"A Major Source for Shakespeare": Second and preferred edition of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland
The First and Second Volumes of Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland WITH: The Third volume of Chronicles, beginning at Duke William the Norman (Holinshed Chronicles).
Item Number: 95438
London: John Harrison, George Bishop, Rafe Newberie, Henrie Denham, and Thomas Woodcocke, 1587.
Preferred second edition of the greatest Elizabethan repository of English history which served as an important source for Shakespeare’s plays. Folios, 3 volumes bound into 2, bound in full calf, gilt titles and tooling to the spine, raised bands, red morocco spine labels, gilt ruled, woodcut initials and title pages. Separate title pages and pagination for The Description and Historie of England, The Description and Historie of Ireland, and The Description and Historie of Scotland comprising volume 1. When this expanded second edition of the Chronicles appeared in January 1587, the Privy Council, responding to Queen Elizabeth’s displeasure at certain passages, ordered the Archbishop of Canterbury to recall and censure the work; as a result extensive cancellations (74 pages) were made of offending sections in Volumes II and III. The censors removed “all references to English intervention in Scottish politics, raised the profile of the Earl of Leicester, and distanced England from Elizabeth’s one time suitor, the Duc d’Alençon. Any accounts of trials and executions were altered to ensure proceedings were unequivocally portrayed as being fair and legal” (King’s College London). The work of altering the entire edition of the Chronicles was rather haphazardly carried out, so that the sections affected vary from copy to copy. In this copy all of the offending sections are cancelled or excised. A nice example, scarce and desirable.
An immediate success upon publication, Holinshed’s Chronicles “form a very valuable repertory of historical information. The enormous number of authorities cited attests Holinshed’s and his successors’ industry. The style is clear, although never elevated, and the chronicler fully justified his claim ‘to have had an especial eye unto the truth of things” (DNB). As the foremost British history available at the time, the Chronicles did more to shape Elizabethan literature than any English historical work. “The Elizabethan dramatists drew many of their plots from Holinshed’s pages,” and this second edition is demonstrably the edition employed by Shakespeare as the principal source of his “history” plays. “Both W. G. Boswell-Stone and H. R. D. Anders have shown that it was this second edition which Shakespeare employed as the source, sole or part, of ten of his plays” (Pforzheimer 494 note). “Nearly all of the historical plays, as well as Macbeth, King Lear, and part of Cymbeline, are based on Holinshed” (DNB). In fact, Shakespeare drew not only his plots from Holinshed, but occasionally his phrases. The complete story of the rise and fall of Macbeth can be found in the Scottish history (Part III, pp. 170-76), and the Chronicles’ eloquent descriptions intimate at times the very wording of Shakespeare’s drama: Macbeth is described as “a valiant gentleman, and one that if he had not beene somewhat cruell of nature, might have beene thought most worthie the governement of a realme”; the three “weird sisters… women in straunge and wild apparell, resembling creatures of elder world” deliver to Macbeth and Banquo the fateful prophecies; and, in the final battle, Macduffe reveals that “I am even he that thy wizzards have told thee of, who was never borne out of my mother, but ripped out of her wombe” (Whitaker, Shakespeare’s Use of Learning).