Shakespeare Quarto Text

William Shakespeare

The Biography of William Shakespeare

  • What was a Quarto text?
  • Why were his plays documented in Quarto text?
  • Were plays stolen?
  • Payment for Plays?
  • Interesting information about the plays and quarto text of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Quarto Text


  • Plays during the Elizabethan era were big business! Money!
  • The more Plays a Theatre produced the bigger the audience and the greater the profit!
  • Plays were written and then performed as soon as possible - they were not printed until after they were performed
  • Shakespeare was just paid a one-off fee for the play - there were no Royalties!
  • There were no Copyright Laws to protect Shakespeare's work!
  • The actors used 'foul papers' or prompts from the Playwrights own copy of the play which were produced as a Quarto text (sometimes the Playwright would pay a scribe to produce a better copy of the play)
  • So rivals from other Theatre companies would copy the plays!
  • Rival members would attend plays to produce unauthorised copies of plays - notes were made and copied as quickly as possible
  • These would be taken to the rival theatre and another version of the Play would be produced!
  • These unauthorised and inferior text copies of William Shakespeare's plays were produced as Quarto Texts


  • A Quarto is a sheet of paper folded in half and then in half again - thus creating four quarto sections
  • The reverse of the paper was also used for writing giving eight sections in all
  • Each of the 8 sections would be used as a page of the play
  • Shakespeare would have used a Quarto when writing his plays
  • His rivals would have written copies on a Quarto
  • The text on a Quarto was very basic with only limited stage directions
  • There are variations of Shakespeare plays due to Quarto Text - Foul Papers
  • As many of Shakespeare's plays were not printed in his lifetime changes to the original plays were inevitable made
  • Many of Shakespeare's plays were first printed seven years after his death in the First Folio
  • The content of the plays in the First Folio were committed to print from a fellow actor's memory or from the rough drafts or ' Foul Papers ' which had been written as Quarto Texts
  • Printers used the Quarto Texts and then sold the plays. They often made totally unauthorised changes to a play in order appeal to potential customers!
  • There are copies of these Quarto texts still in existence but none are believed to be in Shakespeare's own hand writing
  • The Shakespeare plays as detailed in the 'First Folio' are very much like the plays we read today

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