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The frontispiece of the First Folio of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies by William Shakespeare, published in 1623, is an engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout. On the opposite page to the engraving are ten lines of verse written by Ben Jonson.


To the reader

This figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the graver had a strife
With nature to outdo the life.
O, could he but have drawn his wit
As well in brass as he hath hit
His face, the print would then surpass
All that was ever writ in brass!
But since he cannot, reader, look
Not on his picture, but his book.


Jonson is saying that the engraving is a true likeness of Shakespeare, but if we want to see Shakespeare`s wit we will not find it in his picture, but in his book; his book being the First Folio of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.

The Wit of William Shakespeare explains the wit that is concealed in Shakespeare`s book, and by so doing throws a new light on the working methods of the world`s greatest dramatist.            

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