The Tragedie of Coriolanus [Extracted from the First Folio].. [London: Isaac Jaggard..., 1623.]
Folio (317 x 201 mm). 30 pp, the complete play. Modern blue crushed morocco, ruled in gilt, upper border shaved above headlines on most leaves, sometimes affecting the headline and pagination, leaves extended at upper margins, minor dampstain to upper margin and inner margin of early leaves, minor staining, some small wormholes, a single early ink marginal notation to p 13, corners and lower fore-edge repaired to most leaves.
FIRST PRINTING OF CORIOLANUS, SHAKESPEARE'S MOST INCISIVE EXPLORATION OF THE BODY POLITIC.
Conceived on a grand scale, Coriolanus is set in a quasi-mythical early Rome (c. 500 BC) where Coriolanus, a military hero, has been chosen to rule as consul. The play brings into sharp focus the political ideal of selfless service to the state and contrasts the meaning such selflessness assumes in the differing contexts of war and peace. Though Coriolanus is an excellent general, virtuously grounded with archetypal purity in the military idea of literally sacrificing his life for the state's greater good -- he is yet paradoxically a man incapable of learning the civic virtue and the other-oriented selflessness requisite to it. Coriolanus's tragic downfall pointedly brings to the fore the fundamental challenge of political leadership: tempering adherence to noble principle with responsiveness to the ever-changing needs and desires of the populace. Coriolanus's trenchant questioning of authoritarian leadership speaks to every generation and is of the greatest relevance today. T.S. Eliot famously called the play Shakespeare's "most assured artistic success" (Eliot, The Sacred Wood, p 124).
Shakespeare is considered the greatest political dramatist in the English tradition and Coriolanus his crowning achievement within the genre. Shakespeare here explicitly conceives the state to be a living body – a conception articulated in the very first scene through the famous "fable of the belly" – and the play demonstrates the necessity of harmonizing both the patrician and the plebian parts of the Body Politic for the healthy functioning of the state. Written toward the close of Shakespeare's career, Coriolanus is distinguished both for its political vision and for its masterful control of plot, according to Frank Kermode, "Probably the most fiercely and ingeniously planned and expressed of all the tragedies" (Kermode, Shakespeare's Language, p 254).
"Incomparably the most important work in the English language" (Pforzheimer Catalogue), the First Folio is both the definitive source for Shakespeare's plays and for all practical purposes the earliest obtainable printing of any particular play. Remarkably, Coriolanus, along with seventeen other plays, had never previously been printed, and its appearance in the First Folio represents its first publication in any form. This First Folio printing of Coriolanus is in fact the only known source of the text: no earlier printing, manuscript, or prompt-book exists today.
The number of extant plays individually bound from the First Folio is very small, and complete copies of Coriolanus are rare. With the rise in price of the First Folio — now well into 7-figures — individually bound plays are becoming increasingly desirable and hard-to-find. Rich in both wisdom and art, Coriolanus is both a Shakespeare high spot and a masterwork of world literature.
See Pforzheimer 905 (for First Folio).