene of the play, where, at lines 8, 14, 39, 48, 71, the debt of 2 5 to the errors of Q 4 is perfectly manifest. Very probably, as the play advanced, the printer realised that he had been guilty of heinous mistakes in Q 4, and, to avoid them, consulted the copy which in 1602 he had printed for another bookseller. He may have referred, as at I. i. 65, to Q 2, which he also had printed, to correct an error shared by Q 3 and Q 4. But the assumption that 2 5 was not, in the first place, printed from Q 4, involves a number of undesigned coincidences in error between the two editions, which are quite improbable.
A point of greater textual importance is the statement, in Q 3 and its successors, that the play had been “newly augmented.” The possible bearing of these words on its authorship will be discussed later. As a matter of fact, the text received no