SHAKESPEARE (William): POEMS: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. 

London: Printed by Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by John Benson, dwelling in St. Dunstans Church-yard, 1640.

8vo, engraved Portrait Frontispiece by William Marshall after Droeshout, with verses below. Two letterpress title pages, both with woodcut printer’s device, the second undated, title-page extended and remargined at bottom, tiny abrasion at top of frontispiece, catchword *3 carelessly printed and punched through, final leaf (M4) extended; russet morocco by Bedford, covers gilt paneled, marbled endpapers, spine and edges gilt.



This edition by Benson brings together all but eight of the sonnets: “A Lover’s Complaint”, “The Passionate Pilgrim” (mostly not by Shakespeare), “The Phoenix and the Turtle” (attributed to Shakespeare), and elegies and other poems honoring Shakespeare by Jonson, Milton, Digges, Herrick, Strode, Carew, and others.

Benson famously reorganized the sonnets, probably out of concern that an old-fashioned sonnet sequence would not appeal to the generation of the Cavalier Poets. Many are run together to form poems of twenty-eight lines or more, and all are given titles. Benson also made some effort to disguise the homoerotic content of some sonnets, perhaps most strikingly in his changes to Sonnet 101 (“O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends”), which he runs together with Sonnet

100 under the title “An invocation of his Muse” while he also switches the gender of the pronouns to make the poet’s lover female.

References: STC 22344; ESTC S106377; Bartlett 27; Grolier/Langland to Wither 84; Hayward 30; Pfozheimer 880

Provenance: Alfred Henry Huth (Morocco label) – Christie’s New York, 18 November 1977, lot 115 (undesignated consignor) – Sotheby’s London, 26 April 1982, lot 439 (“Property of a Gentleman”) – Robert S. Pirie, purchased at the foregoing sale through Bernard Quaritch – Sotheby’s New York, 3 December 2015, lot 729 (“Collection of Robert S Pirie”)