SHIRLEY, James. The Opportunitie a comedy, as it vvas presented by her Majesties Servants, at the private house in Drury Lane

London, printed by Thomas Cotes for Andrew Crooke, 1640


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp.[76]. [A]² B-K. Roman letter, some Italic. “One of three imprint variants of this edition.” ESTC. Small woodcut ornament on title, woodcut initials and head-pieces, typographical ornaments, ms. corrections to the text in a contemporary hand in six places. Age yellowing, some light browning, light, mostly marginal waterstaining in places, ink soiling at blank upper margin of two leaves in quire B (probably from press), repair to lower blank margin of G3 & K4, small closed tear repaired in blank of t-p. A good copy, crisp and clean with good margins, some deckle edges, in brown cloth circa 1900, green morocco label, gilt lettered on spine.

Rare first edition, of this important late Carolingian comedy by James Shirley. The Opportunity was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on 29 November 1634. It was acted by Shirley’s regular company, Queen Henrietta’s Men, at the Cockpit Theatre. Shirley was in Ireland at this time this work was printed and it seems that Queen Henrietta’s Men sold off a dozen of his plays to the stationers for printing. This 1640 first quarto is dedicated by Shirley to a personal friend, Capt. Richard Owen. Shirley relied on El Castigo del Penséque by Tirso de Molina as his source for the plot which proved to be popular, and was revived in November 1660. During the Interregnum when the theatres were closed, material from The Opportunity was extracted and performed as a droll called ‘The Price of Conceit’, published in ‘The Wits’ in 1672. cf Forsythe,The Relations of Shirley’s Plays to the Elizabethan Drama.’

“James Shirley (1596-1666) is one of the most significant dramatic writers of the late English Renaissance. He had an easy command of tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy, masque, pastoral, morality, and neo-miracle genres. His non-dramatic works include poems and grammars. His style was admired by Thomas May, John Ford, Philip Massinger, and the actors Garrick and Kemble. Adaptations from the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century attest to Shirley’s lasting popularity. He also inspired great musicians such as William Lawes and Matthew Locke. Shirley’s famous poem “The Glories of Our Blood and State” from his entertainment The Contest of Ajax and Ulysses is said to have seized Oliver Cromwell “with great terror”. Caroline drama would be unthinkable without Shirley. Charles I personally suggested the plot for Shirley’s highly successful 1633 comedy The Gamester. Shirley wrote for a wide variety of venues, ranging from the Blackfriars Theatre to Banqueting House, Whitehall, and the first public playhouse in Dublin. He was fond of strong yet nuanced female characters. Critics still appreciate his elegant craftsmanship, his fast-paced, witty dialogues, and his detached portrayal of social manners.” ‘The Complete Works of James Shirley.’

“The plot of the opportunity exemplifies Shirley’s approach to dramatic form and his relation to antecedent drama. So often when we think that he is simply a copy, he turns out to be an original; he digests antecedent drama not in order to recapitulate its work, but rather in order to make it disappear.”  Barbara Ravelhofer James Shirley and Early Modern Theatre: New Critical Perspectives. The marginal corrections, though few, are intriguing as they point to possible theatrical use.

This copy was purchased from Quaritch in 1965 by the actress Elizabeth Taylor (see Quaritch, Boston Book Fair 2018 list, item 87). She most probably gave it to her then husband Richard Burton, as it was sold at auction with other books from his collection on 20 March 1998 (Phillips, London, Sale 30510, lot 184).

A rare and important quarto.

ESTC S117248. STC 22451a. Greg 575. Pforzheimer 932 \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"There are three variants of the title of this edition differing only in the imprint\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"
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