#42 King John, fragment from Second Folio (1632)
This fragment consists of the entire play King John which at some point was removed from a copy of the Second Folio. There was—and remains—a thriving trade in fragments of Shakespeare folios. It was once common to repair incomplete or damaged copies of the First Folio with pages from a subsequent folio edition (there were four folio editions of Shakespeare’s plays published in the seventeenth century). In this instance, however, it is likely that these pages were removed in order to sell an incomplete copy of the Second Folio as separate fragments, in order to maximize profit. This fragment thus becomes a kind of relic, the remains of a secular scripture. It also demonstrates the fundamental instability of the material object. A “Shakespeare Folio” is only a book when the pages are bound together in a way that resembles what we define as a book. The scene that begins on page twelve features the defiant and moving lament of Constance for her son Arthur, who has been imprisoned by King John. The act and scene numbers (in Latin) are incorrect—such divisions were not standardized until the eighteenth century.