The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, £150,000 at Peter Harrington.

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The play was a collaboration between Shakespeare (1564-1616), who wrote the whole of act 1, act 2 scene 1, and act 5, and John Fletcher (1579-1625), and was written in 1613 or 1614. The dealership describes the play as a “remarkable, dark, complex tragicomedy, principally based on Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, which explores complex issues of same-sex intimacy and social coercion”.

Earlier this year Peter Harrington sold a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio – one of only 232 surviving copies – with an asking price of £6.25m (see ATG No 2595). It was exhibited shortly after its sale at Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair, which was dedicated to Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Folio.
The volume formed part of of a major group on offer from the London book dealership also including the Second, Third and Fourth Folios as well as a first edition of Shakespeare’s Poems.

Collaborate to win

The dealership says: “Some have argued that The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles were both excluded from the First Folio because they were collaborations, but this overlooks the many collaborative plays that were published in the Folio, including Henry VIII, also with John Fletcher, as well as Henry VI, Part 1, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Timon of Athens and All’s Well That Ends Well, all of which show signs of collaborative authorship.”

Besides Henry VIII, the climactic history play in the First Folio, Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on the lost play Cardenio, and their plays “often reveal mutual familiarity”.

Peter Harrington adds: “The partnership is sometimes represented as one between master and apprentice, but although Shakespeare was near the end of his play-writing career, he could not have known it, and Fletcher was no novice at the time the play was written.”

The Two Noble Kinsmen was entered on the Stationers’ Register by John Waterson on April 8, 1634. In October 1646, having retired from business, Waterson transferred his copyright to Humphrey Moseley.

The play was included in the second Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1679, its only folio publication that century. The Beaumont and Fletcher folios “demonstrate the ubiquity of often unacknowledged collaborative play-writing in the 17th century, containing only a minority of plays that are actual Beaumont-Fletcher collaborations,” says the dealership.

164366 2 Shakespeare

The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, £150,000 at Peter Harrington.

Just five in private hands

The online Shakespeare Census locates 59 extant copies of The Two Noble Kinsmen, plus one fragment, with five copies only in private hands.

This example, priced at £150,000 at Peter Harrington, bears leather book labels of James Terry (1844-1912) and Herschel V Jones (1861-1928); the paper bookplate of Kenneth Rapaport, with his note of purchase from Bernard Quaritch in 1972; and a Rosenbach collection card laid in.

Bound in 19th-century brown crushed morocco by Francis Bedford, it is housed in a brown quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.